Monday, May 31, 2010

Blog Post No. 2010-10: And this too restores the urban fabric:

Renovation of the Brewer Fountain is finally complete!


The Photos: (1) and (2): Set-up shots, looking roughly northeast from the Common toward downtown; (3) Looking at the fountain and then across Tremont Street to St. Paul's Cathedral (the classical building with fronting colonnade); (4), (5), and (6): Close-ups of the lower and upper groups of statues; and (7) Looking from Tremont Street back up the hill toward the State House (golden domed building in the background).
Location: The Brewer Fountain, Boston Common, near the intersection of Park, Winter, and Tremont Streets, Boston, MA. MAP.
The Story: So, the Globe ran a very good story on this the other day. That would be the day after the day that the fountain was turned back on after an extensive renovation over the last almost 12 months brought this gem of a fountain back to life. As the article describes, the fountain was inoperable for the last several years, and has been restored with a combination of city, federal, and privately-raised funds. This piece of news points up a fact of life in late 20th century/early 21st century America, and a critical truth about urban life.
First, the fact: The fountain's stature as the oldest fountain on the Common was not enough to save it from such dramatic neglect that it stopped working altogether in 2003 and became so deteriorated in the years that followed that its restoration apparently became, in the end, an urgent matter needed to keep it from being a total loss. This kind of neglect of critical public infrastructure, from fountains to bridges to transit systems, from water mains to sewers and just about everything that we have inherited from prior generations as our built inheritance, is epidemic. Public budgets are always too thin to maintain everything, and politics are always such that building new things and having ribbon cutting ceremonies will almost always win out over the boring tasks that keep the things we have already in a good state of repair. Of course, it costs more overall to let those things wear down to such an extent that they require massive repair and restoration. But that is the way of it.
Second, the truth: The urban fabric most certainly includes major public amenities like the Brewer Fountain. That the fountain is now working again and playing its role in beautifying and enhancing a hugely important location in Boston -- right on the Common, near one of the busiest stations on the MBTA, just down the hill from the State House -- is more important to the city's sense of well-being and fulfillment than might at first seem the case. Broken fountains are like broken windows, in a sense. When anyone -- a resident of Boston, a visitor from elsewhere in the Commonwealth, someone from out-of-state or from another country -- sees a fountain this beautiful and obviously important not working, there is a sense that the city is not capable of taking care of its own, that it lacks capacity, that is not working. On the other hand, when it is working, one gets the impression that the city is just the opposite: a place where things work, that cares about keeping its iconic places in good shape, that is putting its best foot forward. Come check it out next time you're in town...

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