Sewers and Urban Planning in Boston

Created by: Taylor Ford
Time Period: 19th Century, 20th Century
Topic: Infrastructure, Remaking Urban Space

For my project I chose to question the development of sewage technologies and how such technologies influenced the landscape of Boston. In the year 1875 the state of Massachusetts became involved in the sanitation issue that was affecting the city and created the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission. Sewers had originally been under the control of private citizens and companies, but in 1701 the municipal governments of the Boston region began to regulate the sewers. Though private citizens and companies built the early sewers of Boston the infrastructure was changed and expanded in the late 1800s with the development of the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission.

The demand for a sewage disposal system was growing with the cities expanding population. The old systems included about 70 discharge outlets; a new system would close off most of the old outlets and create two new outlets. These new outlets would be far enough away from the Boston Harbor that they would not affect the inner city. Engineers and medical officials involved in the project wanted a solution to the sewage issue before public health became endangered.

The Metropolitan Sewerage Commission released a report in 1875 stating that this project was broad in scope and would encompass metropolitan districts north and south of the Charles River including: Boston proper, South Boston, Roxbury, Dorchester, Brookline, Brighton, Newton, Cambridge, Somerville, Charlestown, Everett, Chelsea, East Boston and Winthrop. Such a project would thus encompass the city limits and areas directly outside the city. The metropolitan government would have to work with local municipal authorities to make such a project run. Construction for the improvement of the Boston main drainage works began in 1877 and was completed in 1884. This original project compromised 25 miles of main and intercepting sewers in around the city of Boston. Boston would continue to grow and the original sewer system would expand and change as time moved forward and the cities landscape grew. Though it was difficult to connect the sewer from Boston proper to local municipalities it was necessary for the region health and growth as a booming metropolitan region.

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