The Globe and Mail’s Greg Mitchell explores the complex history of Boston’s white building boom.
It was a bold move for a city that had been struggling with housing discrimination and inequality for years, until a city councilwoman named Mary Burke-Smith came up with the idea.
In 1978, Burke- Smith led a city commission that recommended the South Boston project, which was built in an old, colonial-era brick building on South Street and was completed in 1979.
Burke- was a longtime Boston resident who was raised by her Irish mother and who, in her spare time, became a writer.
“It was a big thing for me as a woman,” Burke- says.
“I’d never been to Boston, so this was really a big deal.”
The commission, however, recommended that the building be torn down and rebuilt as a white building.
The building had been owned by a local architect, and when Burke- and her colleagues saw that it would be a good location, they decided to build it on South.
“We didn’t want it to be a brown building,” Burke says.
After working with the Boston Historical Society and a developer, the project went through a lengthy process that included three different designs.
But Burke- finally came up a final plan that would allow for the building to remain a white structure.
“The city had really been working to make a white space,” Burke remembers.
“They were looking for an urban element to the city and they wanted to be able to build a white house.”
The plan was approved by the city in 1978 and the building went on display at the historic South Boston Museum in 1983.
“This building was actually a lot more expensive than the other white building we had been considering,” Burke explains.
“But we did it because it was what the city wanted and what we felt was right.”
Burke- also says that the project gave the city the opportunity to build on a neglected piece of Boston history, which had been in decline for years.
“You can see that the South Side of Boston had been abandoned for a long time,” Burke said.
“There were lots of people who were living there.
It wasn’t the prettiest neighborhood, but it was a community.
It had been neglected for years.”
For decades, Boston was experiencing a housing crisis.
But in recent years, with the rise of gentrification and the city’s ongoing housing shortage, many people have been seeing a resurgence of historic buildings.
“A lot of these white buildings have been going up all over the city,” Burke explained.
“And it’s a way for the city to showcase the legacy of Boston.”
A few years ago, the city began to build white housing in the North End, a neighborhood that has long been plagued by housing discrimination.
A large number of white buildings are now being built in South Boston, but the city still has a long way to go in building white housing for the entire city.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has also spoken out about the need to create more white housing, and has called for an overhaul of the citywide code that allows developers to build buildings of different sizes and colors.
“Boston is a city built for everybody,” Walsh said in a statement last year.
“White and black people are treated equally under the law, and the same is true of every other demographic.”