Full of Beans
Boston Globe Online:

Civic pride and purpose are front and center in Boston, where the Zakim Bridge and convention plans are cause for celebration.

By Scot Lehigh, Globe Staff, 10/19/2003

If you live in the Boston area, perhaps you've found yourself with an unaccustomed spring in your step, a new gleam in your eye, a feeling that things are on the upswing again. That we are once again the Hub of the universe.

Why? Simply put, Boston has its metro mojo back.

It's been a long time coming. The 1986-1988 period was probably our previous peak when it comes to the diverse things that constitute a city's psyche.

Back then, our red-hot economy was the envy of the nation. In January 1986, the New England Patriots went to the Super Bowl. The Celtics took their 16th NBA crown that spring. The Red Sox won the American League pennant that fall. In politics, Michael Dukakis claimed the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988. The spirit of Massachusetts really did seem to be the spirit of America.

And then the bottom fell out. First there came the recession, with unemployment nudging double digits. The economy bounced back again in the mid-1990s, but in other ways, Boston wasn't doing as well. Our sports teams tended to flounder about, at key moments never quite up to the challenge. Ownership of a surprising number of our cornerstone businesses migrated to other places.

One presidential hopeful, Paul Tsongas, started well but ended up being overtaken for the Democratic nomination by a young governor from a small Southern state. Another rising star, Republican Bill Weld, took a brief look at a national candidacy but decided his status as a Massachusetts Republican rendered him too far out of step to be a real contender for his party's nomination. And then he moved to Manhattan.

But order once again seems to be emerging from the chaos. As of this writing, a highly spirited Red Sox team has delighted fans by clinching a playoff berth. For football fans, the Patriots' amazing 2001 season, capped by what just might be the most exciting Super Bowl ever, imparted a feeling of giddy happiness -- and the expectation of great seasons ahead.

Another part of the restored sense of pride and purpose comes from the opening of the new northbound side of the Big Dig. Glide along the sleek subterranean passage a few times, and you can persuade yourself that the long years of disruption were all worthwhile. With each viewing, it's hard not to be stunned anew by the nocturnal beauty of the Zakim Bridge, which has achieved the rare status of instant icon.

And on most days, Boston Harbor, once a sewage-fouled national embarrassment, now sparkles a clean and beautiful blue, thanks to the expensive new treatment plant we finally mustered the will and the wallet to build.

That's not the only concrete progress. Construction of a new convention center is proceeding apace. The new Ritz-Carlton Boston Common and the cinema in its complex have added an excited hustle and bustle to a long-deserted corner of the Boston Common.

After a long scandal, the Boston archdiocese has a humble new leader in Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, who seems sincere in his efforts to heal the wounds in the Catholic church.

And turning to political life, Massachusetts once again has one of its own in the presidential hunt, US Senator John F. Kerry. What's more, after hosting a presidential debate in 2000, a city hoping to get into the convention business has landed a huge prize: the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

Now, it's true that the economy is still struggling. But because our business sector diversified in the last decade, this recession simply hasn't had the impact that the last one did. In short, though the intervening years seemed like a long dark drizzly November day of the civic soul, Boston is enjoying a renaissance, a springtime of rediscovery and delight.

If history suggests anything, it's that any high we might attain won't last forever. But when and if things so south again, the Boston that was remade in the 1990s and the early 2000s will stop the slide far above the deep trough of a decade ago.

We'll still have our sparkling harbor, our stunning bridge, our subterranean highway, our Super Bowl trophy. And our sense that even in the toughest time, rebirth and renewal are always possible.

Meanwhile, we're about to arrive on a new peak -- one we should enjoy all the more for the struggle it took to reach.

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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