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This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

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Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

GREG GALER
Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

The Rapidly Changing Emotion of a City – Thank You Tom Menino

October 31st, 2014  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Menino receives the Codman Award for Lifetime Achievement, 2013

Menino receives the Codman Award for Lifetime Achievement, 2013

What a difference a week makes. Last week the Preservation Alliance was cheerily celebrating with the city and over 400 of our diverse friends and supporters from across the city, as we hosted our 26th Annual Preservation Achievement Awards. Only 45 people short of 10,000 engaged with us in voting for our “Fan Favorite” from amongst our award winners (Congratulations to the LogMeIn Headquarters)

(http://www.bostonpreservation.org/programs/awards-2014.html to learn about all our winners).  But, today we mourn the loss of a friend, supporter, and last year’s recipient of our Codman Award for Lifetime Achievement in Preservation, Mayor Tom Menino. How rapidly emotions change in a dynamic city like Boston.Menino’s legacy is legendary, as has been demonstrated by the outpouring of remembrances since news of his passing spread like wildfire through the city and beyond mid-day yesterday. The amazing thing is, while much of the discussion has been on his tremendous positive impact on the city over his 20 year tenure as Mayor, I think many people are closely holding more personal memories, and that includes me. Whether it was some witty banter back stage between the Mayor, our founder Susan Park, and me last year before our ceremony began (I vividly remember him gesticulating with that unique Red Sox-signed Louisville Slugger bat-turned cane)…. or a lengthy and far-ranging discussion I had with him and my colleague Kathy Kottaridis of Historic Boston Inc. as we “hung out” before his speech to the “Preservation Matters” Conference in New Orleans, just five months ago. In these moments he really did make you feel like he was just “that guy from Readville.” Sure he spoke with the knowledge and experience of a man with his hand on the tiller of one of our great cities, but not in tone. In tone he was just one of the guys, to the point where you almost shook your head to yourself in amazement that here he was, “Mr. Mayor,” but he was really just one of us. Another one of the throngs who clearly loves his city, our city … a city he literally devoted himself to with heart and soul, doing what he could to make it a better place. Doing what he thought best because he cared.

Like anyone who is in charge of a huge entity, it’s impossible to always make everyone happy all the time (heck, I have trouble making everyone happy deciding what to make for dinner!), and let’s be honest, there were some decisions he made in his 20 years that made preservationists unhappy (the loss of the Dainty Dot Building or his tepid support of the Community Preservation Act come to mind), but as I say frequently in preservation work, “You need to focus on the forest and not the individual trees,” and in the forest we call Boston the overall result of his 20 years is one in which city character was cherished and supported. Menino brought the Main Streets Program to Boston, energizing neighborhoods and in the process creating a national model to use this program in urban settings.

Menino brought back theaters with one foot already in the grave that had been given up as hopeless causes. He worked with the Alliance and a host of others to replace pigeons with students and throngs of adults and children. These theatres are not now just homes to learning and culture, but they are magnets that draw people, energy and investment to course through the veins of the city. They bring nutrients to a neighborhood and have transformed the former Combat Zone into a new pulsing heart of Boston. “The Forest for the trees” … and what a thriving forest we have thanks to Tom Menino.

This year we honored three individuals at our Awards event last week at historic Faneuil Hall, interestingly where Menino announced his decision not to run for reelection.  We honored Menino’s right-hand-woman on issues of city park management and protection as well as a leading voice on preservation in the city Toni Pollak, the city’s longest-serving Parks Commissioner. Menino stole Toni from the Preservation Alliance, where she became Director of Environment for the city and ultimately Parks Commissioner.  As Susan Park noted in her presentation to Toni, “She helped shape the underlying culture of preservation today, a culture of respectful engagement and one where city government invests in its historic resources.”  So Menino’s hand was very much imprinted on our awards again this year.

 

Preservation Alliance President, Susan Park, and Codman Award winner Toni Pollak, Courtesy Renee DeKona

Preservation Alliance President, Susan Park, and Codman Award winner Toni Pollak, Courtesy Renee DeKona

 

And this year, we gave our new “President’s Award” which could equally have been called the Menino Award, I suppose. The idea behind the award is the fact that Historic Preservation cannot succeed just by restoring old buildings or transforming them with new uses. In order for preservation to be a successful component of a city, that city must have a vibrancy, a life, an energy, an economic engine. As I said from the podium at Faneuil Hall, “Preservation cannot go it alone.” Menino understood that. He understood that city character and the uniqueness of Boston and its neighborhoods are just one piston of the engine, necessary but dependent on other aspects of the city. Our inaugural winners this year were architects Howard Elkus and David Manfredi. I spoke of their interest in “placemaking.” I noted that they recognize that design and planning is about buildings and spaces, but it’s really about people. How people interact with buildings and spaces and how people interact with each other within these places. That the uniqueness of character which derives from our historic sites and the interplay between old and new is energizing, inspirational, and catalytic.  Thoughtful design which considers people, which considers us as inhabitants of these places, can be positively transformative  — and elevate our historic city to even greater success.

Howard Elkus, Greg Galer, David Manfredi, Courtesy of Renee DeKona

Howard Elkus, Greg Galer, David Manfredi, Courtesy of Renee DeKona

 

They “get it” like Menino “got it.” … they understand that the preservation and feeding of our city’s historic character are essential aspects of what makes Boston the city that we love. The City that Tom Menino loved and cherished. I don’t think he had a chance to see our new video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNjFfH2Ln6A&feature=youtu.be), but I think he would have felt it aligned with his heart, which he gave so generously to our city, to us.

Thank you Tom Menino. Thank you for giving of yourself to us and the city we all love so dearly. We will miss you, but your hand and face are written on this city forever in a way in which you will not be forgotten.

 

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