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The building of Boston's Back Bay

Boston's Back Bay is one of the city's most famous neighborhoods, we think of it now as home to Newbury Street's luxury shopping center and location of row upon row of historically significant brownstone buildings.

As the name indicates, Back Bay was just salty marsh that separated Boston and Cambridge until 1857, when the need for increased residential and commercial space led the leaders of the city to begin a massive project of filling in the bay with load after load of dirt transported from miles away by truck and train. The project took nearly 25 years to complete and when done nearly 570 acres had been added to the city of Boston, effectively increasing the size of the city by 60%!

The length and scope of the project created a unique opportunity for one of America's most important cities to define itself. The area was literally a blank geographical slate and the leaders took this opportunity to map out a city grid directly inspired by the city of Paris and then fill this grid with the finest architecture could buy at the time.

Separating the Signal from the Noise

  • The elements of the story I'd like to illuminate are 1.) The amount of land fill required to fill the Back Bay over the period of 20 years and 2.) The average income of the property owners who ended up moving in to the new residential buildings
  • To organize the presentation I would like to show a map of Boston as it looked in 1857 and then visually "fill it in" over the span of years until 1872 when the fill was complete. Additionally I will show the addition of the buildings as they followed the progress of the stable landfill.

Back Bay in 1857 before the landfill

Back Bay before fill

(The map above shows Boston in 1857 before the landfill. The area in gray is the area to be filled. The ghosted outlines represent the future street layout)

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