Friday, September 30, 2011

Blog Post No. 2011-15: Reflecting on Bryant Park's lofty status and making the case...

...for Adams Park here in our own Roslindale Square

Greetings RTUF Heroes! For our second-half-of-the-month post, we here in the RTUF command center will begin by reminiscing about the bad old days in Bryant Park. It seems that our friends over at Planetizen are holding an on-line poll for the 100 Top Public Spaces in the U.S. The winners will be announced on October 20. At least as of this posting, you'll see that Bryant Park appears to running in first. That this is so is a stunning reversal of its fortunes of 20+ years ago. Well do I remember working as a young lad at the the big city's Regional Plan Association, which was then at 40th and 6th, and enjoying my lunch in the park on sunny days just a block away despite the drug pushers and assorted undesirable characters. Though far less populated and used than it is now in the flower of its resurgence, even in the late 1980s, you could tell that the park, like much of New York at the time, had great bones and probably had more foot traffic and activity than 95% of the public spaces in the US even in its fallen state. It was somewhat difficult back then to imagine the transformation that the park would undergo, yet it has. And the city is clearly the better for it. In a sense, the more incredible thing is that such a centrally located and well-positioned park -- directly behind the gorgeous McKim Mead & White-designed New York Public Library main branch -- could ever have been allowed to descend to such a lowly level.

And so, dear readers, for what it's worth, I will be nominating Adams Park here in Roslindale as one of the 100 great places in the U.S. I do this not because it is perfect -- it isn't. It could be more pedestrian friendly on its periphery, it suffers from a complicated traffic pattern on the surrounding streets, and it doesn't get all that much spontaneous activity. Instead, what succeeds generally has to be programmed. But there is no question that this place has been the ideal setting for the vastly improved Roslindale Farmers Market for the last several years. The park gets my nod for that alone, but also for the straightforward landscape design, high level of maintenance that the City has kept up over the years, the multiple understated war memorials, and also, you know, as a way of showing a little plain old hometown pride. Herewith, some photos of Adams Park clipped from other places on the web (with credits as indicated):

Credit: West Roxbury Patch.

Credit: Kennedy School of Government website.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Blog Post No. 2011-14: Shedding light on the boiler room...

...has to be one of the keys to making it at least potentially rentable in today's economy

1 - Looking down Federal to Franklin Street.

2 - Looking from the corner of Franklin and Federal.

3 - Looking up from Federal Street.

Year of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2011.

The Story: As the economy continues its slow recovery, we have another of those small, incremental changes here, and one that doesn't even rate a RTUF sketch because there is no hole being filled in this time. What we do have, however, is a rather helpful daylighting of what used to be the "boiler room" space at One Federal Street. This 39-story skyscraper was built in 1975 as the headquarters for Shawmut Bank. Back in the day, a headquarters bank building like this filled its lower floors with back office services and gave the upper floors to the executive ranks. When it was built, One Federal didn't even bother giving the first three floors above the lobby atrium windows. Instead, those floors were a solid slab of concrete curtain wall all the way around the block. Working in there must have been a fairly grim existence. Fast forward 36 years, and the back office space is now long gone, as is Shawmut Bank (having been gobbled up by Fleet Bank in the mid-1990s, and FleetBoston (resulting from the merger of Fleet with the First National Bank of Boston) was itself gobbled up by Bank of America in 2004). The kinds of functions that used to occupy floors 5-7 migrated out into the region's suburbs long ago. So, Tishman Speyer, the building's owners, have apparently decided that they aren't going to find anyone willing to take the space unless they give it at least daylight, even if they can't give it soaring views. It's hard to picture this space occupied even in boom times, and we are definitely not in boom times. Hence, in the last several months, up went the scaffolding and out came the concrete, replaced now by three stories of windows. I'm somewhat intrigued by the fact that Tishman doesn't seem to have a tenant signed up for the space they've suddenly greatly improved (landlords don't typically make money by making improvements to space that isn't occupied or about to be occupied by a tenant who will flow some cash). But I thank them anyway for opening up the lower floors of the building. Even though it's not at the street level, replacing the blank walls with windows is a step in the right direction and adds to the streetscape on all four sides of the building.