From Beantown to the South Bronx


PEOPLE SAY BOSTON IS Kevin White's town..." Ed Logue pauses in the middle of his sentence. He doesn't have to say what he is thinking. Logue is a master planner, a public sector entrepreneur, a developer. He is a man who 20 years ago came to Boston when the city "was down and out," in the words of Allan Greengross, a representative from London at last week's Great Cities of the World conference here. "Now," Greengross adds, Boston "is on the up and up. This 'new Boston' is a testament to what government can accomplish."

From 1960-67, Logue served as the development administrator of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). In those eight years, he built Government Center and the new Boston City Hall, laid out the plans for Quincy Market and extensive developments along Boston's waterfront, spurred numerous private developments in downtown Boston, and constructed thousands of low-and moderate-income housing units in urban renewal areas that covered 25 per cent of the entire city.

During the late '50s, the firm of Cabot, Cabot and Forbes had planned a huge corporate office mall along Route 128, designed for companies like the First National Bank of Boston. The future of downtown Boston seemed grim. Its economic base was about to sprawl into the suburbs. But after Logue completed Government Center, First National changed its plans. Its corporate headquarters now stand as a landmark on Boston's skyline, and almost all the big corporations of New England have followed suit. Their headquarters are now congested into Boston's downtown rather than fragmented around its suburbs.

The "new Boston" is Ed Logue's success story. But the "master plan" has its share of critics. Skeptics have assailed Logue for caring more about the cosmetics of Boston's physical design than about the needs of the city's poor. They assert that hundreds of Logue's development projects displaced hundreds of low-income families and disrupted the patterns of life in indigent communities.

Today, however, the benefits from these disruptions far outweigh their initial costs. Boston boasts one of the lowest unemployment rates of America's cities; its revitalized downtown furnishes a stable economic base which in turn provides jobs for its citizens. As Robert Healy has pointed out in The Boston Globe: "The central city can never be separated from the neighborhoods. When the core of a city goes, as in Cleveland or Detroit, the neighborhoods are left to suffer the pain." Ed Logue saved Boston's core.


BUT AS BOSTON remembers Ed Logue on its 350th birthday, the master planner has gone to work on a tougher problem--redeveloping America's worst slum, the South Bronx. The South Bronx is the same size as the city of Boston. And here the similarities end. There are no Beacon Hills, Back Bays, picturesque waterfronts or vital downtown office areas in the South Bronx. One-third of its population is on public assistance. It represents a magnification of the worst of Boston's problems, without any of its strengths.

Two decades after developing a plan to stabilize Boston's corporate economy, Ed Logue has come up with a strategy to solidify the industrial economic base of the South Bronx. He plans to bring jobs to the Bronx by assembling scattered parcels of vacant land for industrial developments. At the same time, the South Bronx Development Office is working to tap scarce government funds to better to South Bronx housing stock, improve human service delivery in the area, and direct government-subsidized job programs toward the goal of redeveloping the community.

The Logue plan at first blush seems so sound, so comprehensive, and so thoughtful that, given enough government support, it could work miracles in the Bronx. But it does require strong backing, something which is not immediately forthcoming from the government.

Last week, Ed Logue came back to Boston to participate in its the Cities of the World Conference. After moderating a panel in the Science Center, he reminisced about the days when he wielded power and could attract the funds needed to revitalize Boston. As director of the BRA, he commanded an autonomous and extraordinarily powerful bureaucratic office. He could make decisions which often translated directly into action. And the federal government reacted favorably to most of his plans. The feds, for example, provided all of the monies necessary to develop Government Center.

Today, Logue laments, things are different.

In this era of fiscal retrenchment, with a reactionary Republican and a conservative Democrat vying for the presidency, urban development projects are not priorities. The White House and the New York Governor's office both appear hesitant to commit their shares of the $200 million a year for seven years which the South Bronx plan entails. Without the commitment of this sum--far smaller than the monies given to Boston in the 1960's--Logue will not be able to recast his success story.

BUT MORE THAN JUST MONEY may stall the Logue plan. In New York today, Ed Logue lacks the clout he had at the BRA 15 years ago. The governments of New York City and State are so vast, and sources of funding for South Bronx projects so diffuse, that Logue simply does not have the authority to make deals with the private sector. Bureaucrats at the city, state, and federal levels repeatedly throw wrenches into plans by undermining what little authority he does have, or by sealing up needed funds.

Last week, Logue assessed the most difficult obstacle his South Bronx plan must overcome. The vastness of government in the '80s has inevitably brought with it bureaucratic tensions and foul-ups. Logue is a man with a vision of what he can do in the Bronx, but today he lacks the power to streamline his plan through government's bureaucratic steeplechase. If he doesn't get this power, Boston may remain his only testament of what government can do. The South Bronx could instead become a national symbol of an unmoveable government crippled by its own vastness.

David Feinberg worked for Ed Logue this summer