2021 Year in Review

2021 was still a tough year for many, though the arrival of vaccinations for the general public, as well as advancements in science, have brought some relief during the pandemic. The Back Bay, Fenway/Kenmore, and South End neighborhoods—along with the city as a whole— had their share of ups and downs, but neighbors came together to help each other and engage in their communities to make a difference. Here are 21 top stories of 2021.

Pictured, left to right, DCR Commissioner Jim Montgomery; Gov. Charlie Baker; former New England Patriot Ron Gronkowski Ron Gronkowski; Michael Nichols, executive director of the Esplanade Association; Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Kathleen Theoharides; Rep. Jay Livingstone; and former Sen. Sal DiDomenico are seen on May 7, when Ron Gronkowski announced his $1.2 million gift on behalf of the Gronk Nation Youth Foundation to the Esplanade Association for a complete renovation of the Charlesbank Playground on the Esplanade.
  1. On Jan. 4, Mayor Marty Walsh signed an executive order creating an Office of Police Accountability and Transparency (OPAT). The office examines police procedures and investigates civilian complaints about the Boston Police Department. He had also previously created a nine-member Civilian Review Board as well as an Internal Affairs Oversight Panel.
  2. On Jan. 22, the Esplanade Association commemorated its 20th anniversary by debuting “Hatched: Breaking through the Silence” – an original 15-minute visual performance led by Boston-based creative Maria Finkelmeier of MF Dynamics that was specifically designed for the 80-year-old DCR Hatch Shel. The free program ran through Feb. 22, with multiple showings each night.
  3. On Feb. 1, Fenway Park opened as the second large-scale COVID-19 vaccination site in the Commonwealth (after Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.) More than 55,000 vaccine shots were administered at Fenway Park before the site closed on March 27, and its vaccination clinic operations were shifted to the Hynes Convention Center in the Back Bay, so that the ballpark could accommodate the Red Sox home season, which kicked off on April 1, with a game against the Baltimore Orioles. The Hynes had opened as a vaccination clinic on March 18, and before it closed on June 22, more than 330,000 were administered there.
  4. On March 18, the Boston Art Commission approved the final design for “The Embrace,” a memorial honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King, who met in Boston. The 22 foot bronze sculpture depicting embraced the hands and arms of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King will be erected on the Tremont St. side of the park, and construction is expected to be completed next year. On May 25, the Boston Landmarks Commission also approved the final design for the memorial.
  5. On March 22, Mayor Marty Walsh gave his final farewell as Boston’s mayor, as he prepared to head to Washington to serve as President Biden’s Secretary of Labor. City Council president Kim Janey then became the first Black person and first woman to lead Boston.
  6. In March, service on the Route 55 bus was suspended, leaving many Fenwickians without an easy way to travel downtown. On many Sundays, neighbors and transit supporters stood at the Jersey and Queensberry stop with signs, protesting the suspension. Service has since been restored on the line, but only from 10am to 4pm. A community meeting was held on December 7 for residents to hear updates and share their thoughts on public transportation in the neighborhood.
  7. On April 26, Boston Public Schools (BPS) students in grades Kindergarten through 8th grade returned to in-person learning after utilizing a hybrid model. Governor Charlie Baker had announced in February that remote learning was to be eliminated for elementary school students across the state by April 5, but BPS was granted more time to prepare for the return to in-person learning. Parents still had the option to continue remote learning for their children if they desired, but that option was not offered for the 2021-2022 school year.
  8. On April 1, “Ducks on Parade!” – a photo book exploring the ongoing phenomenon of the iconic “Make Way for Ducklings” sculpture in the Public Garden and its ever-changing array of topical attire and its ever-changing array of topical attire – was published by Brandeis University Press. Nancy Schön, the West Newton sculptor who brought the family of aquatic birds from Robert McCloskey’s  classic children’s book “Make Way for Ducklings to life in the Public Garden, edited the book, which is divided into two sections – “Four Seasons of Ducks” and “Ducks with a Message. “Four Seasons of Ducks” follows Mrs. Mallard and her kin over the course of a year. They wear green for St. Patrick’s Day, all dress as bunnies for Easter, don medals for the Boston Marathon and even masquerade as pilgrims for Thanksgiving, while showing their support for all the home teams, including the Bruins, Celtics, Sox and the Pats, with a changing array of uniforms. The book’s second section, “Ducks with a Message,” shows the aquatic creatures taking a political stand in costume, such as the knitted pink hats they wore in conjunction with the Boston Women’s March for America, which drew a crowd estimated at 175,000 to the Boston Common on Jan. 21, 2017 – one day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration – in support of women’s rights. Or, during a guerilla art installation in August of 2019, when the Ducks were caged in chicken wire to show solidarity with immigrants facing mistreatment at the border. The book’s forward was also penned by former Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who wrote, , “On any given day, you can walk through the Public Garden and find the Mallard family dressed up to reflect the current cultural moment and adorned with props to signify historic milestones in Boston’s history. You’ll see whimsical, over-the-top tributes to holidays and sports teams, and you’ll see serious reflections on our country’s political climate, too. In that way, Nancy Schön didn’t just create one of our city’s most beloved works of public art; she also gave us a living record of life in our city, and encouraged us all to become artists and reflect on the moment we’re living in.”
  9. In April, The Tavistock Group announced its plans to add to add five more stories to three adjacent Boylston Street buildings located between 761-793 Boylston St. The international private investment group that owns Abe & Louie’s and Atlantic Fish, intends to build a new lobby behind the façade of 777 Boylston St. where Crate and Barrel was formerly located that would rise up five stories and stretch over the locations of Abe & Louie’s at 793 Boylston St. on one side and Atlantic Fish at 761 Boylston St. on the other. Dennis Quilty, an attorney for the applicant, said at time that time, the project, as proposed, includes plans for approximately 15,830 square feet of retail space; 25,720 square feet of office/fitness space; and nine residential units (three per floor) comprising approximately 18,600 square feet within the top three stories, and with proposed rooftop amenities facing both Boylston and Newbury streets. Retail uses would occupy the first and second levels of the site, with office space on the third through fifth levels.Moreover, operations at both Abe & Louie’s and Atlantic Fish wouldn’t be disrupted during construction, said Quilty.
  10. On May 7, former New England Patriot Ron Gronkowski announced his $1.2 million gift on behalf of the Gronk Nation Youth Foundation to the Esplanade Association for a complete renovation of the Charlesbank Playground on the Esplanade.
  11. On May 28, the Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial reopened on the Boston Common after undergoing a $ 3 million renovation. The extensive restoration work, which was undertaken through a partnership between the Friends of the Public Garden, the City of Boston, the Museum of African American History and the National Park Service, entailed removing the brass memorial from its stonework encasing and transporting it to Skylight Studios in Woburn for refurbishing, as well as installing supplemental steel within the monument itself and a protection system for the existing beams within the plaza. The monument was also  “retro-fitted seismically” to withstand earthquakes.
  12. On June 7, Acting Mayor Kim Janey announced the termination of Boston Police Commissioner Dennis White, following an independent investigation into domestic violence allegations that surfaced after he was sworn in on February 1. Former Mayor Marty Walsh had placed White on administrative leave on February 3 while the investigation was carried out. Chief Greg Long has served as the Acting Commissioner since White went on leave.
  13. On August 12, Acting Mayor Kim Janey announced that all city employees, contractors, and volunteers would be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 19, or be tested weekly for the virus. Mayor Michelle Wu on December 20 announced that the testing choice would be eliminated, and instead requiring the vaccine for all city employees, who must have a first dose by Jan. 15 and a second dose by Feb. 15.
  14. On Sept. 14, then-City Councilors Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George beat four other candidates to serve as the next Mayor of Boston in the Primary Election, including former Acting Mayor Kim Janey; former City Councilor Andrea Campbell; and John Barros, who previously served as the city’s chief of economic development under former Mayor Martin Walsh, to become the two top candidates who would face off in the Nov. 2 General Election. Another Mayoral candidate, Rep. Jon Santiago, withdrew from the race on July 13. In the District 7 City Council race to fill the seat vacated by then-Acting Mayor Kim Janey, Tania Fernandes Anderson topped the ballot and went on to face runner-up, Roy Owens, in the November election. Owens narrowly edged out the third-place vote-getter in the race, Angie Camaco, while the other candidates rounding out the eight-way race were Brandy M. Brooks, Lorraine E. Payne Wheeler, Santiago Leon Rivera, Marisa C. Luse, and Joao Gomes Depina. In the crowded City Councilor at-Large race, Michael Flaherty, Julia Mejia, Ruthzee Louijeune, Erin Murphy,  Carla Monteiro, David Halbert, Althea Garrison, Bridget Nee-Walsh, and Alexander Gray emerged as the eight top vote-getters to advance to the November election, beating out rival candidates Said Abdikarim, Kelly Bates, James Colimon, Althea Garrison, Carla Monteiro, Domingos DaRosa, Jon Spillane, and Nicholas Vance.
  15. On Sept. 22, “What Do We Have in Common?” – a new park-wide art installation to mark the Friends of the Public Garden’s 50th anniversary – opened on the Boston Common –  one year later than originally planned due to the pandemic. The centerpiece of the art installation, curated  by Now + There, a Boston-based nonprofit public-arts group, and created by Brooklyn, N.Y., artist, Janet Zweig  was a massive wooden cabinet, with 200 compartments, each containing an illuminated, blue marker asking a poignant question. The first three questions, which were posed in Spanish and Vietnamese, as well as in English, during the Sept. 22 launch for the installation were: “who owns this park?”; “who owns the moon?”; and “who owns the air?.”Twelve guides were on hand in the park each day for the exhibit, which ran for 30 days until Oct. 22, to answer questions from guests, who were also invited to take a free book from the cabinet.
  16. On Nov. 2, then-City Councilor Michelle Wu beat out her opponent, former City Councilor, Annissa Essaibi George, in the General Election to become the next Mayor of Boston, making her the first person of color, as well as the first person of color, to ever be elected to the office in the city’s history.In the District 7 City Council race, Tania Fernandes Anderson also beat out rival Roy Owens, making her the first Muslim-American ever elected to the council. In the race for the four City Councilor at-Large seats, incumbent City Councilors Michael Flaherty and Julia Mejia retained their seats alongside newcomers Ruthzee Louijeune and Erin Murphy.
  17. On Nov. 13, Mel King, the 93-year-old lifelong South End resident who served as state representative for the 9th Suffolk District from 1973 to 1982, was honored by the city with the unveiling of Melvin H. “Mel” King Square at the intersection of Yarmouth Street and Columbus Avenue. Numerous elected officials were on hand for the occasion, including former Acting Mayor Kim Janey, who said King has been described as a “trailblazer,” a “living legend,” and a “national treasure.” (King had previously endorsed Janey for Mayor). King himself also made two high-profile but ultimately unsuccessful bids for Mayor of Boston  – in 1979 and again in 1983.
  18. On Nov. 18, Nov. 15, at the Colonnade Hotel, the Back Bay Association bestowed its Heavy Lifting Award on another long-serving neighborhood group, the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay, during the BBA’s 98th annual meeting at the Colonnade Hotel. At the event, Meg Mainzer-Cohen, president and executive director of the BBA, also welcomed Carlos Bueno, a board member and managing director of The Newbury Boston, as the organization’s incoming chair.
  19. On Dec. 9, Gov. Charlie Baker joined  Mayor Michelle Wu, among other elected officials and dignitaries, at the old YW Boston (formerly YWCA Boston) headquarters at the corner of Clarendon and Stuart streets in Back Bay for the redevelopment project that will transform the building into affordable housing, with 111 of its 210 planned units expected to go to people experiencing homelessness. Beacon Communities and the Mount Vernon are partnering with the Pine Street Inn to renovate 50,000 square feet of space now comprising the existing 66-room Hotel 140 and 118 apartments into studio and one-bedroom rental units while the site’s three largest commercial tenants, the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, a nonprofit performing arts center; the Snowden International School; and YW Boston itself, will remain there as part of the plan.  Beacon Communities, in partnership with Mount Vernon Company, will own the new development, which will be managed by Beacon Residential Management Limited Partnership. Construction on the project is expected to be completed in 2024.
  20. On Dec. 15, Mayor Michelle Wu announced that the city intends to clear out the tent encampment at Mass. and Cass, the epicenter of the region’s opioid crisis. The following day, the city deployed outreach workers to the area to offer citywide housing options to tent dwellers. Mayor Wu’s decisive action came on the heels of an executive order issued by then-Acting Mayor Kim Janey on Oct. 19 declaring the ongoing situation at Mass. and Cass a public health crisis, which also sought to ban encampments in the area, and to divert people living there into shelters. In a related news story, Boston Medical Center announced its controversial plan to bring new homelessness/addiction services and temporary housing to the Roundhouse Hotel, located in the heart of Mass. and Cass. at 891 Massachusetts Ave. Additionally, a pop-up “cottage community” comprising 17 pre-fabricated sleeping cabins to provide temporary housing for patients was slated to open before the end of December in a parking lot at the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital in Jamaica Plain.
  21. On December 20, Mayor Michelle Wu announced the “B-Together” program, which requires people to show proof of vaccination to enter certain indoor spaces, including restaurants, bars, nightclubs, fitness centers, and entertainment venues, such as theaters. The program goes into effect on January 15, 2022. Employees of these places must also be vaccinated as part of the program. The requirement is similar to New York City’s, which went into effect in mid-September.

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