Urban Walking Tours

2021 Walking Tours of Boston

Jim O’Connell leads Urban Walking Tours in Greater Boston. Jim combines his knowledge of Boston’s urban history and contemporary planning to explore how this dynamic region is evolving. Jim is available to lead customized tours of downtown Boston, various neighborhoods, and selected suburban communities. Contact him at jcoconnell@comcast.net for further information. Jim also leads tours for Context Travel–https://www.contexttravel.com/cities/boston

Brookline Adult & Community Education

Under the auspices of the Brookline Adult & Community Education Program, Jim is leading the following walking tours in 2020. To register for the tours, contact https://www.campusce.net/brookline/course/course.aspx?catId=72.

Ink Block-South End Walking Tour

Saturday, March 6, 2021, 1:00 PM

Explore Boston’s newest neighborhood—the Ink Block District, in the South End at the edge of Chinatown. Over the past five years, this marginal area has been transformed by hundreds of residential units in a dozen different buildings. This area, originally known as the New York Streets, developed in the latter 19th century as a neighborhood serving the railroad yards around South Station. The New York Streets, which resembled the North and West Ends, were demolished for urban renewal in the mid-1950s to provide sites for industry, including the Boston Herald plant. In recent years, the booming growth of Boston has spurred the redevelopment of underutilized areas. The Ink Block District has become one of the foremost results of these efforts. Explore the complex of new apartments, hotels, recycled church, restaurants, offices, and the unusual 8-acre park under I-93 called Underground at Ink Block. The tour will include parts of the South of Washington Area (SOWA).

This tour will meet at Tufts Medical Center MBTA Station in front of the DoubleTree Hotel, 821 Washington Street.

 Kendall Square: Global Life Sciences Hub

Saturday, April 10, 2021, 1:00 PM

Kendall Square is considered the foremost center for life sciences innovation in the world. Its reputation has only been enhanced by the scientific breakthroughs achieved during the Covid-19 pandemic. Join Boston University Professor Jim O’Connell to explore Kendall Square and learn its history as a late 19th-century/early 20th-century industrial district and a 1960s urban renewal area that was supposed host the NASA Electronics Research Center before becoming the leading biotech center. The walk will cover the Moderna headquarters (home of the ground-breaking Covid-19 vaccine), Pfizer R&D offices, CRISPR Therapeutics (pioneer in gene editing), Frank Gehry’s MIT Stata Center, Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) co-working space, Biogen, Google’s New England headquarters, and several new developments.

The tour will meet outside Kendall Square MBTA Station, 255 Main Street, Cambridge

Urban Renewal in Boston: Success or Mistake?

Sunday, May 2, 2021 1:00 PM

Urban renewal projects during the 1950s and 1960s are considered some of Boston’s most controversial planning initiatives. Old neighborhoods were demolished and replaced by modernist buildings and plazas. Join Boston University Professor Jim O’Connell to consider whether these projects were successful or not in achieving the aim of redeveloping Boston. Examine the layout and buildings of Government Center and the West End. This walk will draw upon analysis from Lizabeth Cohen’s award-winning biography of 1960s Boston Redevelopment Authority Director Ed Logue, Saving America’s Cities.

The tour will meet outside Government Center MBTA Station.

*During subsequent months of 2021, a different tour itinerary will be offered each month. Closer to the date, check the Brookline Adult & Community Education wbsitehttps://www.campusce.net/brookline/course/course.aspx?catId=72


Jim O’Connell has developed other walking tour itineraries that can be offered on a privately-led basis.

Financial District-Downtown Walking Tour

Explore the layers of development in Boston’s historic core, including the colonial port, a prestigious early 19th-century residential neighborhood, the area scorched over by the 1872 Boston Fire, the early 20th-century office district, and the modernistic skyline of today. Walk State Street (Boston’s original business street, stretching into the harbor), Broad Street (laid out by Charles Bulfinch), Devonshire Street (early 20th-century office buildings), Post Office Square (handsome 1990 park), Rose Kennedy Greenway, and Washington Street. The walk will focus on the evolution of the city’s commercial architecture.

Fenway Walking Tour

Approaches to urban development in Greater Boston have been changed radically from the automobile-oriented twentieth century. Cities are experiencing increased residential living, mixed commercial and residential uses, knowledge economy development, public transit use, and open space creation. Join us for a walking tour from Beacon Street in Brookline through the Fenway district to investigate some of the community’s latest development projects.

This tour meets in front of Sichuan Gourmet Restaurant, 1004 Beacon Street, at Audubon Circle, Brookline. The tour will feature an overview of Frederick Law Olmsted’s design of Brookline’s Beacon Street, then proceed to Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace to examine the recent uncovering of the Muddy River. The tour will explore the new neighborhood that has been developing on Boylston Street and Brookline Avenue in the Fenway, including the new Time Out Market Boston in the old Sears Building and the Fenway Center residential development.

North Station to Downtown Crossing Walking Tour

Boston is in the midst of one of its biggest development booms. Like other American cities, Boston is experiencing increased downtown living, mixed commercial and residential uses, bicycle use, open space creation, and place-making cultural activities. Join us for a walking tour to examine how these 21st-century planning strategies are transforming the city’s historic core. This tour will explore new developments at the North Station area, Boston Public Market, Rose Kennedy Greenway, Financial District, and Downtown Crossing. Meet at CVS, 101 Canal Street @ Causeway Street, across from North Station.

Walk along the “Lost Half-Mile” of the Charles River

Discover a little-known part of Boston on walk along the “Lost Half-Mile”/New Charles River Basin of the Charles River, between the Charles River Dam Bridge and the North Washington Street Bridge. Boston University City Planning Professor Jim O’Connell will lead the tour, which will explore the 1910 Charles River Dam & the Museum of Science Park, burgeoning Cambridge Crossing/North Point development area, handsomely landscaped North Point Park, the underside of the Zakim Bridge, Charlestown’s Paul Revere Park (where Revere began his 1775 “midnight ride”), and the 1978 Charles River Dam. This is one of the most complicated and least appreciated open space reclamation projects in Greater Boston. Meet at CVS, 101 Canal Street @ Causeway Street, across from North Station.

Downtown Walking Tour of Historic Boston Restaurants

Take a walking tour of historic Boston restaurants with Jim O’Connell, author of Dining Out in Boston: A Culinary History. This unusual tour will summon up dining experiences at such historic restaurants Union Oyster House (oldest existing restaurant), Durgin Park (second oldest), Parker House (first á la carte menu), Marliave, Locke-Ober Café (today’s Yvonne’s), Jacob Wirth, and Chinatown eateries. Also learn about bygone eateries like Julien’s Restorator (America’s first restaurant), Thompson’s Spa, and Bailey’s Ice Cream. The walk will savor memories from long-forgotten menus and explain how Boston has been one of the country’s most influential restaurant cities. Post-tour dining will be at the participant’s discretion.