Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Lech Walesa Bridge

Motorists reaching the butt end of Morrissey Boulevard will find that construction is in progress on the Lech Walesa Bridge. It's understandable if you may not have heard of this bridge. It's not really as prominent a landmark as the Tobin and the Zakim Bridges. Its not as attractive as the footbridge in the Public Garden. In fact, the Lech Walesa Bridge isn't picturesque at all.

I doubt anyone has informed the former President of Poland, a renowned anti-communist and labor organizer, that Boston is home to a bridge named in his honor. It's nothing much to look at. In fact, if there weren't repairs going on, few people would know they were crossing the Lech Walesa Bridge. Because there is commonwealth-funded construction, there needs to be a sign describing what is done and what political authorities are responsible for this feat of civic engineering. The sign has raised awareness of Poland's post-glasnost politics.

Before the repaving, everyone thought of this as the overpass to get from Morrisey Blvd to that annoying Columbia Road rotary.

What majestic geographic feature does the Lech Walesa Bridge cross? Mount Vernon Street, a potholed, utilitarian, urban artery that connects the Harbor Point Shopping Center (a Shaw's supermarket and a liquor store) with the back side of the UMASS Boston Campus. The views from the bridge are as inspiring as its architechture. Function followed form in this case. The Lech Walesa Bridge is no Zakim. Nobody earned any overtime designing this gem. It is a featureless, by-the-numbers, concrete overpass. It was probably named Municipal Overpass #633 in the design stage but some bright legislator got the idea in his head that it would serve as a fitting tribute to the President of Poland.

On behalf of Dorchester as a whole, I would like to formally apologize to Lech Walesa. His life, its struggles, its successes and the effect he has had, not only in Poland but on the world community, deserves better than having his name plopped on any piece of infrastructure that happened to be unnamed at the time. It was only fate that this overpass didn't have a name attached to it. The unintended slight is nothing compared to the Mikhail Gorbachev Sewage Pumping Station located in Lower Mills. The Nelson Mandela Storm Grate on Van Winkle Street is another example of a poorly considered honor.

Dorchester is home to a Ronald Reagan Dog Walk, the Winston Churchill Aluminum Can Drop-Off Center, and the Buzz Aldrin Community Compost Heap. Dorchester knows how to recognize greatness. It's just a little fuzzy on how to commemorate it.

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