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Local and Regional Interest

A Landscape History of New England takes a view of New England’s landscapes that goes beyond picture postcard-ready vistas of white-steepled churches, open pastures, and tree-covered mountains. Its chapters describe, for example, the Native American presence in the Maine Woods; offer a history of agriculture told through stone walls, woodlands, and farm buildings; report on the fragile ecology of tourist-friendly Cape Cod beaches; and reveal the ethnic stereotypes informing Colonial Revivalism. Taken together, they offer a wide-ranging history of New England’s diverse landscapes, stretching across two centuries.

The book shows that all New England landscapes are the products of human agency as well as nature. The authors trace the roles that work, recreation, historic preservation, conservation, and environmentalism have played in shaping the region, and they highlight the diversity of historical actors who have transformed both its meaning and its physical form. Drawing on a wide range of disciplines--including history, geography, environmental studies, literature, art history, and historic preservation--the book provides fresh perspectives on New England’s many landscapes: forests, mountains, farms, coasts, industrial areas, villages, towns, and cities. Generously illustrated, with many archival photographs, A Landscape History of New England offers readers a solid historical foundation for understanding the great variety of places that make up New England.

Greater Boston's Development from Railroad Suburbs to Smart Growth

Boston’s metropolitan landscape has been two hundred years in the making. From its proto-suburban village centers of 1800 to its far-flung, automobile-centric exurbs of today, Boston has been a national pacesetter for suburbanization. In The Hub’s Metropolis, James O’Connell charts the evolution of Boston’s suburban development.

The city of Boston is compact and consolidated—famously, “the Hub.” Greater Boston, however, stretches over 1,736 square miles and ranks as the world’s sixth largest metropolitan area. Boston suburbs began to develop after 1820, when wealthy city dwellers built country estates that were just a short carriage ride away from their homes in the city. Then, as transportation became more efficient and affordable, the map of the suburbs expanded. The Metropolitan Park Commission’s park-and-parkway system, developed in the 1890s, created a template for suburbanization that represents the country’s first example of regional planning.

O’Connell identifies nine layers of Boston’s suburban development, each of which has left its imprint on the landscape: traditional villages; country retreats; railroad suburbs; streetcar suburbs (the first electric streetcar boulevard, Beacon Street in Brookline, was designed by Frederic Law Olmsted); parkway suburbs, which emphasized public greenspace but also encouraged commuting by automobile; mill towns, with housing for workers; upscale and middle-class suburbs accessible by outer-belt highways like Route 128; exurban, McMansion-dotted sprawl; and smart growth. Still a pacesetter, Greater Boston has pioneered antisprawl initiatives that encourage compact, mixed-use development in existing neighborhoods near railroad and transit stations.

O’Connell reminds us that these nine layers of suburban infrastructure are still woven into the fabric of the metropolis. Each chapter suggests sites to visit, from Waltham country estates to Cambridge triple-deckers.

Designing a Campus for the Twenty-First Century

In the 1990s, MIT began a billion-dollar building program that transformed its outdated, run-down campus into an architectural showplace. Funded by the high-tech boom of the 1990s and and driven by a pent-up demand for new space, MIT’s ambitious rebuilding produced five major works of architecture: Kevin Roche’s Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center, Steven Holl’s Simmons Hall, Frank Gehry’s Stata Center, Charles Correa’s Brain and Cognitive Science Complex, and Fumihiko Maki’s still-unrealized project for the Media Laboratory. In Imagining MIT, William Mitchell (who served as architectural adviser to MIT president Charles Vest) offers a critical, behind-the-scenes view of MIT’s new buildings and the complex processes that produced them. The story is not simply one of commissions, projects, CAD, and hardhats; it is about all the forces that come into play—including money, politics, institutional dynamics, and ideology–when a major university campus is imagined, designed, and built. Lavishly illustrated with architectural photographs, drawings, plans, and models, with color images throughout, Imagining MIT shows both the opportunities and the obstacles facing architectural production and city building at the dawn of a new millennium.

Mitchell challenges and subverts the standard form of architectural narrative—the mythic tale of heroic designers and enlightened patrons who overcome adversity to realize their visions. Instead, he offers a Rashomon-like construction of multiple voices and viewpoints. He sets the scene by recounting the history of MIT campus architecture, from its early synthesis of classicism and pragmatism to the daring mid-twentieth-century modernism of Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen. The descriptions and illustrations of the new projects show not only the evolution of each building, but the relationship of the techniques of architectural representation–themselves evolving, from sketching and building models to three-dimensional computer modeling and rendering—to the conception and development of architectural ideas.

The History of a Cambridge Landscape

Fresh Pond Reservation, at the northwest edge of Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been described as a "landscape loved to death." Certainly it is a landscape that has been changed by its various uses over the years and one to which Cantabridgeans and Bostonians have felt an intense attachment. Henry James returned to it in his sixties, looking for "some echo of the dreams of youth," feeling keenly "the pleasure of memory"; a Harvard student of the 1850s fondly remembered skating parties and the chance of "flirtation with some fair-ankled beauty of breezy Boston"; modern residents argue fiercely over dogs being allowed to run free at the reservation and whether soccer or nature is a more valuable experience for Cambridge schoolchildren. In Fresh Pond, Jill Sinclair tells the story of the pond and its surrounding land through photographs, drawings, maps, plans, and an engaging narrative of the pond's geological, historical, and political ecology.

Fresh Pond has been a Native American hunting and fishing ground; the site of an eighteenth-century hotel offering bowling, food and wine, and impromptu performances by Harvard men; a summer retreat for wealthy Bostonians; a training ground for trench warfare; a location for picnics and festivals for workers and sporting activities for all. The parkland features an Olmsted design, albeit an imperfectly realized one. The pond itself—a natural lake carved out by the retreating Ice Age about 15,000 years ago—was a center of the nineteenth-century ice industry (disparaged by Thoreau, writing about another pond), and still supplies the city of Cambridge with fresh drinking water.

Sinclair's celebration of a local landscape also alerts us to broader issues—shifts in public attitudes toward nature (is it brutal wilderness or in need of protection?) and water (precious commodity or limitless flow?)—that resonate as we remake our relationship to the landscape.