25 Top Newsmakers
When it came to shepherding development projects large and small through Boston’s byzantine approval process, Brian Golden literally had the golden touch.
In more than eight years at the helm of the Boston Planning & Development Agency, he oversaw a record real estate and construction boom. The agency approved nearly 90 million sq ft of new commercial and residential development from 2014 through 2021, including more than 45,000 new housing units and 140,000 new jobs, city statistics show. The torrid pace continued until Golden left his post last May as new Mayor Michelle Wu brought in her own team.
New towers over both the Massachusetts Turnpike and South Station passenger rail hub, and near Government Center, also had their foundations laid under Golden’s watch. “Brian had a very even hand and was quite respected for that,” says John Moriarty, president and founder of Winchester, Mass.-based contractor John Moriarty & Associates. “He didn’t have his agenda; he had the city’s agenda at heart.”
The longest serving director in a six-decade-plus history, Golden oversaw a revamp after he took over in 2014 to make the agency, often criticized by neighborhood groups as heavy handed, more transparent. He also changed its name from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, bulked up its planning staff and introduced a diversity requirement when issuing RFPs for public land.
Golden worked at the agency before he became director in the years after the Great Recession and saw how bad things could get in terms of job losses and stalled projects. It made him all the more determined to pursue a pro-growth agenda when he was named to lead. “Prosperity isn’t always manifest every day .… It doesn’t last forever,” he says. Since leaving, Golden joined law firm Keegan Werlin LLP in Boston as a partner while continuing to serve as a colonel in the Army Reserve assigned to the Pentagon.
The agency’s track record in sustaining the city’s record boom gained attention under Golden. The former City Hall development chief made news when Boston received a shoutout last spring from the judges of a prestigious international urban planning award. While top recognition in Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize went to Vienna, Austria, the judges singled out only Boston for praise among all U.S. cities.
Prize organizers cited Boston for its “holistic and cumulative effort on climate resilience, improving housing affordability and mobility options, and fostering civic participation.” That judgment was based not on a long-distance view derived from news articles, but rather on an up-close-and-personal visit from a delegation associated with the competition, which looked at the city’s resilience efforts in the face of climate change, its drive to build more housing amid sky-high real estate prices and its push to engage city residents in the planning process.
Chief among those efforts, according to Golden, was Imagine Boston 2030—the city’s first general development plan in more than half a century, which involved more than 15,000 residents through various meetings and other forms of participation.
“Development does a lot to address real human needs,” Golden says. “Being able to participate in the creation of the skyline of one of the greatest cities of the world is a wonderful way to spend your time professionally.”