When Boston was grittier

Dirty Old Boston is a Facebook page where you can see tons of photos of the "Boston/Cambridge area as it appeared before the Gentrification of the 80's began."



Free tagging: 


    this has been around for a few months

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    ...and it's mostly a bunch of townies who're all GET OFF MY LAWN.

    I especially like the BU bridge photo, where you can't see more than a block because of all the pollution, but someone declares it "best skyline view in Boston!"

    Would people please stop whining about gentrification? Demographics have always shifted in Boston. JP used to be all Italians and Irish, for example. Mattapan used to be heavily Jewish. So are we going to whine about "gentification" when white people start moving to Mattapan?


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    I don't think gentrification is the problem as much as "generification", if that is even a word. It always seems to follow that with gentrification comes a genric blandness. The grit and guts, the very URBANESS is removed. Even when there is an attempt to retain some sort of original flavor it comes off like a Disneyland version of what once was. And while I'm at it, am I the only person on Earth who thinks the old Boston Garden/North Station area had far,far more character pre-Big Dig, when the Central Artery was still above ground? Dirty and gritty it may have been, but it had character. Now it looks like Anyplace, USA. I remember when "urban" wasn't a dirty word.

    Good post, but it doesn't "always" follow

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    ..it often does but it doesn't have to. It is up to the planners of the city to see that gentrication doesn't suck the character out of a place.

    In Boston, I see some bad planning and a lack of interest in the concept of keeping a neighborhood "genuine". Kenmore square is now terribly boring and corporate, but when I moved to Boston in 1989 it was a place to go and see things and people. Now you drive through it (unless you stop at Eastern Standard) like any other corner. It didn't have to be that way but John Silbers campaign against nightlife meant the destruction of the character of the place.

    There are places I've been to where I see gentrification taking place and the neighborhoods still have a distinct character. Several neighborhoods in Brooklyn come to mind. The difference is that the small independent stores and restaurants haven't all been exchanged for panera breads and jerry remy's. All the dive bars haven't been banned and replced with cupcake stores. There's an appreciation for independant operations which is what gives neighborhoods an sense of place and genuine character.

    If I were mayor Id place more emphasis on nurtuing the people who want to operate these places even if it meant I couldn't afford to give Liberty Mutual a 40 million dollar tax break to build a building which contains no street retail and no interaction with the neighborhood.

    Nurturing of small local businesses and youthful energy is the way to give a city charm. It might not be as clean spotless, but it would be more fun.

    Change Happens

    What has happened in many places around here is that people have fought change - any change - for so long that the big pockets have prevailed. Instead of getting an interesting mix of local businesses or reasonably priced housing, they got generica.

    Change happens and will happen. Communities have no choice in that. Fight it and you get garbage. Plan for it, guide it, and you get reasonable quality of life.


    ...it's pronounced "gen-RICK-uh".

    to the sad advice to lay down and take it from Debbie Downer

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    Funny how suburbanites despise what makes cities unique. Guess Kenmore Sq. wasn't up to your snuff? Some of us however, some of us who don't like change, loved seeing bands at The Rat and then heading over to Deli Haus for a late night Velvet Elvis. Too low-brow, too gritty for you? Typical suburbanite commentary. I'll keep fighting to keep the city urban!

    Um, who are you replying to?

    I lived in Kenmore Square for much of the 80s. I went to the Rat before I was even a legal adult, let alone old enough to legally drink. Dumped more than a few napkins on top of Nemo's roni pizzas, too. Kenmore had problems, sure, but the taming of it by BU big bucks didn't seem to solve them (major issues being drunk and violent club-goers, drunk and puking students, etc.).

    I can still see the pru and the hancock from my home.

    That's why I'm not sure who you are talking to. I merely stated that change is inevitable - and that fighting it by battling each and every change in anything results in big wallets and bland disney generica taking over. Look at how the Alston Asshat Committee constantly hounds locally-owned businesses trying to open or expand or change hours to be more viable ... and yet they would lack the cash to fight Disneyfication of Allston if the big wallets stepped in and opened chain stores.

    Please show me WHERE that I said I liked that? I'm seeing either a misdirected reply or a serious reading comprehension problem.

    I would much rather see thriving local businesses that places like Kenmore once had, with maybe a bit more regular trash pick up and sidewalk repair than it once had. The BU upscaling is pretty bizarre, and must make it hard to live in the area on student loans.

    I would much rather see

    I would much rather see thriving local businesses that places like Kenmore once had, with maybe a bit more regular trash pick up and sidewalk repair than it once had.

    This sums up what was good about the old gritty city while addressing what was wrong with it in one sentence.


    Gotta love it! It's allowed people who have owned those shitholes in this city since the 50's and 60's to charge exorbitant rents so that those lucky tenants can pay for their houses in Nahant and Wenham!

    Us young women

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    didn't call the area under the Central Artery "character." We called it "rapey." And we avoided the whole area because we didn't feel safe.

    As boring as some gentrification is, I don't see why we need to all wax nostalgic about the days when cities were unsafe. Crime and poverty cause real suffering, and it just sounds callous and selfish to view criminals and the impoverished as cute decorations.

    The Bad Old Days

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    I think you are missing it, and reading too much into it with respect to demographics, planning concepts, etc. The site is about nostalgia, and Bostonians' love of the good old bad old days. I think that many Bostonians who lived here in the 1970s and 1980s (I among them) have a nostalgia for just how gritty, decayed and dangerous the city was back then. Very few would actually want to return to those days, but it is a warm place to look back on through the safe tunnel of time. Mind you, I am well aware that for many, those days were not a warm palce to look back on due to the many shameful things that went on here, and this is why Boston is now a much better place to live than it once was. However, with respect to the physical space, I think that there are alot of people who look back on the blocks of abandoned houses, the filthy EL, the rain of bird poop under the central artery near the Garden, the muggings, people decorating abandoned cars for christmas, Jordan Marsh, the Tastey, the Combat Zone, and side walks so dirty that your mother told you never to touch them with due nostalgia because they are memories of childhood.


    I have similar feelings about the gritty Philadelphia and NYC of my youth. (I started traveling frequently to the Boston area in 1995 and finally moved here in '99.) I rode Bolt Bus from Boston to DC a few years ago and changed buses in midtown Manhattan, near Penn Station. I barely recognized the place. "Disneyfied version of itself" was about the right phrase for it.


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    Free Angela Davis

    I understand gentrification

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    and the fact many people from elsewhere want to live here because it's so 'quaint' and 'European' looking compared the blandness that is most big American cities, but what I really dislike is the pretentiousness of many people I encounter now in the city. What I like most about my childhood in Boston [and NYC where I also grew up] back in the late 70s into the 80s was down to Earth people and lack of pretentiousness. Call it 'gritty' if you want. That unfortunately is almost all gone now, in both cities.

    And yes, it's become very tame. I remember well at the age of 15 - 16 leaving Don Bosco HS [now the Doubletree Hotel on Washington St] at night, walking down through the heart of The Zone to catch a orange line train at Essex St [now Chinatown]. Most American's HS years were spent in some generic, safe suburban area, mine for two years was spent in the heart of a redlight district surrounded by prostitution [female and male], dirty book stores, peep shows, drug addicts and dealers.

    Crime rates went down all over all at once

    The best explanation I have heard as to why: the huge demographic bulge known as the Baby Boom grew out of it. When the market for many kinds of vice shrank, the businesses closed down (with a lot of help from VHS, of course).

    That's one reason things got more tame.

    The other was the belief that a nasty environment encouraged people to not give a crap about where they threw their garbage, spray painting, vandalizing, etc.

    That one is controversial - but it did lead to a better maintained environment in many places.

    Add in prostitution and drug dealing arrangements made digitally and a lot of "street life" disappears.

    Boston is so much better now

    Boston is so much better now that it's not black and white any more. How did they live back in the 70s without color? No more grittiness now!