The Statesman’s Yearbook Online

edited by Dr Barry Turner

CITY PROFILE: BOSTON

Image courtesy of wikipedia

 

INTRODUCTION

Boston, first incorporated as a town in 1630 and as a city in 1822, is one of the oldest cities in the United States. The capital of Massachusetts, Boston boasts several US firsts, including the first public park (1634), state constitution (1780), city police department (1838) and subway (1897). With a rich history, world-renowned academic institutions and thriving economy, the city is considered the economic and cultural hub of New England

KEY HISTORICAL EVENTS

Native Americans lived in the area now known as Boston as long ago as 6000 BC. However, the first explorations along the New England coast made by Europeans were in 1524 by Giovanni da Verrazzano, and in 1605 and 1606 by Samuel de Champlain. First settled by Europeans in 1624 when an Englishman, William Blackstone, came to the area, it soon became the heart of Puritan culture and life in New England.

In 1629 the British crown granted a charter to the Massachusetts Bay Company and a year later John Winthrop arrived with 700 Puritans to establish the colony of Massachusetts Bay. Originally called Trimountain, after the three hills that make up its geography, the settlers renamed the area Boston, after a town in Lincolnshire (on the east coast of England) from where many of them came.

In the mid-17th century sea trade flourished and by 1700 Boston had become the most important port in New England and the third busiest in the British Empire. England tried to increase control over Boston by annulling the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s charter and, in 1686, Sir Edmund Andros arrived in the city to become the first royal governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

By the mid-18th century Boston was the center of the growing movement for American independence. The Stamp Act of 1765 was considered by Bostonians to be a form of tax without representation and tension grew after the appearance of royal soldiers in Massachusetts in Oct. 1768. In 1773 a tax protest led to 90,000 lbs (45 tons) of tea being thrown into the harbor in an incident known as the Boston Tea Party. The destroyed tea was worth an estimated £10,000 (approximately $1m. in today’s value). The British responded by closing the harbor in 1774 and sending troops to Boston. In April 1775 the first exchanges of the American War of Independence were fought out at nearby Concord. Boston's role in the war eventually ended on 17 March 1776 when rebels gained control of the harbor and the British departed.

After the war, Boston suffered economic hardship as access to other ports in the British Empire was blocked. From then on the influence of shipping and shipbuilding in the city waned while investment in railways and manufacturing rapidly increased. Textiles became Boston's main source of income and local innovations in manufacturing techniques and distribution methods helped spearhead the American industrial revolution. By 1865 Boston was the USA's fourth largest manufacturing city.

The 19th century saw Boston fall on harder times. The development of cheap labor markets in the south and the economic expansion of New York and Chicago and the western states affected the city's prosperity. Its ethnic profile was dramatically altered after the Irish potato famine drove thousands of immigrants to the city. Boston's economy rallied during the Second World War but declined steadily thereafter. The post-war period was characterized by major urban renewal projects, which saw a migration of the middle-classes to the suburbs.

1 English place names can be found throughout the United States. Ten of the 14 counties in Massachusetts (Barnstable, Berkshire, Bristol, Essex, Hampshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk and Worcester) are all named after English towns or counties.

TERRITORY AND POPULATION

Boston is located on the USA’s northeastern Atlantic coast on a peninsula. It occupies a total area of 89·6 sq. miles (232·2 sq. km) and lies 320 km northeast of New York City. Only one-fifth of the population lives in the metropolitan area of the city, with a large commuter population residing in the suburbs. Boston is separated from Cambridge, Watertown and the neighborhood of Charlestown by the Charles River. There are 21 official neighborhoods designated by the city.

Between 1950 and 1980 the population declined from 801,444 to 562,994 but has since grown. An increased of 4·8% in the first decade of the millennium saw it rise to 617,594 at the time of the 2010 census. The Great Boston region has a total population of approximately 4·5m. At the 2010 census Boston was 53·9% white, 22·4% African American, 17·5% Hispanic and 8·9% Asian. People of Irish descent form the largest single ethnic group, making up 15·8% of the population.

Boston has eight sister cities as a result of President Eisenhower’s 1950s Sister Cities Program, designed to develop closer international relations. They are Kyoto, Japan (1959), Strasbourg, France (1960), Barcelona, Spain (1980), Hangzhou, China (1982), Padua, Italy (1983), Melbourne, Australia (1985), Taipei, Taiwan (1996) and Sekondi-Takoradi, Ghana (2001).

Boston, Massachusetts is still linked to Boston, England which has a population of 35,214 (2001 census). Approximately 10 per cent of the English town’s population emigrated to Massachusetts in 1630 and five men originally from Boston, England became governors of Massachusetts. In 1999 the Partnership of the Historic Bostons was formed to recognize the special historical connection between the two Bostons.

GOVERNMENT

Boston has a mayor-council government system. A mayor is elected to a four-year term by plurality voting and the city council is elected every two years.

Current leader: Thomas M. Menino (Democrat)

Position: Mayor

Born in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood in 1942, Thomas M. Menino is currently serving his fifth consecutive term in office, making him Boston’s longest serving mayor. In April 2008 he had a 72% approval rating.

In 1988 Menino graduated with a degree in community planning from the University of Massachusetts. He served as the Boston city councillor for Hyde Park from 1984–93 before leaving the post of council president to become acting mayor for four months. He was elected to the full-time role in Nov. 1993 and was the city’s first non-Irish-American mayor since 1930.

Nicknamed the ‘Urban Mechanic’, Menino is known for his efforts to revitalize Boston’s neighborhoods. His city-wide Main Streets program to support small businesses and spur local development met with success and spawned similar models in other US cities.

Menino is the co-chair in the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition. He was an early advocate of same sex marriage. The creation of the Office of New Bostonians in 1998 served to facilitate the integration of immigrants into the city. Under Menino, Boston was voted third greenest city in the US in 2008.

ECONOMY

After 30 years of downturn, Boston’s economy boomed in the 1970s and into the mid-1980s. The financial district underwent rapid expansion in the 1980s and several large financial institutions, such as Fidelity and Credit Swiss First Boston, moved their headquarters to the city. Management consulting and private equity groups as well as mutual funds and insurance groups are also prominent in the city.

After another downturn from 1988–92, employment rates increased and residential real estate prospered until the events of 11 Sept. 2001 led to a loss of jobs in the travel, financial services and technology sectors. Nevertheless, the economy again bounced back and is ranked as the world’s 12th largest financial centre.

Higher education and educational institutions are significant to the city economy. With ten colleges and universities, six technical schools, four art and music schools and six junior colleges, students contribute an estimated US$4·8bn. annually. Tourism is also significant, with tourists spending US$7·9bn. in 2004. An estimated 17·8m. domestic visitors and 1m. international visitors came to Boston in 2006. Other important sectors include clothes manufacturing, food processing and publishing.

TRANSPORT

Boston is served by Logan International Airport (BOS), which processes over 28m. international and domestic passengers each year. The Boston subway, which opened in 1897, is America’s oldest. Nearly a third of Bostonians use public transport for their commute to work. The city’s central expressway was moved underground in the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, also known as the ‘Big Dig’. Completed in 2007, it was the most expensive highway project in the country.  

CULTURE

Festivals

With a strong Irish presence in the city, St Patrick's Day on 17 March is widely celebrated. The Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon and takes place on Patriot's Day in April. With only 18 runners at the first marathon in 1897, it now attracts over 20,000 participants.

Music festivals include the Boston Globe Jazz Festival in June and the Boston Pops Concert held in July. Each 16 Dec. the Boston Tea Party is re-enacted in Boston Harbor.

Museums

The Museum of Fine Arts is Boston's oldest and largest art institution. It houses an array of Impressionist works, early American art as well as major Asian and Egyptian collections. Elsewhere, the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum includes significant examples of historic and contemporary European, Asian and American art.

http://www.mfa.org/

http://www.gardnermuseum.org/

Places of Interest

Major architectural attractions include the Government Center, the John Hancock Tower and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library (http://www.jfklibrary.org/).

The State House on Beacon Hill, built in 1798, is still used by the state legislature. The Old Granary Burying Ground contains the graves of John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Also located on Beacon Hill are the Old State House, where Bostonians first read the declaration of Independence, and the Old South Meeting House, to where the roots of the Boston Tea Party can be traced. A ‘freedom trail’ guides visitors to the major historical sites around the city. Harvard University, North America’s first college, founded in 1636, is located in nearby Cambridge.

Media

The Boston Globe (owned by The New York Times Company) and the Boston Herald are the two major daily newspapers. Other publications include The Boston Phoenix and the Boston edition of Metro.

FURTHER READING

Allison, Robert, A Short History of Boston (Commonwealth Editions, 2004)

O’Conner, Thomas H., The Boston Irish: A Political History (Konecky & Konecky, 2007).

Puleo, Stephen, A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850-1900 (Beacon Press, 2011)


City skyline


Harvard University


Massachusetts state house