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How the West End Was One

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Once upon a time, the West End was a churning neighborhood of 11,000 or so first- and second-generation, low-income residents living in one of the most densely populated areas of the United States. Then it wasn't. Urban renewal, so to speak, came roaring through in the 1960s, churning the old West End between Cambridge Street and North Station underfoot in a bid to claim its packed blocks for more suburban-like development. Reversing white flight and all that. About 900 buildings were demolished and the city turned the land over to a developer who built the bland Charles River Park apartment blocks, with comfortingly WASP-y names like Whittier and Longfellow. The West End as it was known for generations was gone.

Or was it? Robert Campbell in Sunday's Globe recounts how the old neighborhood never really died in the memories of those who were there. Everything from the smell of baking bread to the architecture to what one did when company was coming have remained ingrained in ex-West Enders. Psychology, you see:

The West End, alas, reminds us that we live today in a world where we’ve largely edited out the senses, except for seeing and hearing. Architecture is now too often thought of as a merely visual art, like painting or sculpture. Or worse, it’s like movies: You hear talk now of future buildings that will have digital facades, in other words architecture that can be programmed and changed at will. We’ll live in a placeless world that will be like a multiplex of outdoor screening rooms. We forget that to experience a building or a neighborhood richly, we need to hear it, smell it, taste it (even the air has a taste, a humidity, a temperature), touch it (as we move our hands over the rough surfaces of old buildings), and experience it spatially as we move through it. The old West End was a feast for all the senses.

We suggest, then, that East Boston and South Boston long-timers get a good, strong whiff of their neighborhoods now.

· Boston’s Old West End Persists as a ‘Palace’ [Globe]
· The Departed: South Boston to Change Forever This Year [Curbed Boston]
· East Boston Just Fine w/ Being the New South Boston [Curbed Boston]