The Boston Sun Rewind 2020

The year 2020 was a tough one for all, and was full of unknowns after COVID-19 hit and the City had to adjust to a “new normal.” As we head into a new year, here’s a look back at 20 of the stories that shaped how the Back Bay, South End, Fenway, and Kenmore neighborhoods, as well as the rest of Boston and beyond, will move forward together.

Peters Park Protest—June 4 Photo by Ej Lemay.
Protestors in Peters Park gathered on Friday, May 29, for the first protest
organized in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis (MN) police officers on May 25. What was expected to be a smaller gathering quickly swelled to hundreds of people. The peaceful situation in Peters Park lasted for nearly an hour. Later, it moved to the D-4 Police Station where there was a small confrontation with Boston Police, before the crowds left for a gathering in Roxbury. It kicked off a weekend and week of protests that went on nearly every night.

1. In January, the City Council welcomed four new councilors: At-Large Councilor Julia Mejia, and District Councilors Ricardo Arroyo, Liz Breadon, and District 8’s Kenzie Bok. District 7 Councilor Kim Janey was also elected president of the most diverse City Council Boston has ever seen.

2. Also in January, Mayor Walsh delivered his State of the City address, saying he promises investments in education, affordable housing, and transportation, as well as to fight for equality for all.

3. In 2019, the state announced that it hopes to sell the Hynes Convention Center in the Back Bay as part of an expansion plan for the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. A hearing was held in January 2020 to talk about the future of the building, but many Back Bay neighbors and leaders had concerns about the loss of the Hynes and how it would affect the neighborhood.

Puerto Rican Veterans Monument statues with masks—May 21.
No Memorial Day exercises were held this year at the Puerto Rican Veterans Monument Square in the South End, but in appropriate fashion, the iconic statue was outfitted in face coverings using the Puerto Rican and United States flags. Most remembrances were cancelled, and most veterans groups and City leaders participated in virtual memorials to celebrate those that sacrificed their lives for

4. Marijuana proposals were still a hot button topic at community meetings across the City this year. Pure Oasis in Dorchester was the first recreational marijuana dispensary to open within the boundaries of the City of Boston, but other proposals left residents questioning the process for approving the recreational dispensaries. Controversy surrounding sitings for the dispensaries has also been a large part of the discussion in the Sun’s neighborhoods this year.

5. In mid-March, after a couple weeks of hearing about it in the news, COVID-19 officially hit Boston and the rest of America, prompting schools and workplaces to close while leaders figured out what the best plan of action was. Governor Charlie Baker implemented a stay-at-home advisory at first, shutting all non-essential businesses down in late March. He then implemented a phased reopening plan for the state in May, and Mayor Marty Walsh tightened some of the plan’s restrictions to keep Bostonians safe over the past few months.  

6. In April, a water main break on Harrison Ave. in the South End left cars and buildings underwater, causing more hardship amidst the still fairly new lockdown phase of the pandemic. Renters were displaced from their homes, Cinquecento restaurant was flooded, and power outages caused even more problems.

7. Vic Leon, Sr., owner of Foodie’s Urban Market, passed away in late April. Leon was known by many in the South End community, and his family has owned businesses in the neighborhood for over 60 years. Those who knew him say that Leon’s dedication to the community will not be forgotten as many still rely on Foodie’s for their essentials.

8. The Mass/Cass 2.0 Task Force met publicly for the first time in November. The Task Force is comprised of 24 community leaders, elected officials, and medical professionals who are responsible for the Mass/Cass 2.0 plan to help with homelessness and substance abuse in that area. Residents still have concerns about these issues, but recently many said they were pleased with some of the updates and details about the plan.

9. Due to the pandemic, many of the City’s beloved events, such as the Pride Parade, the Fourth of July fireworks and celebrations, the Boston Marathon, Fenway Porchfest, and various other events and parades were cancelled this year. Many, however, managed to hold some sort of virtual version to keep the spirit of celebration alive safely.

10. In May, George Floyd died after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, sparking protests around the country and leading to an ongoing discussion around police reform in the City and the creation of the Boston Police Reform Task Force.

11. Differing viewpoints between City Councilors led to a robust discussion around the FY21 city budget, which was passed in June. The operating budget passed 8-5, as five councilors believed it did not go far enough to remove money from the Boston Police overtime budget and fund other departments to meet the needs of communities across the city.

12. Mayor Marty Walsh declared racism a public heath emergency in June as well, adding that 20 percent, or $12 million, of the Boston Police Department’s overtime budget would be reallocated to youth, food security, and other community programs in the city to take a step in the direction of creating a more equitable Boston.

13. In July, the Red Sox played their first game of the season against the Baltimore Orioles in an empty Fenway Park. The pandemic created many barriers for professional sports as well as many other industries this year, and most activities did not look the same. The sound of a live crowd was played over the PA system, and outdoor spaces were created at venues on Lansdowne St. for spectators to enjoy the game at a distance from one another.

14. In August, the long-awaited WaterGoat trash net was launched into the Muddy River at the corner of Ipswich St. and Charlesgate East. A socially distanced ribbon cutting event was held, where three live goats made a special appearance. The Muddy Water Initiative had been working to get the net installed and has found volunteer groups to help remove trash from the net, keeping the Muddy River cleaner.

15. The Harriet Tubman house in the South End was an important issue this past year, with protests against the sale and demolition of the building and several lengthy discussions at South End Landmark District Commission hearings regarding the design of the new building. Supporters of United South End Settlements (USES), which owned the Tubman House, said the sale and demolition needed to happen to keep their programming alive.  The building was sold in November for $13.25 million, and in December, the Boston Planning and Development Agency approved the proposed new building, which will consist of 66 units for ownership, including 11 affordable units, a cafe, and a space for community use.

16. Mail in voting and early voting were at an all-time high this year due to the pandemic, with mail in voting being offered for the first time as an option for Massachusetts voters. In person voting and early voting were also offered, giving Bostonians an array of options to cast their vote in this year’s presidential election.

17. City Councilors Michelle Wu and Andrea Campbell both announced their candidacies for Mayor of Boston in September, and have been out in the community, as well as virtually, talking about their platforms and discussing issues important to residents, which include the opioid crisis—particularly at the intersection of Mass/Cass—affordable housing, transportation, racial equity, and public health. 

18. 2020 has been a tough year for restaurants, which have had to abide by and adapt to ever-morphing restrictions and changes made by the city and state governments. Several restaurants have also had to permanently close as a result of the pandemic or other issues, including Post 390 in the Back Bay, Cinquecento in the South End, and others. Others found an opportunity for a beginning, such as Greystone Cafe Bakery and Provisions, which opened in the Back Bay over the summer. Some restaurants, like Fenway Johnnie’s , Cask ’n Flagon, and Time Out Market in the Fenway, have recently announed that they will close for a temporary period of time following the most recent rise in cases.

19. In November, the MBTA proposed several changes to its service, which incited backlash from many residents and elected officials who said that the cuts would be a detriment to the city, especially during the pandemic. Proposed cuts included removing several bus lines, cutting back on service, and ending Green Line service on the E branch at Brigham Circle, among other things. In mid-December, the MBTA announced that short-term service changes will be made in the spring of next year, including a 20 percent reduction in frequency for the Red, Orange, and Green Lines, a 5 percent reduction on the Blue Line, and small service reductions on bus routes. There will also be changes made to Commuter Rail service.

20. In December, the first COVID-19 vaccines were delivered and administered in Boston, and Boston Medical Center (BMC) nurse Cheryl Tull was the first BMC employee to receive the vaccine. Governor Baker announced the state’s vaccine rollout plan that, right now, has the general public receiving the vaccine in April. Many factors surrounding the vaccine could allow that to change in the coming months, but it is a light at the end of a tunnel for a difficult year.

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