This photo is a view of Haymarket Square looking down Canal Street. It was taken at the same time as the photo in Part 1, around 1905 and both post cards look like they were printed by the same company.
The building with the columns is the Boston City Hospital health dispensary. Behind it you can see where the underground subway cars, now the Orange Line, emerge from the tunnel. At the end of Canal St. is North Station which was a major railroad hub.
The photo I took last week looks very similar except for the trees obscuring the buildings. Instead of North Station we now have the new Boston Garden.
The area between Canal and North Washington Sts. has changed dramatically and has been renamed the Bullfinch Triangle. What was once a low rise commercial and light industrial area is being changed into a neighborhood of high end residential units and sports bars.
Because land and construction costs are so high in Boston, multi story buildings are the only option for developers and it looks like they will continue building these at least for the foreseeable future. But there is a human cost to these tall buildings.
Boston was always a walking city and in many neighborhoods like Beacon Hill and the Back Bay walking is still a pleasure. The North End and Seaport and Financial districts, however, have become overwhelmed with traffic and on most days gridlock lasts for several hours. The human scale of our city is being lost and Boston is getting to look more like Manhattan or Sao Paulo.
One of the great joys of living in the North End is participating in the street life of the neighborhood. Hanover Street is always bustling with residents and visitors from all over the world and it was like this even more so when I was young. Our apartments were small and much of our social life occurred in the local restaurants, clubs and coffee shops. The North End always had an endless supply of neighborhood characters and the only place to meet them is on the sidewalks and in the cafes.
High rise residential buildings become self contained, vertical gated communities. The residents are observers of street life but not necessarily participants in that life. When they come down to eat at a North End restaurant they are more like tourists than neighbors.
In her 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs entitled one of her chapters, The Uses of Sidewalks: Safety. Jacobs dismissed the grandiose ideas of so called urban planners like Le Cobusier who advocated bulldozing low rise tenements to build block upon block of monolithic, residential towers interspersed with stylized, but dangerous, urban parks. Jane Jacobs intuitively knew that safety came from street activity, from crowds of people engaged in what she called an “urban ballet.”
This street life is what has always made the North End special and safe. In order to maintain what we love about living in the North End we need local cafes, restaurants, coffee shops and even taverns. Places where locals and visitors can meet, gossip and engage in an urban village kind of life.
What we don’t need are any more high rise buildings, gilded ghettos for Asian millionaires, that only add automobile congestion and anonymity. Like my grandmother would have said, “basta”.
Nicholas Dello Russo is a lifelong North Ender and columnist. Often using vintage photographs, Nick tells the stories of growing up in the North End along with its culture and traditions. It was a time when the apartments were so small that residents were always on the streets enjoying “Life on the Corner.” Read more of Nick’s columns.