Friday Traveller: Charlestown, MA


Charlestown is now part of Boston, lying north of the downtown. It was laid out in 1629 by the Puritans, a sort of Taliban of the day. Most row houses are on the slopes of Bunker and other Hills. Architecturally, they are Georgian style. By the 1960’s they were slated for neighbourhood-wide demolition and “urban renewal” by the friendly folks at your local planning department. Elevated   arterials    freeways traffic sewers were also plunked down to emphasize the diktat  “move to the suburbs!”

Some residents and urbanists fought back, and significant blocks were saved from “renewal”. By the 1980’s gentrification was in full swing, with yuppies replacing working class families and slumlords. Now it is a prestigious neighbourhood to live in. One traffic sewer was even pushed underground.


This little walking tour started at the USS Constitution and goes by Bunker Hill ( American marketing turns famous victories  losses, like Alamo, Pearl Harbour, & Bunker Hill into victories).

Despite the abundance of cuteness, the houses are genuinely old and bits of bad foundation or basement windows reveal what’s lurking inside.



The magnitude and quality of the brick houses drives home how affluent the colonialists made themselves. Colonial towns in the Maritimes and Ontario don’t evidence the same spending power or the quantity of it.

There are some non-brick blocks that remind one of Lunenburg or St John’s or Niagara on the Lake:


It always amazes me in America how old and yet still operating some infrastructure is. I cannot imagine Ottawa keeping a fire station like this open, but one finds these all over Boston or NYC:


The front doors and windows offer great sidewalk viewing:  (note to reader:  I am back to having great problems with WordPress rotating my pictures in ways that I cannot counteract. You may have to rotate your monitor to see them correctly. Hi tech !!)


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The front doors are deeply recessed (above), out of the rain and wind. Storm doors could also be fitted seasonally or permanently, like below:

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Urban parks exude character and make one want to linger. Some how that character seems to elude Ottawa parks except in small corners … maybe they are oversights?


Depending on the way one wanders, you can end up at some less-than-thrilling public housing projects, industrial properties, intruding freeway blight zones, or perhaps wander into the next historic neighbourhood of a different character:





2 thoughts on “Friday Traveller: Charlestown, MA

  1. Just read a good article on the effect “chief city planners” can have on molding understanding of long-term good planning ideas, quite independent of developer pressure and zoning rules. Vancouver had one, but he seemed to eventually have crossed council members and they chucked him. He is now world famous for what he managed to instill after the ’86 world’s fair there. Some great ideas need much time to blossom. Montreal and Toronto have “chief planners”, but we here on Ottawa do not. These are professionals who are not afraid to say it as it is and to build a linkage with the general citizens. We should logy for one.

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