The Hub's Metropolis: Greater Boston's Development from Railroad Suburb to Smart Growth

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The population of the Boston Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is ranked tenth largest in the United States. The region’s sprawling scale, with 234 municipalities, can make it difficult to grasp its character. Urban historian James O’Connell will present an illustrated talk about how metropolitan Boston has been shaped by distinct eras of suburbanization, with each one producing a land use development pattern that is still apparent on the regional landscape. Drawing upon his recent book, The Hub’s Metropolis: Greater Boston’s Development from Railroad Suburbs to Smart Growth, O’Connell will explain how each period had specific characteristics related to modes of transportation, building types, commercial uses, and the treatment of open and public space. He will describe how Boston has been a national pace-setter for country estates, railroad suburbs, metropolitan parks, land use zoning, highway beltways, shopping centers, office parks, edge cities, and central city redevelopment. The presentation will conclude with a discussion of how the region’s development legacy is shaping current efforts to promote smart growth and sustainable development.

James O’Connell is a planner and historian for the Boston Regional Office of the National Park Service. He has a B.A. from Bates College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Urban History from the University of Chicago. He has written five books, including Becoming Cape Cod: Creating a Seaside Resort, and has contributed chapters to A Landscape History of New England, Remaking Boston: An Environmental History of the City and Its Surroundings, and The Encyclopedia of New England.