Back in Boston: Conclusion

Back in Boston: Conclusion

So what are my final thoughts on my trip to Boston? I left the city with a mix of feelings. On one hand I am happy the city looks so good, lots of new buildings and stores, neighborhoods cleaning up. Most of the people I met weren’t cold mass holes like I thought they would be. The T seems to be getting on the right track, finally. But something didn’t feel right. Maybe I am too used to New York, though, interestingly I didn’t miss New York at all while in Boston. Coming home didn’t feel like coming home, just like I was moving from point A to point B.

Boston was described by a geography friend of mine as a “baby city”. I’m sure no one in Boston would feel that way but coming from New York it is easy to see how you could look at Boston like a baby city. Boston was comfortable. It wasn’t noisy, the streets weren’t filled with a sea of people (in some places they were but it wasn’t a rush, more like a slow crawl where people were stopping to see the sights.) It was also clean, which I don’t think I would ever say had I not lived in New York. Or maybe that just speaks to how dirty New York is (it is, but that’s how we like it, isn’t it?)

I came up for the Geography Conference but only went to a couple of seminars and blew the whole thing off for most of the week. I really came up to hang out and walk around and that’s what I did. But I came to Boston with the idea in my head that I knew what I was doing with my life, that I had a path and I could see the end of it. I come back to New York questioning what it is I really want to do. I still want to do Urban Planning, I think, but the closer I come to graduation the less I know what that means. Maybe I just got a giant dose of academia and realized that that wasn’t what I wanted, though I think I already knew that.

I remember when I was a kid, I was totally obsessed with dinosaurs and I knew I wanted to be an archaeologist when I grew up. Soon that passed and what I wanted was to be was an astronaut. Space was my life. But then I grew out of that too. When I first went to college I went for Industrial Design, and though I don’t think I ever wanted to do that professionally, I knew design would play a big part in my life. I remember the day a professor recommended urban planning as a major, since I was very interested in the city and very much not interested in designing products. The more I learned about it the more I liked the idea. But always in the back of my head I remembered the times when I was truly passionate about something else, only to wake up one day and lose total interest. It scared me that this would happen again some day when it would actually matter. As a kid you can think you want to be whatever but when you grow up and need to find a job, having fleeting passions isn’t going to work out when you need to pay the bills.

But perhaps that was the problem, that Boston was my passion all along. I kept up the T website and would look longingly at maps of Boston, remembering the great times I had there and remembering how it sparked my interest in cities. Maybe going back was what I needed to realize that that was the wrong direction, that I left the city because there wasn’t anything there for me and there still isn’t. Maybe this is the city telling me to move forward, to focus on the new possibilities in New York and in greater cities still. Perhaps the reason I am so conflicted is because I was looking for something that wasn’t there, something that I only remember, and that may have not even really existed in the first place. I think I finally saw Boston as an outsider and it shook me up. Maybe this was the world’s way of saying keep your eye on the prize and don’t look back.

I remember walking down Centre St in JP to the Orange Line to get to Back Bay and I thought I heard someone call my name. I looked back but I didn’t see anyone, but as I was doing this an image of Lot’s wife flashed in front of my eyes as she looked back on her burning home, only to be instantly turned into a pillar of salt. I turned back around, thinking that if I kept looking back I too would transform into a pillar, a monument to all that I have left behind. I think that is the fatal flaw of Boston, that it recognizes and fetishists it’s past, looking back longingly to an era that was perceived as being greater, but in reality wasn’t. The city cannot get past the past, and that is something I cannot do.

Here is a map of all the places I walked last week, some with links to images I took on my Flickr page.

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  1. Schnook:
    I enjoyed looking through your websites and reading this particular blog. As someone with an amateur interest in urban planning and furthermore, a lifelong Bostonian, I felt your conclusion and personal epiphany troublesome when it comes to the “problem” with Boston. I can rationalize your indictment of Boston’s reluctance to part ways with its own history as a stunt to its growth, but in the context of history, there have been some quite convincing overhauls of the Boston ecomomy in the last 3 centuries. From hindsite, Boston’s importance will always be that it was once the first American city and the first important gateway to America. As New York paves away the past for the future, Boston looks to the past for its future because therein lies its cultural importance. Boston cannot compete with New York at its game, so it relies on a historical context, which propels its 21st century importance as a regional hub; world city. Compared with other American cities its population size, Boston is a behemoth: In this light, to fault Boston for relishing its cultural significance would be quite unfair.