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...of HOPE VI redevelopments here in Boston
Location: 4560 Washington Street, Roslindale, MA (Boston Housing Authority's Washington-Beech project, currently undergoing redevelopment) (MAP)
Year of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2010-2012
The Photos: In order, taking a walk through the first phase of the redevelopment, from a new Beechland Street and along the backs of the attached town houses (Photos 1 and 2), up along a new Beechland Circle past the town houses and row houses toward Washington Street (Photos 3 and 4), looking down Washington Street toward downtown Boston with the large multi-family building on the right (Photo 5), then from across Washington Street back toward the site (Photo 6), an internal street and sidewalk area detail shot (Photo 7), and finishing with two photos from the intersection of Beechland Circle and Beechland Street looking up toward Beech Street (Photo 8) and toward Washington Street (Photo 9).
The Story: By now, the story of how the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has funded the redevelopment of hundreds of distressed public housing projects across the county is almost as well known as the distress of those properties to begin with. Almost, but not quite. I'm sure most can easily name one or two of the truly horrific public housing projects such as Cabrini-Green in Chicago that became poster children for everything that was wrong with urban America in the 1970s and 1980s. That list at one time included Columbia Point in Boston, which was one of the first public housing project redevelopments in the late 1980s.
HUD's HOPE VI program (the acronym stands for "Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere") emerged in the early 1990s as part of the department's response to the report of the National Commission on Severely Distressed Public Housing. The report put the capstone on 30 years of withering, across-the-board criticism of public housing projects in the U.S. as generally dead-end disasters designed, constructed, and under-maintained in a manner that ultimately maximized alienation and separation from the broader community through super-blocks, high-rise construction that offered a twist on the Corbusian "Tower in the Park," and a lack of "defensible space." Among that report's major recommendations was prioritizing the redevelopment of the most distressed public housing projects into mixed-income, mixed housing-type neighborhoods that would reconnect with their surrounding communities both socio-economically and physically.
The physical, urban design component of HOPE VI has always been viewed as integral to the program, reflecting the significant influence of the Congress for the New Urbanism on HUD policy under the Clinton Administration. That administration's first HUD secretary, Henry Cisneros, was hismelf a signatory to the Charter of the New Urbanism in 1996. The guidelines for the HOPE VI program sent strong signals that HUD was serious about the urban design elements of each redevelopment. By and large and even as the HOPE VI program was put on life support by the second Bush Administration, that has meant that HOPE VI redevelopments fit much better with their surrounding communities. In fact, it's often a bit difficult to tell that they are even publicly-assisted housing. In Boston, HOPE VI redevelopments have included Mission-Main in Jamaica Plain, Orchard Gardens in Roxbury, and Maverick Gardens in East Boston. These redevelopments share an important feature with Washington-Beech: they were all done by the Boston Housing Authority with the help of Trinity Financial, a local developer that has also completed HOPE VI projects in Connecticut (Quinnipiac Terrace) and Rhode Island (Newport Heights).
As can be seen from the photos and the images below, Washington Beech is a true HOPE VI redevelopment from an urban design standpoint. It has mixed unit types in a variety of building types -- apartment building, row house, and attached town-house -- that respect and contribute to the surrounding and internal street network. The street network provides for real streets with curbs and sidewalks, on-street parking, and other elements that reflect a serious commitment to the public realm. The redevelopment also provides a centrally-located and publicly-accessible park space in the playground and basketball court.
All of this is to be contrasted with what existed here for the prior 50+ years: bare utilitarian brick structures located in a pattern that suggested a military encampment far more than a residential community. No real attention was paid to the street and the buildings were all surrounded almost uniformly by asphalt. Photos 6, 7, and 9 provide some particular points of comparison between old and new. Among them, I think Photo 7's depiction of the new sidewalk, curbing, street lights against the essentially undifferentiated treatment of the street on the opposite side is most instructive. And to take it a step further, it should not be surprising to see a dumpster facing into the street between the two older buildings on the right. In the old pattern, there really was no front, back or side to any of the buildings. They simply floated in an asphalt pond that meant it didn't really matter where you put something like a dumpster. In the new design, each buidling and therefore each set of units has clearly defined front (on the street), side, and back sides, providing an understandable logic for the location of entrances, utilities, and services (such as trash and general household storage). To say that the redeveloped Washington Beech will fit into the surrounding neighborhood far better than its predecessor is merely to state the obvious.
As can also be seen in the photos, the first phase is nearly complete and RTUF understands a ribbon-cutting will be held at the site on Saturday, June 29 at 11 am. Subsequent phases will fill in the rest of the overall site plan over the next 2 years.
RTUF sketch of the restored urban fabric: No hand-sketches this time. Instead, a link to the City of Boston's Assessing Department database for the pre-redevelopment configuration here, and an image provided by Trinity Financial (with credit to Icon Architecture), of the redevelopment's overall site plan (with Washington Street located at the top of the plan).