Friday, January 15, 2010

Blog Post No. 2010-1: Staples strikes GOLD in Roslindale Square

Admittedly, it remains a fairly big box, but still...

Location: 4165 Washington Street, Roslindale, MA

Year of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2008

Photos: Just the 1, posted by Chris D. to, a business rating site, looking north along Washington Street, with Roslindale Square behind you. (NOTE: I am having camera difficulty and so am relying on a web-obtained photo for this entry. I should be back with my own pix next post. - ML)

The Story: We're back in Roslindale Square, near your faithful correspondent's modest accommodations in God's favorite streetcar suburb. And we're looking here at the "new" Staples, completed in 2008 and given its LEED-NC "Gold" rating last fall. Staples helps to anchor the northern entrance to the business district. Although the graphic below indicates that the urban fabric restoration here isn't dramatic, the progress here is still meaningful. For as long as we had lived in Roslindale (since 2000), this location had been home to a shuttered Ashmont Discount store. [Still visible if you go to Google maps and use the streetview feature here.] For those who may not be entirely up on your local, now-departed Boston home improvement store chains, Ashmont Discount was one. This particular location evidently went down the tubes in the late 1990s when Home Depot opened a location a couple of miles away in West Roxbury. So, there it sat, vacant and without any activity for several years, even after the former Roslindale Pub site immediately to the north (you unfortunately can't see it in the photo, but you can see it on the Google maps link if you pan north) was redeveloped into a three-story mixed-use building about 5 years ago. In any event, the real estate market finally got around to this site in 2007, when Staples took the plunge and moved forward with this location. I will confess that I was among those in the community who thought a drug store/pharmacy was a better fit for the location. But Roslindale Village Main Streets did a good job of canvassing the community and finding out that, given the high number of self-employed folks in the area, an office supply and services store was in demand and would work at this site. Staples apparently agreed.

So, we have under examination a single-level, single-use, fairly large box. And I know some of my fellow New Urbanistas may be wondering what's worth talking about? To them, I say, be a bit more patient and a bit more generous. The Ashmont Discount building that this Staples has replaced was a ramshackle, hulking, unwelcoming presence with a facade of split-face concrete block and virtually no windows. Put simply: it was grim and needed to go. The Staples building shown here is a world away in terms of design and integration into its surroundings. It reaches a good deal closer across the side parking lot toward the Dunkin' Donuts than the previous structure. [Brief aside: That DD represents a lost opportunity. Like every DD here in Boston, it's VERY busy and generates a lot of pedestrian as well as vehicular activity. You can see how it used to look in the Google maps view. They did eliminate the pull-in parking directly off the street and replace it with a landscaped front yard, which clearly goes in the plus column in terms of both traffic management and pedestrian safety. Yet the pedestrian experience here would have been made truly good by moving the building up to the street as part of the construction project that resulted in the Staples. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.]

As I indicated above, this building was awarded LEED-NC Gold status in 2008. LEED stands for the "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design" program developed and administered by the United States Green Building Council. The LEED rating system is the most widely-used green building rating system in the U.S. and has been at the forefront of moving the architecture, real estate, and construction industries toward sustainable design. LEED started by rating new construction or "NC" earlier this decade and then rating other types of contexts (core and shell, new homes, existing buildings, etc.). More information on LEED and its multi-faceted rating system can be found here. I'll close this post by making an observation related to LEED as demonstrated by this project: The LEED system is a valuable tool, but has had its blind spots. LEED uses a scorecard and point system to determine eligibility for certification, and at what level (Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum). It has been wildly successful and done enormous good in improving the spread of high performance design and building. That said, sometimes points can be "racked up" for relatively minor elements -- such as bike racks, which were installed here -- that have a marginal impact on a building's total sustainability profile. Another blind spot has been LEED's too-tight focus on building envelopes and immediate sites. What good, some say, is a new LEED-certified building out in the woods separated from everything else if everyone needs to drive there? In such a case, wouldn't the increased emissions from all of the driving to the site by its users offset whatever benefits there may be from the green building components? LEED has been trying to answer this question, most prominently in recent years by working with the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council to produce the LEED-ND component of the system, which looks at sustainability at a broader regional, neighborhood, and even block scale and tries to reward transit-oriented, infill, and contiguous development locations with higher points. The growth of LEED-ND has been slowed somewhat by the severe downturn in the real estate development market over the last 18 months, which immediately followed its release in pilot format. Going forward, it'll be worth watching to see whether LEED-ND matches the success of LEED's other rating categories.

RTUF Sketch of the Restored Urban Fabric: Fairly self-explanatory. Parenthetically, you can see most of the Greater Roslindale Medical and Dental Center, featured in Blog Post NO. 2009-2, in the lower left of the graphic.

NOTE: This post was revised after its initial posting. - ML