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Downtown View: Boston’s Good Luck

Some of you probably went to the Mayor’s State of the City address last week. Some of you, like me, watched it on television. There was lots of blather about the standing ovation and the probability that Menino will run for office once again.

Maybe he will. Few candidates could prevail over him, given the city’s obvious love for him.

More interesting than all the speculation, however, was the difference between the politics and mood in Boston and the politics and mood in Washington and such other places as Wisconsin, where the arguments are toxic and the factions wish one another ill.

We’re not like that. We’re happy. We’re optimistic. We care about our fellow citizens. We think we’ve got a good future. Mayor Menino is partly a cause of that good feeling. Is he one of the brightest, most articulate mayors we’ve ever had? Actually, he might be. Some of the others weren’t so hot.

He is incorruptible, honest and a believable family man—a man with good character, even if he does hold the grudges some people say he holds. When people love him, it’s because they know he loves the city. He loves the services the city provides. We all believe he wants those services to be top-notch, even when we think he might do it better another way.

Boston, itself, makes us happy and optimistic. I had been taking this city for granted until last year when we invited Alabama friends who had never seen snow except at a ski resort for a visit. They came bundled up, as if they were going to Antarctica. But there was no snow.

Instead we showed them Boston by car, stopping at a few places. We drove through Bay Village. We went to the South End with its restaurants and Victorian row houses. We visited Chinatown. We described the difference in architecture among the neighborhoods of Beacon Hill, the North End and the Back Bay.

As we drove, I regarded Boston in a new light. Instead of noticing a cracked sidewalk as I walked to the main library or the bare spots where the dogs play in the Common, I saw the city’s beauty.

We drove into the Seaport District and pointed out how rare it was for an old, dense city to have such a large amount of vacant land. We headed over to Cambridge so they could see Harvard and MIT. We took them to Old Ironsides and then headed toward Bunker Hill, explaining that the battle had actually taken place on Breed’s Hill.

And I learned that we don’t do things as badly as we might have thought. Driving through Charlestown, we had to pass public housing. Our guests were incredulous. Those clean, neat buildings were public housing? There were no cracked windows. The cars parked outside still had wheels.

Now Charlestown’s public housing is ordinary, not beautiful. And the occupants sometimes suffer from neighbors with bad behavior. But our guests’ point of view adjusted my own.

I saw that, with notable exceptions, Boston’s neighborhoods are safe and healthy. Partly because of Menino, most of them have good or growing centers where small business thrives. From three-deckers in Dorchester to the lavish condominiums of the Waterfront, most of Boston’s housing is in pretty good shape, and Menino has a plan to make it better. City services are reliable. Whether it is in improving schools, figuring out how to get rid of busing, or getting more recycle days, Boston’s citizens are engaged. We have good public transportation. Whole new cohorts are moving back into the city, discovering what we knew already—that Boston is a great place to live. We may not agree on every detail, but neither are we at loggerheads as so many communities seem to be and as we were in the 1970s.

Our governor has put forth a bold plan that seems a good investment in public transit, roads and education. Our economy is supported by the right kind of industries at the right time. We’ve got that land for growth in the Seaport District and maybe, just maybe, Millennium Partners will start filling that hole in the ground. Remarkably, at the end of a major recession, we enjoy a prosperity we were unsure of four years ago.

It was almost as if Mayor Menino’s recovery was a metaphor for where Boston has come since the dark days of busing, grated windows, white flight and a dismal economy.

No wonder the mood last week at the State of the City event was happy and optimistic.

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at BostonColumn.com.

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