Balancing Old and New: A Critical Part of Why Boston is Loved By So Many

by Greg Galer

Have you found, as I have, that when people discover that you are from Boston they become effusive in how much they love our city? I’ve noticed that it’s not simply our nationally significant icons like the Freedom Trail sites that people remember. Tourists and new residents alike point to our distinctive neighborhoods and parks, our harbor, and the unique places that define our city’s character such as Fenway Park, Copley Square, modern icons such as the Hancock Building, and the increasingly vibrant Fort Point with its collection of historic bridges and repurposed warehouses. In short, Boston is well recognized as a city that successfully strikes a balance between old and new.

Since 1978, the Boston Preservation Alliance has played an important role in protecting, preserving, and promoting the vibrancy of the many places and character-defining features that make Boston unique by helping to manage that fundamental balance between old and new. It’s important to recognize that it takes substantial effort, dedication, and funding to ensure that components that give our city such a unique sense of place remain viable and functional for our community’s needs today. It’s no accident that our favorite historic places and spaces still exist. Preservation requires a purposeful and active process by property owners, the Boston Landmarks Commission, several Architectural Commissions several independent non-profits like ours, and concerned citizens.

The Alliance knows that viable economics are an essential aspect of our work. Old buildings need to remain culturally relevant and financially sustainable, and we strive to appropriately balance preservation goals with the modernization of historic structures, nearby significant new construction, and in some cases the loss of historic structures. (A great example of this give and take is the growing Millennium Tower on Washington Street, a project that restored the fabulous 1912 Burnham Building, removed some historic elements, and is placing a 60-story sky-scraper in their place – all on the same central, downtown block.)

The Alliance has decades of experience in this work – finding appropriate compromises, providing input in design and planning, and guiding projects through various approval processes. We encourage project teams to collaborate with us in their early planning stages to utilize our experience and expertise to maximum effect.

Last year, our fall Annual Preservation Achievement Awards successfully highlighted this balance of old and new with over four hundred Alliance supporters at historic Faneuil Hall. Our Codman Award for Lifetime Achievement was presented to Toni Pollak, long-time Parks Commissioner and dedicated preservationist. Howard Elkus and David Manfredi were awarded our inaugural President’s Award for Excellence for their successful careers in placemaking and their recognition of the value of historic character within the critical sense of place in Boston and beyond.

2014 project winners included:

Clapp Family Barn, Dorchester
Commonwealth Avenue Townhouse, Back Bay
First Parish Church, Dorchester
Fort Hill Tower, Roxbury
Liberty Mutual Headquarters, Back Bay
LogMeIn Corporate Headquarters, Fort Point
Maverick Marketplace, East Boston
North Bennet Street School, North End
Walgreens, Downtown Crossing

We are continuing our mission to celebrate the juxtaposition of historic and modern in Boston – and we would love for you to be a part of it. Nominations are now being accepted for our 2015 Preservation Achievement Awards – for details. A wide range of projects from all of Boston’s neighborhoods will be considered. Maybe your project will be the next to be voted as our Fan Favorite! Last year, we received nearly 10,000 online votes with LogMeIn winning the poll as Boston’s Fan Favorite project of 2014.

If you agree that Boston’s success is intimately connected to maintaining a balance of old and new, then join over 10,000 supporters by connecting with the Alliance at or @BosPreservation on Twitter – and be a part of what makes Boston, Boston.

Greg Galer is the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance.