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Boston Before Menino

When I go into the city, my mom always asks to hear about where I went and what I did. Her intentions aren’t to monitor my behavior, but rather to get a glimpse of what Boston is like these days for college students: what the “scene” is. My mom went to the Boston Architectural College in the mid 1980s and lived near Beacon Hill with my dad in the early 1990s. I hear wild stories from her about going to comedy clubs and eating hot wings with guys in high waisted pants and jean jackets. She especially loves to pity me for not being able to drink at those clubs like she was able to in college or find my way around the city as easily she did. I tell her we take the T into the city just like she did and can find our way around perfectly fine. She counteracts with a quip about having a GPS on my phone. Whatever, mom.

On January 6th, Mayor-elect Marty Walsh will be sworn in and inaugurated at Boston College’s own Conte Forum. As Walsh begins his term next Monday, Mayor Tom Menino will finally be stepping down from his 20 year reign as the “Boss of Boston.” As you can tell from the types of conversations I have with my mom, much has changed for the city since 1993.

Image via Flickr

Image courtesy of Flickr.

No Big Dig

The generations before us recall a Boston defined by a giant overhead highway, the Central Artery, snaking through the city and its hours of pile-up traffic. We still have stop-and-go traffic throughout the city’s streets, but this is a different beast. The project to reroute the Central Artery broke ground in 1991, though it wasn’t finished until 2006. Menino, when looking out over his city for more than half of his term, saw a wasteland of construction and greater traffic congestion. Twenty-two billion dollars and a massive headache later, the Big Dig gave way to such creations as the Ted Williams Tunnel, extending Interstate 90 to Logan International Airport, the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Some say it’s much harder to navigate Boston now, but our city was never set up in a tourist-friendly fashion like New York City, so you could say we’re just sticking to our roots.

More Crime and More Potholes

The greater Boston area was dominated by several underground mob families in the 1980s and 1990s. The year 1994 was particularly bad: you would hear about another Italian man shot by a suspected mob boss in the newspaper every month. The violent crime rate now is more than half of what it was in 1993. My mom is adamant that Boston has gotten less safe, but I think that’s because of the motherly role she has taken on versus her wild college days at the B.A.C.  In keeping with this, Mayor Menino tended to focused on issues that mattered to people trying to get to work each day, crime being one of them. Other less extreme “annoyances” like potholes, prompt snow-removal, trash disposal, and other street issues became his first targets in his mission to create a smooth-running city.

The Curse of the Bambino Had Staying Power

Bostonians didn’t have much reason to celebrate their sports teams in the early 1990s. Larry Bird had just retired from the Celtics and the Bruins couldn’t make it far into the playoffs. The Red Sox also hadn’t won the World Series in 75 years when Menino took office. The Bill Buckner through-the-legs fail of 1986 was still a fresh wound for some. Before the team's 2004 win, Menino said, “Much like a cookie, I predict the Yankee dynasty will crumble and the results will be delicious for Red Sox fans.” Crumble it did.

College Was Affordable

Tuition at Boston College in 1993 was only around $15,000 compared to the $43,000 it was last year. Inflation alone cannot account for that jaw-dropping amount. Imagine a time when graduating meant starting an independent life free from college loan worries. My parents do, and they pity me knowing I will have to pay for graduate school entirely out of my pocket. Looking forward to it.

Image via Pinterest

Image courtesy of Pinterest.


Denim on Denim

Every now and then the jean jacket comes back in style, but never again will we see the denim dress. At least I hope not. There was also the bandana, oversized clothing, bomber jackets, dark lipstick, and all the great styles that carried over from the 80s. None of these fads were particular to Bostonians, but they were not above the influence either.




Mayor Menino certainly left his mark on Boston, and while being mayor for 20 years the city and country alike underwent plenty of changes. The passing of power over Boston seems like a phenomenon now. Just think, the last time that happened we had also just elected Bill Clinton as President. Do you feel old now, Mom?

Featured image courtesy of Facebook/Karen Tannous Njeim.
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Managing editor. Lover of history and all things 1960s. Lives by the lessons of The Rocky Horror Picture Show: "Don't dream it, be it."