By Dan Murphy
During the opening reception of an exhibit exploring the impact of urban renewal on the West End in the 1950s and ‘60s, the director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority issued the first formal apology on behalf of the city agency for its role in demolishing vast sections of the old neighborhood.
“We offer an official but heartfelt apology to the West End families affected,” Brian Golden said at the West End Museum on Thursday evening. “The old West End was destroyed in the name of ‘slum clearance.’ Although the damage was done decades ago, it still remains.”
A collaboration between the BRA and the museum, the exhibit, entitled “Dewey Defeats Truman/The Housing Act of 1949,” uses maps, archival photos and other historic documents to trace the demolition of what was once largely a tightknit enclave of Jewish and Italian immigrants to make way for the neighborhood that now abuts Government Center Plaza. A smaller exhibit, called “The Future of Urban Renewal in Boston,” is also currently on display at the museum, and coincides with the BRA’s efforts to extend its urban-renewal authority.
The city’s authority was last extended in 2005, and is set to expire next April; it must ultimately win the approval of the city council, the BRA board of directors and the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development for a further 10-year extension for 14 of the 16 active urban-renewal areas citywide.
“This begins a new chapter by reflecting on what the future holds for the West End and all of Boston in regard to urban renewal,” Golden said. “Just as the neighborhoods have evolved, so has urban renewal and the agency that implements it. But it is important from an institutional standpoint to acknowledge our past wrongs.”
Several former West End residents in attendance, including a 75-year-old man who was displaced from the neighborhood in 1959 as a teenager, express
ed their gratitude to the city for finally acknowledging its past mistakes in the name of urban renewal.
The exhibits, which are free and open to the public, will be on display at the museum, located at 150 Staniford St., through January of 2016.
For more information on the past, present and future of urban renewal in Boston and to submit comments to the city, visit www.bostonurbanrenewal.org.