Urban Renewal Relic Dictates Development in Boston: Is it Time to Break Up the BRA?

The Boston Redevelopment Authority wields supreme power over the city's land use decisions, a position unique in American cities. Is it time to disband this relic of planning and development from a different era?
May 30, 2013, 6am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Born out of the urban renewal movement of the 1950s, the Boston Redevelopment Authority amassed incomparable power over zoning, planning, and development in the city. But while most other cities dismantled their urban renewal apparatus in the 1970s, Boston kept theirs, providing an invaluable resource for the city's mayors "to shape the city exactly as they want." 

"The record shows that during his two decades in power, [Mayor Thomas] Menino has used the authority to create a tangled web of favors for and from certain developers, and that those relationships have been bad for Boston," writes Rachel Slade. "Much-needed housing and civic buildings haven’t been built. Characterless towers have gone up on prime waterfront lots. And planning ideas that could have transformed the city into a national model for 21st-century development have died on the vine."

"Soon we’ll have our first new mayor in a generation, which means we’ll have a rare opportunity to change how we shape this city. The BRA isn’t mowing down neighborhoods anymore, of course. That’s good. But it does continue to favor the needs of developers over those of residents, and as a result the city is gradually becoming an undistinguished jumble of stumpy towers and super blocks."

Slade implores Boston's residents to ask the city's mayoral candidates if it's time to break up the BRA.

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Published on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 in Boston Magazine
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