Sunday, May 15, 2011

Blog Post No. 2011-9: More on Jane Jacobs - metropolophilia, people!

In the spirit of two fine traditions here at RTUF -- Jane Jacobs and media commentary -- I offer up the recent cross-posting of Santa Monica Lookout News columnist Frank Gruber over at the Huffington Post -- Proxy Wars: More on Reconsidering Jane Jacobs. Having not yet read the American Planning Association-published retrospective on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Death and Life of Great American Cities containing the three essays Gruber is criticizing, I will not pass judgment on them myself. I will, however, simply note that I really like Gruber's shorthand for the essential importance of Jacobs and her unique place in urban history in this country. It comes in the context of examining one essayist's attempt to lay the alleged sins of New Urbanism at the feet of Jacobs and vice-versa, but Gruber uses that context to make a much wider point:

What the New Urbanists take from Jane Jacobs is what nearly every other planner or urbanist working today takes from Jacobs regardless in what context they work: a set of pro-urban values. Love of the city.What was revolutionary about Jacobs in 1961, 15 years into a half-century of sprawl, was not that she stood up to Robert Moses, urban renewal and Modernism, but that she proclaimed her love for city life.
Everyone else was saying, "Get Out!" and she was saying "Stay!"

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blog Post No. 2011-8: North Station... more than just a hallway.

Photo 1: Looking eastward along the row of doorways to the tracks.

Photo 2: Looking from the track doorways toward the entrance to TD Garden.

Photo 3: One of the two train boards.

Photo 4: The eastern end of the concourse.

Location: North Station (Boston), Causeway Street below the TD Garden.

Year of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2007.

The Story: Truly, when we first moved to the Boston area in 1997, North Station had been reduced to just that: a hallway below what was then the Fleet Center. A fairly wide hallway, but a hallway nonetheless. It was a very sad state of affairs considering the rich history of railroad terminals along Causeway Street, at one time serving the multiple lines of four different carriers: the Boston & Maine, Eastern, Boston & Lowell, and Fitchburg railroads. Our friendly rail fanatics who wrote the entry for North Station over at Wikipedia report that the multiple terminals were unified in 1893 with North Union Station (old postcard view here). The old station building lasted all of 35 years before it was torn down to make way for the combined Boston Garden/North Station in 1928.

Photo 5: The old North Station/Boston Garden in 1988. (Credit: MBTA)

As briefly touched upon in Blog Post No. 2011-6, that complex made way for the new building in the mid-1990s that resulted in the hallway treatment for the station and the parking lot out front.

It took the better part of the next decade -- and the reintroduction of intercity passenger rail service with Amtrak's Downeaster to Portland, Maine -- for the powers that be to take pity on the region's north-side railroad passengers and make the savvy improvement that produced what is now known as the Red Auerbach Concourse. In much the same way the Red Sox were painstakingly finding space within the footprint of Fenway Park for improved vastly improved fan concourses, the MBTA and Delaware North (TD Garden's owners) didn't expand the building to create the new space. Instead, they took about 80 feet of unused track and platform area and filled it in with a pretty straightforward concourse complete with expanded concessions (including the obligatory station area watering hole) and not one but two train boards. The Boston Globe published a very helpful diagram at the time the improvement was announced in 2006:

Figure from the Boston Globe in 2006, at the time the expansion was announced.

The expansion project was completed in 2007 and the result is something that looks and feels like a train station, not a hallway. Even so, until the front door on Causeway Street is finally built, North Station will continue to play second fiddle to South Station from an urban fabric standpoint somewhat like present-day Pennsylvania Station suffers in comparison to Grand Central Terminal in New York.