East Boston – Dom Malacaman

Story Map



“Moraga and Oakland must be studied together; how they are knitted together must be discerned” (Mitchell).

This is the key quote to Don Mitchell’s essay, “A Relational Approach to Landscape and Urbanism: The View From an Exclusive Suburb.” In the essay, Mitchell explores how Moraga and Oakland, though seemingly vastly different in character and with many miles separating them, are not possible without the other. Moraga’s exploitation of Oakland, and Oakland’s powerlessness to Moraga, shape the history and cultural profiles of these two landscapes. The two are considered “relational landscapes,” where two landscapes are not defined solely by its own physical characteristics, its own social values and ideas, or its own wants and needs, but rather how each of these affect and are affected by another landscape.

This idea of relational landscapes is what is most crucial in understanding the dynamic between East Boston and mainland Boston. Just as Moraga and Oakland have histories and identities that are inherently knitted, East Boston and the rest of the city have identities defined by this intertwining. But this intertwining is not a constant one, how it manifests itself throughout history changes, also allowing for dynamic shifts within East Boston and Boston’s own character. But what does remain constant is the presence and relationship of each, how one can never never truly be without the influence of the other. This essay is a look from the perspective of East Boston within this relationship, how East Boston was shaped by the overarching presence and influence by the mainland of Boston, and specifically how it has always been subject to the needs of the former, much like Oakland to Moraga.

Another characteristic which shapes these relational landscapes is that of separation. How East Boston’s separation to the mainland defines its purpose to greater Boston shifts along with their relationship. In East Boston’s early history, of 19th and early 20th century immigrants, this separation allows Boston a site in which to toss all of its unwanted. The prime example of this lies within the immigrants themselves. The city’s treatment of these immigrants later in history already proves their negative attitudes and unjust perspectives towards them. East Boston allowed them to technically accept immigrants within their borders, but subject them to a cultural island, separate from the “true” city. The immigration station’s placement here also suggests this, as an unwanted site of infrastructure is placed on East Boston’s shores in order to provide a buffer between these unwanted peoples and the rest of the city (Mary Ellen Welch records) This idea is still evident in recent history, as the supporting of Latino cultures within East Boston and allowing them to build community there allows for an immigration to a middle ground, somewhere in the city but not quite in Boston.

This relationship of placing the unwanted onto a separate site is also visible within Logan Airport’s history. The airport, though needed and vital to Boston’s growth, was undesirable and unwanted as a site and as a landscape. East Bostonians often complained and fought against the airport because of the noise and air pollution caused by the airport. The airport’s constant expansion would also be at the expense of its surrounding landscape. (Mary Ellen Welch records). These characteristics, and the spatial and cultural relationship between East Boston and the mainland, determine that the ideal place for this unwanted airport is also on this unwanted island. In his essay, Mitchell writes that between relational landscapes, one’s rights become more paramount than those of the other. These landscapes’ relationship is defined by a subservience to the other, to take on all that the more powerful will not, that the rights of the mainland override the rights of East Boston.

This idea of one’s rights being more paramount than the other can also be seen through the active ignorance of the mainland to East Boston’s own concerns, needs, and rights. Once again, this is especially seen within the history of Logan Airport, as years of constant community protest and activism were deemed unimportant to the needs of the city and the state. Here, themes from Karilyn Crockett’s book, People Before Highways, become evident. In another struggle between community activists and city administration, one begs the question of who owns the rights to the city. Do they belong to its government, to those who technically hold the keys to it? Do they belong to its citizens, those who use it and allow its character and identity? Perhaps they belong to planners and architects, those who design the urban environment (Crockett). This question, when placed within the context of East Boston, shows that their relationship determines that the city, the outside governing force, owns the rights to the neighborhood, not its citizens and those who have the most investment in the betterment of the neighborhood. By ignoring the rights of one landscape, the power of the other is reinforced.

This ignorance of one landscape is also made possible by their aforementioned physical and cultural separation. Allowing for one to be placed out of view, it can easily be ignored, and those who ignore it can justify their ignorance. When an entire neighborhood is ignored, the consequences are dangerous. Ignorance of a neighborhood may seem difficult or impossible due to the scale and significance of a neighborhood, but Boston has a history of this, as displayed within the Boston Globe’s series on image and racism within Boston. One of the main factors and effects of Boston’s racist identity lies within the lack of representation of its African-American neighborhoods. Much like East Boston, their separation to Boston’s cultural and physical anchor points, such as the Boston Common, they become ignored by the residents and visitors of the city. Especially within the national spotlight, neighborhoods and their histories get ignored, spreading this ignorance to a greater population, a population that may not have chosen to ignore these neighborhoods, but are nevertheless affected by it (Boston Globe). East Boston may be even more ignored than Roxbury or Dorchester, because of its increased separation and isolation to the mainland and its cultural anchors. As a result, their relationship is defined by an active ignorance to the other, which over time evolves into a passive, unchosen ignorance.

Ignorance, given enough time and an extreme extent, becomes forgottenness. This is the final and most enduring relationship between East Boston and the mainland, when actions of subjugations from the mainland, forced subservience of the neighborhood, and a failure to respect the other’s needs and identity becomes a complete loss of landscapes, first from their physical form, and then from memory. Logan Airport’s expansion caused the loss of two of old East Boston’s most important landscapes: Wood Island Park and Neptune Road. This results in a forgetting of the culture and ways of life associated with these landscapes. The Immigration Station’s denial as a historical landmark and the removal of Immigrants Home on Marginal Street can lead to a forgottenness of the neighborhood’s connections to immigrants. It is even difficult to find information on some of the most historically and culturally significant landscapes, such as the Most Holy Redeemer Parish or Maverick Street. Yes, these still exist through memories and personal accounts. But given enough time, these landscapes of memory, these histories, these cultures may become forgotten.

But these landscapes do not have to be forgotten. Efforts are being made in order to preserve them. This the central idea of the Invisible-5 project, as an audio tour makes clear the landscapes lost to a relational landscape, lost to time, and lost to memory. It makes clear and illuminates what we have passively ignored or forgotten (Scott). And these illumination projects are present in East Boston’s history as well. From the Mary Ellen Welch records, to Jim Vraebel’s detailing of the Logan Airport conflicts, to interviews and studies on Latino entrepreneurs on Maverick Street, to small efforts like this very project, East Boston may be subjugated, may be ignored, and may be forgotten, but only if allowed to. Preserving East Boston’s histories and memories might first rely on an understanding of its relationship to the mainland, but also understanding how this relationship can be changed. These efforts to daylight this unique and important neighborhood’s history may allow more to recognize this neighborhood justly, and shift the balance of these relational landscapes, not severing the ties between the two, but rather a realignment for representation, justice, and preservation.


Works Cited
“Boston. Racism. Image. Reality.” Boston Globe.
Crockett, Karilyn. People Before Highways.
Mary Ellen Welch Papers (1966-2012). Northeastern University Library Archives.
Mitchell, Don. “A Relational Approach to Landscape and Urbanism: The View From an
Exclusive Suburb.”
Scott, Emily Eliza. “‘Invisible-5’s’ Illumination of Peripheral Geographies.”