Monday, June 29, 2015

Boston 1915=Boston 2024?!?

Hosting the Summer Olympics in Boston in 2024 is big news around the Commonwealth and whether for it or against it, everyone has an opinion. The State Library recently added to its digital repository the report “Understanding a Boston 2024 Olympics,” issued by the Massachusetts General Court’s Special Commission Relative to the Feasibility of Hosting the Summer Olympics in the Commonwealth. Looking into and planning for such a future can be both scary and exhilarating at the same time; fortunately, we can turn to the past for some guidance and reassurance. Over one hundred years ago, Bostonians of 1909 were doing the same thing that the Special Commission, Bostonians and Bay Staters are doing today: envisioning a future that they hoped would be a better one.

In 1909, a special event with the stated purpose of imagining the future to help make Boston a better place by 1915 was held at the Old Art Museum in Copley Square from November 1st to 27th (sadly, this building was demolished in 1910). For a 25 cent admission fee to enter the “1915” Boston Exposition, Bostonians of 1909 could see exhibits on and hear lectures about improving life in Boston on topics ranging from public health to transportation. This idealized, forward-looking future of 1915 was the work of the Boston 1915 Movement, a group of prominent business leaders and citizens that came together in 1909 to work for the betterment of the City of Boston. The Movement established their own progressive thinking magazine called “New Boston: a Chronicle of Progress in Developing a Greater and Finer City--Under the Auspices of the Boston-1915 Movement” (held in the State Library’s collection) and planned the Exposition, modeled on the Columbian World Exposition held in Chicago in 1883, to introduce their city “as it is to be.”

In the Exposition’s official catalog and yearbook, the goals of this Movement were to have the members of the Boston community co-operate and plan wisely in order to do the “things that must continue to be done as long as the city exists, such as street cleaning, adequate sanitation, intelligent planning of physical expansion, and proper provision for peoples health, comfort and recreation.” Not surprisingly, 100 years on, Bostonians still want the same things! In fact, the findings of the Special Commission of 2015 for the Boston of 2024 pretty much mirror the desires and hopes of the Boston of 1909 for the Boston of 2015—economic development, infrastructure and transportation improvement, recreational venues and better housing for city residents. The optimism for positive change in 1909 and 2015 to position Boston as a world-class, model city shows us that Bostonian’s pride and confidence in their city does not change, no matter the century.

Judy Carlstrom