Saturday, June 14, 2014

One Canal continues the restoration of the Bulfinch Triangle

The Images:

Image 1: Looking down one side of the Triangle, along North Washington Street,
from Haymarket Square.
Image 2: Looking down the other side of the Triangle, along Merrimac Street,
from Haymarket Square.

Image 3: Looking across the One Canal site from Valenti Way toward downtown,
with the Government Center Garage in between.

Image 4: The One Canal site from Haymarket Square.

Image 5: Rendering of the completed project, almost same viewpoint
as Image 4. Credit: Trinity Financial/Icon Architecture.
The Location: One Canal Street, Bulfinch Triangle, Boston, MA.

The Story: A whole lot of what is now land area in Boston was once part of the coves and bays that surrounded the original, clover-like Shawmut Peninsula when John Winthrop and crew sailed into Massachusetts Bay and set up shop in 1630. The area we're in here lies just to the north of the heart of downtown and it was originally part of the North Cove, which opened out into the place where the Charles River and the harbor met. Over the course of the next two centuries, North Cove was gradually filled, starting with a dam along what is now Causeway Street, hence the name (to the upper left in the RTUF sketch and the location of TD Garden and North Station), after which the cove was renamed to the Mill Pond, and then the filling of the entire area to the south and east of that dam in the early 19th century pursuant to a plan drawn up by Charles Bulfinch. The triangular layout of the plan is what gave the Bulfinch Triangle its name, with the three sides of the shape made up by Merrimac, North Washington and Causeway Streets. With the advent of railroading in the middle of the 19th century, the area to the north and west of Causeway Street was subsequently filled and the river completely dammed, and what was left of North Cove was finally gone.

Come forward another century, and the Bulfinch Triangle itself was eviscerated by the construction of the elevated Central Artery in the 1950s, which split the district in two and took down three full blocks of buidlings in its very heart.

Image 6: Constructing the elevated Central Artery; view looking north
from North Washington Street, Old Boston Garden/North Station in the
background on the left. Credit: The Boston Globe.

Replacement of the old elevated highway with the Big Dig's system of tunnels and the surface Greenway offered the opportunity to restore the ruptured urban fabric all along its length, and nowhere has that opportunity been better capitalized on than in the Bulfinch Triangle. Two new mid-rise residential buildings have already been built on reclaimed former highway parcels (they're labeled the Avenir and Simpson developments in the sketch below). And now we have Trinity Financial's long-delayed One Canal project rounding out the top tier of the triangle with a 12-story mixed-use building that will wrap around the North Washington frontage and fill out the entire block of Valenti, Canal and North Washington. It has taken time, but the Bulfinch Triangle has been effectively restored. Government Center Garage and North Station -- you're next.

RTUF Sketch:

(Blog Post No. 2014-7)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

It's really way past time to reduce the amount of space allocated to cars on Franklin Street near Downtown Crossing...

...a.k.a. the long-awaited Installment No. 2 in your humble weblog's series on Targeting New Urban Fabric Restoration

The Photos:

View 1: Looking down Franklin St. from Otis St. toward P.O. Square.

View 2: Looking up Franklin St. toward Washington St. and the Filene's site construction.

View 3: Looking back down Franklin St. from Hawley Pl.
The Location: Franklin Street, near Downtown Crossing, Boston, MA.

The Back Story: We'll get to the main course soon enough, but for starters the building on the right in View 2 and just to the left in View 3 was featured in Cityscapes of Boston as an example of shifting tastes in architectural style. It seems this buidling, built in the early 1870s in the post-great fire period, was covered in the late 1950s with Shea Stadium-style multicolored panels by its then-owner, First Federal Savings Bank, as a symbol of hip modernism. Thirty years later, that era's hip modernism was rejected when the successor financial institution, Northeast Savings, scraped it back off and restored the facade. So, a nice story there and a happy ending.

But this is downtown Boston, friends, and there is almost always more than one layer to consider. As Robert Campbell noted in his Cityscapes write-up, this is also where Charles Bulfinch established the "Tontine Crescent," a legendary grouping of Federal rowhouses that included a widened Franklin Street and a small enclosed garden with a "classical urn." Constructed in the 1790s, Robert reported that this assemblage was demolished in 1858 and the classical urn moved to Bulfinch's grave in Mount Auburn Cemetery. The following image, taken from wikipedia, doesn't seem to have the detail required to do the project justice -- per Robert, inspired, as it was, by "the crescents of Bath, England, [it] must have been one of the great urban groups in Boston's history."

View 4: The Tontine Crescent pre-demolition.
All that's left of this historic development and its small green space today are the cylindrical planters and forlorn modernist sculpture in View 1. It ain't pretty.

The Bottom Line: And what's even less pretty is the way there is just way too much space devoted to the automobile and way too little space devoted to us humans on foot, particularly here in the pedestrian heart of Boston. Maybe part of the problem is that this has long been the transition space between the Financial District centered around Post Office Square and the historic commerical core at Downtown Crossing. But that's all in flux now. Both districts are changing, especially Downtown Crossing, which has been steadily adding housing units and will experience another significant jump in the number of residents when the residential high-rise on the non-historic half of the Filene's site is completed and occupied sometime in the next couple years.

Franklin Street at this location in its present state is simply not pulling its weight. There's really hardly any automobile traffic, certainly not enough to remotely justify all the pavement, running, as it does, into an effective dead-end for everyone but taxis and buses at Hawley Street. So, here's your proposal -- give this street a road diet, reduce it by at least a lane of traffic and give that lane (I vote for the right-hand side of the street in View 2) to a much wider sidewalk that would allow for sidewalk dining at the adjacent restaurants. Franklin Street lies in Boston's pedestrian heart. It's time to give more space where space is due.

And here's an RTUF sketch (a little late arriving) of the proposal:

(Blog Post No. 2014-6)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Jacob Wirth's gets a new neighbor...finally

View 1: The parking lot that was for many years. (Credit: John A. Keith)
View 2: Now under construction, same location.
View 3: View from across Stuart Street.
View 4: Aerial view, completed project (Credit: Boston Advanced Realty).

View 5: Finished front facade at street level (Credit: BRA).

The Location: 45 Stuart Street, Boston, MA.

The Story: And the South Hinge Block (on the High Spine) is filled completely out. This location has been a parking lot (still, for those keeping score at home, the ultimate urban no-no) for as long as your faithful correspondent has been resident in the Boston area, which is to say since at least 1997 and probably a good deal before that. So, it's rewarding to see it finally returned to being a contributing piece of the urban fabric on the Stuart Street edge between the old town's theater district and Chinatown. Jacob Wirth's, which is more or less the preeminent German restaurant in Boston, can be seen in the top photo in its classic 19th century Boston row buidling, gable turned to the side and curved bay on the right. This will be an interesting juxtaposition if the front facade really looks entirely like View 5. We shall see.

RTUF Sketch of the Restored Urban Fabric: This one definitely induces tetris flashbacks...

(Blog Post No. 2014-5)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Boston Public Market moves one step closer to reality...

Time moves faster than most of us, your humble correspondent included, care to admit. So, it was way back in 2010 that RTUF first reported the news that the Boston Public Market folks had won the right to locate on the Greenway in the Haymarket Station/Central Artery Vent Stack/Parking Garage building at the corner of Hanover and Congress Streets. An ideal location, and one we hoped would build momentum and quickly result in something we've sorely missed in Boston for a long time (basically since Quincy Market died nearly 50 years ago): a true, appropriately sized public market to showcase local producers of foodstuffs of all kinds. Well, four years on, our friends at The Boston Globe reported today - BRA approves plans for public food market - that the project finally reached the point where they could secure approval from the BRA Board under the small project review process on Thursday. They now look to actually start construction this summer. It sounds like they still have something a funding gap to get the whole market up and running in a single phase, so they'll do a first phase now and then round out the space as funds come in. Hopefully within a year of this post, we'll be able to report on our first visit to this major new amenity:

Exterior proposed view (corner of Hanover & Congress streets) (credit: BPMA, Boston Globe)

Interior rendering (credit: BPMA, Boston Globe)

(Blog Post No. 2014-4)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Big News in New Urbanist Circles: Lynn Richards to lead CNU (Blog Post No. 2014-3)

You can find the press release here: Lynn Richards named new president of CNU. She replaces former Milwaukee mayor John Norquist, who held the reins for a decade. As the press release indicates (and as this blog has shown), the tide is really turning broadly in favor of the kind of walkable, mixed-use development that CNU has promoted for over 20 years. I don't know Ms. Richards myself, but judging by the enthusiasm of CNU board members with whom I spoke about the decision recently (each of whom steadfastly refused to divulge the identity of the new president until it was finally made public today), I think we're going to be well-led at this critical moment.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sometimes a simple statistic about a simple thing tells you an awful lot... (Blog Post No. 2014-2)

Friend and colleague Wendy Landman, executive director of WalkBoston here in the old Hub o' the Universe, recently pointed me to a Cities Blog piece from The Atlantic to the effect that In the U.S., a quick walk to the store is a rare thing indeed. Intuitively, anyone who gives the question any thought really shouldn't be surprised at what WalkScore found: even in cities with over 500,000 residents, the vast majority in America do not live anywhere close to the studied metric of a 5 minute walk from home to a store selling fresh produce. So given over have we been to motordom for really the last century that it's almost a shock that there's still anyplace -- outside of usual exception New York (which checks in at 72%) -- where more than half of the housing stock is that close to fresh produce. But San Francisco (59%) and Philadelphia (57%) make it, with a cluster of cities in the 40s, led by your blogspondent's home city making it to 4th on the list at 45%. From there, it gets ugly, and Indianapolis rates as the least walkable on this measureat at just 5%.

As this weblog has said before, to live in the United States over the last 100 years has been to be the subject of a massive social experiment to see what happens to people and their environments when physical activity -- especially walking -- is squeezed out of their every day routines. It has been systematic, it has been ruthless, and we've all been affected. One of the key benefits of the ultimate demise of motordom will simply be the chance for increasing numbers of us to access things like the fixings for a salad without being forced into our vehicles.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Thought this was kind of cool...

The other evening, I found myself on foot heading to an event at the Channel Center in South Boston and went under this overpass below Summer Street at First Street:

Pretty cool, at least to my mind. Not sure who put this here, or who maintains it, but it's one of those small details in urban life that can make a big difference and show that even something as purely functional as an overpass is something that is cared for and can contribute to the ensemble.

 (Blog Post No. 2014-1)