Six years ago today, Milena Del Valle was killed while driving through Boston's Big Dig when a large section of the tunnel's concrete ceiling tile crashed down on the car she was in.
In 2007, I worked on a piece for The Next American City
about her death, and about the Big Dig. The piece was never published -- indeed, it was still in the process of further editing when I put it down.
I stumbled across it the other day and I decided to post it below unchanged from the time I stopped working on it in 2007. In that way, the article stands as a time capsule from a half-decade ago to some of those attitudes about the project.
What strikes me most in re-reading it is the ambivalence expressed in it about the value of the Big Dig as a public infrastructure investment.
While further reporting would have delved into the interconnection between the almost $15 billion of public money spent and the hoped-for impact on the city of Boston and the region, in 2007 it seems the jury was still out as to whether this had been all just been a colossal waste of time and dollars.
Fast-forward to 2012, and it is clear to me now that the catalytic impact of the Big Dig is real and is happening. Moreover, it is in full swing. A short walk around the waterfront in the Seaport District on July 4th weekend -- or a visit to a Boston Society of Architects presentation about the 2.6 million square feet of office, retail and residential space soon to be built -- tells me that this zone is poised to explode with people and with activity. Here is Boston's great expansion, happening in our time before our eyes.
I make no particular claim about the writing -- either its style or its flow. With further work, I feel it would have pulled itself together nicely, but it did not receive further work, so it is as it stands -- perhaps imperfect, certainly unfinished. Its substance however is solid, and it hindsight, more emphasis should have been given to potential boom that the Big Dig was supposed to unlock. Therein may lie a follow-on article, better written and up-to-date looking at all that had been made possible by this much debated and much maligned tunnel. As the intervening five plus years have told us, the dreams of a few are becoming the reality of many.
The story reiterates the point I have felt for many years now -- timelines are long in urban contexts. To change a city requires a strategic vision, a broad perspective and a deep patience. It simply doesn't happen any other way.
THE DAY THE ROOF FELL IN ON THE BIG DIG
Article written by Sam Seidel in 2007, not published
On July 10, 2006 support bolts gave way in the multi-billion dollar tunnel snaking through Boston’s downtown, the Big Dig, causing 12 tons of concrete ceiling paneling to fall on a passing automobile, crushing it but leaving the driver’s side untouched. Unfortunately, the passenger, Milena Del Valle, was not so lucky. She was killed instantly.