Although the metropolitan area of
has long since expanded to fill the shoreline of
, and stretches for miles inland as well, the seventeenth-century port at its heart is still discernible. Forget the neat grids of modern urban America; the twisting streets clustered around
are a reminder of how the nation started out, and the city is enjoyably human in scale.
Boston was, until 1755, the biggest city in America; as the one most directly affected by the latest whims of the British Crown, it was the natural birthplace for the opposition that culminated in the
. Numerous evocative sites from that era are preserved along the
through downtown. Since then, however, Boston has in effect turned its back on the sea. As the third busiest port in the British Empire (after London and Bristol), it stood on a narrow peninsula. What is now Washington Street provided the only access by land, and when the British set off to Lexington in 1775 they embarked in ships from the Common itself. During the nineteenth century, the Charles River marshlands were filled in to create the posh Back Bay residential area. Central Boston is now slightly set back from the water, separated by the John Fitzgerald Expressway that carries I-93 across downtown. The city has been working on routing the traffic underground (a project a decade in the making known as "the Big Dig"), though the monumental task won't likely be completed before 2004, much to the frustration of locals.
There is a certain truth in the charge leveled by other Americans that Boston likes to live in the past; echoes of the "Brahmins" of a century ago can be heard in the upper-class drawl of the posher districts. But this is by no means just a city of WASPs: the Irish who began to arrive in large numbers after the Great Famine had produced their first mayor as early as 1885, and the president of the whole country within a hundred years. The liberal tradition that spawned the Kennedys remains alive, fed in part by the presence in the city of more than one hundred universities and colleges, the most famous of which
actually stands in the city of Cambridge, just across the Charles River, and is fully integrated into the tourist experience thanks to the area's excellent subway system.
The slump of the Depression seemed to linger in Boston for years even in the 1950s, the population was actually dwindling but these days the place definitely has a rejuvenated feel to it.
has served as a blueprint for urban development worldwide, and with its busy street life, imaginative museums and galleries, fine architecture and palpable history, Boston is the one destination in New England there's no excuse for missing.