Downtown View:Predicting the Future

Karen is taking a break. In 2009, she asked several Bostonians to predict the future. How did they do?

Last June, I bet you didn’t think we’d be here now: Obama as president, Hillary as secretary of state, the economy gone bust, General Motors in bankruptcy, Lehman Brothers no more, Sal DiMasi under indictment.

So, in an effort to prevent us all from being blindsided again, I’ve asked several common-sensical Bostonians to make predictions for the next few years.

Nancy Mayo-Smith, a long-time resident of Beacon Hill, predicts that people are going to be nicer. “They realize we’re all in this together,” she said. “People in stores and in the service industry have changed. They’re interested. It’s a result of the economy.”

Mayo-Smith hopes everyone will keep up the good habits after the economy recovers.

She also thinks race relations will improve since people of all races are proud of our new president. “His character and his race have helped race relations tremendously,” she said.

What she cannot predict, but only hope for, is a solution to crime in some parts of the city.  She’d like to see effective methods at keeping guns out of the hands of gangs and criminals. And she’d also like to see new ideas for solving some of our problems, but again she’s not predicting that.

City Councilor Sal LaMattina, who represents District One, which covers a good portion of downtown Boston, was bullish on Boston. He predicted only great things. “There are good things happening in Boston,” he said. “It’s a vibrant city and I think the best has yet to happen.”

He said he expects that all neighborhoods will have beautiful restaurants and shops, and will remain desirable, especially to young professionals and empty-nesters. He also thinks that the families with children who stay in the city will have fewer children. He said he is a perfect example. When he grew up in East Boston, he said, everyone had four or five kids. Now he and his wife have one child. He regrets that other families have left Boston because it is costly to raise children here. But no matter who buys the houses and condominiums, he predicts that the real estate market will recover swiftly.

Another forecaster was also optimistic. Rick Dimino, president of A Better City, a non-profit organization supporting Boston’s economy, said Boston is on track to be the greenest city in America. He credits Mayor Menino with establishing guidelines for new construction and tenant fit-up and taking other steps that reduce greenhouse gases. He predicted that the number of commuters using bicycles will increase dramatically. He also predicted that companies will flock to Boston because of its green status.

Dimino was also optimistic that officials will solve the MBTA’s financial problems in such a way that makes Boston one of the world’s most successful cities in allowing people to move around without their cars. He expects the MBTA to complete the Fairmont line and build the urban ring, the Red-Blue line connector, the Silver Line’s underground link through the downtown, and the Green line extension to Somerville.

He also pointed out that a few unused rail lines, especially one that connects Newton to downtown Boston, will become viable after the post office on the Fort Point Channel moves and opens up space for more tracks at South Station.

Dimino predicts that Boston will become a 24-hour city, which may not sit well with those who moved into the city hoping for quiet. But he points to the residents filling in spaces between the offices in the financial district and Downtown Crossing. He welcomes the liveliness this will create in what are now dead zones after the work day is finished. Although the economy has slowed this trend, Dimino believes it will pick up again because people like the convenience of being near their work.

Don’t changes like this require strong political leadership to ram things through despite predictable opposition? “Boston and the state have a long tradition of doing difficult things,” he said. “We have an opportunity to move forward on a larger scale, and it’s necessary if we want to set the stage for the next generation.”

Since I’m writing this, I guess I’ll make a couple of predictions. First, Mayor Menino will be re-elected even though I have not yet talked to anyone who wants to vote for him.

And in the Public Garden, two of the Metasequoia glyptostroboides, which have now inched over the other trees, will within 10 years tower over the oaks, elms and maples. After all, they are redwoods.

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