Its Easy Being Green in Boston
18th Sep 2008
For a long time, Boston’s rep was boxed in by bad roads (downtown streets were originally cowpaths, so you can imagine how straight those lines were!) and stunning intellect – with so many colleges and universities (50) in and around the metro area, it has more brain power per square foot than anywhere in the world. The city feels at times like a giant campus. After a day or three there you begin to realise that everyone is young and fabulous and ponder on ‘where did all the babies and grannies go?'
Redevelopment in Boston’s core has transformed the city into a biz and tech haven to compliment the brain territory of Harvard, MIT, BU and Northeastern, and completion of the Big Dig has brought a new modern flavour to good ole Beantown.
The Big Dig saw the city fathers drop underground the cold clunky street level ‘T’ (short for the trolleys that used to run the streets back in the day) tracks and elevated I-93 highway flyovers, turning the city into a pedestrian paradise. That green edge has become Boston’s new signature. It feels smart and environmental now, which is really appropriate for today’s greener zeitgeist. Boston’s new green thumb is that secret weapon, finally giving it the advantages it needed to break from the international student club scene out onto the global hub scene. JFK would be proud.
arrivalsLogan International Airport (BOS) is mercifully located across the bay from Boston’s downtown city centre, so flight arrivals are just a short skip into town in a local taxi. Since Boston is the last major stop on the Northeast Atlantic corridor, many folks tend to arrive by Amtrak (Acela hourly on the :02 o-clock), which drops you at one of two stations: Downtown near Chinatown (business travellers alight here) or in the central hub at South Station smack on the border of the trendy South End and Back Bay. South Station is in easy walking distance from many local attractions (2 blocks from the John Hancock and Copley Square), so make sure you hop off at this stop for the culture when arriving.
Boston prides itself on being America’s “Hub” and is livening up its central core to improve urban density. Hotels have popped up along the new Rose Kennedy Greenway all the way to the North End (photo above), an stretch of area that was under construction for almost two decades as they dropped segments of elevated highway underground to relieve congestion and beautify the city. It was worth the wait, as a new ribbon of pedestrian green belt arcs around the business district and offers easy access to central points of interest like Quincy Market, Long Wharf, the italian restaurants of the North End and the parks around Chinatown.
In this area, the Intercontinental Boston offers a superb location and waterfront views on a rejuvenated harbour. The Long Wharf Marriott can make a downtown Boston stay feel like an urban Nantucket harbour jetting out into the water offering views of the city and the marina alike. They are the easy choices, especially since it’s a five minute walk from the train station, Faneuil Hall and the financial district. For the more hip, try the Nine Zero Hotel, which has beautiful, well-appointed rooms.
For more of a bargain the slightly tattered but still hip Charles Mark, a boutique hotel in 19th century dwelling in the heart of Back Bay is a good choice, if more urban. Or there is the XV Beacon, which is a bit less pricey than the Nine Zero but offers just the right mix of proper Boston crustiness and tech-powered environmentalism. It’s the freshest of the three, located on delightful Beacon Hill and fits the new enviro theme permeating the city. Its also rated top in the city.
Boston is the closest America gets to a stiff upper lip (it is the unofficial capital of ‘New’ England), so at least one evening should be spent at the refurbished LockOber (the loveliest dining room in town) over their unbelievable Steak au Poivre or Lobster Bisque where you might even get to rub elbows with Ted Kennedy. Or try Via Matta behind the Four Seasons, which manages a nice combination of light hearted and elegant. It’s popular with the celebrity set when in Boston, but still worth a visit as the Italian dishes are remarkable.
Taking it down a notch, head to the Fort Point Landing and the fabulous Barking Crab, a seafood spot located on the harbour in a setup that can only be described as a Massachussetts clambake meets Octoberfest: a dock with a big tent and plastic roll-down windows, right over the water. Here the beer comes in plastic cups and the lobster comes with a bib and a rock to smash it with. It is very popular in warmer weather, and guests have been known to continue munching happily as neighbouring dock rats dart about their business. Normally we wouldn’t recommend a place with rats running around in front of you, but somehow its part of Boston’s charm and since the place has no walls its not like much can be done about them (12 to 1 rodent-person ratio don't you know! and if you've spent time in Boston, you become used to the idea). They’re very cute and you can’t see any paw-prints in the clam chowder at all.
But getting back to the real topic at hand….
... Lobster, if that’s what you’re after, which while in Boston you should be, there is no where else for a more authentic ambience than the institution No Name restaurant over on Fish Pier. Its BYO, and there is no liquor store nearby the docks so come case or keg in tow and definitely bring your posse for the rambunctious feast. Reservations suggested. Can be touristy but worth it for the price and the mess you’ll make of yourself even with bib.
B&G Oysters at 550 Tremont Street in the trendy South End is a savoured secret. This little oyster bar is swish and features a good crowd with deliciously paired oysters and wines. Few places can rattle off the differences between a Maine oyster, an Oregon rock oyster and a deep water whatever oyster with such pristine clarity. Reserve a table in the patio in the summer (or the whole patio for your whole oyster do).
Boston does offer a lot for the visitor – a nice stroll through Boston Garden can’t be beat on sunny day, and the brand new Institute of Contemporary Art offers a breath of fresh air: cutting edge installations reside in a stunning new space on the Bay.
Soon that will be joined by The New Centre for Arts and Culture, a landmark project envisioned by Daniel Libeskind and sponsored by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies and the Jewish Community Centres of Greater Boston. This fantastical glass cube is scheduled for completion in 2012 in the centre of the Rose Kennedy Greenway and will be ‘a vision for enhancing human understanding’, ‘a place where cultures will meet in entertaining, substantive, and often profound ways’.
Baseball season may be seasonal, but the Cask & Flagon is timeless. Speaking of baseball, let’s not forget a visit to Fenway Park. It is painted green, small enough to feel personal, and a spiritual home of the sport. The Boston Red Sox play in America’s oldest baseball park nightly in the summer and early fall, often as the underdog against their arch rival, the New York Yankees. But the Red Sox have a lot of spunk, and more often than not, the grit of loyal Bostonian fans spur them toward a win - they took the pennant in 2007.
Boston is like that: they just love a good revolution, and can’t help but win. With its new environmental feel, America’s Irish city is enjoying an evolved renaissance, and leading a new green revolution the rest of the US would be wise to follow.