Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Blog Post No. 2012-2: Catching up on form-based coding here in balmy NE

As crazy as the last couple of months of the year were, it's no excuse to be a month into 2012 and still be catching up...but such is life. I'm frankly despairing at this point of making much of the NE FBC Tracker. So, I'll post briefly here about FBCs here in bizarrely balmy NE. The editors of The Urban Lawyer, the quarterly journal of the American Bar Association's State and Local Governmental Section, saw fit to publish an article I wrote on the current crop of New England's form-based codes last fall. You can find it here: Gaining Ground in the Final Frontier: Surveying Legal Issues Raised by New England's Form-Based Codes. Comments, as always, are welcome.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blog Post No. 2012-1: Of the Bartlett Square Condos...

...and the Southwest Corridor

Photo 1: South-facing facade, along Green Street.

Photo 3: Identification board showing completed project.

Photo 4: Sidewalk and ground floor facade.

Photo 5: Looking in the opposite direction, with Green Street station in left background.

Photo 6: Looking diagonally across Green and Brookside toward the new building.
The Location: 154-160 Green Street, Jamaica Plain, MA (MAP HERE) [And check out google street view to see the vacant lot that was here before.)

Year of Urban Fabric Restoration: 2012.

The Story: Just over a year ago, RTUF focused on the very northern end of the Southwest Corridor in our post on 131 Dartmouth Street (Blog Post No. 2011-1: 131 Dartmouth helps smooth the transition...). To kick off 2012, we turn to the southern end of the corridor, at the intersection of Green Street and Brookside Street, just a stone's throw from the Green stop on the MBTA's Orange Line in Jamaica Plain. The new development here, which replaced a vacant lot, is "Bartlett Square Condos," and it is almost, but not quite, completed. According to the developer's website, there will be a total of 13 residential units (2 of which are 2-level units) above 3 ground floor retail spaces with parking tucked under the building. To be totally honest, there is little that is earthshattering here, just overall smart location and architecture for the building itself, and good urban design where it meets the street. And there are some emblematic "sign of the times" features listed on the website, including a rooftop garden and solar panels generating electricity for common area elements. It will be a challenge to get all of the condo units sold, even in a market as strong overall as Jamaica Plain's.

The perhaps more interesting reason for pointing to Bartlett Square Condos is to highlight the undeniably missed urban development opportunity that the Southwest Corridor has represented since its inception 40 years ago. In the post last year, I discussed the freeway revolt that led to the creation of the corridor after the ill-fated Southwest Expressway was finally put out of its misery in the early 1970s. There can be no doubt that the resulting linear park has been a huge success as a recreational resource. It has been less successful, however, as the home of the relocated Orange Line, which used to run down Washington Street as an elevated train to Forest Hills.

Now, submerging elevated train lines is generally a good idea and almost always results in improved real estate opportunities on the street or streets that the elevated line used to run down. But moving the line over to run through parkland for effectively its entire length from Massachusetts Avenue to the Forest Hills terminus seems to have kept it from being as heavily used as other lines in the MBTA system. Your correspondent is a relatively frequent user of the service and it never reaches the full capacity feeling of, for example, the Red Line, even at the height of rush hour. I may be wrong about this, and if there are readers with access to relevant MBTA ridership data who want to refute me, please do. If, however, I am right and the Orange Line does have relatively low ridership, I would posit that part of the problem is that the Southwest Corridor did too little to bring the urban fabric up to and embrace the stations and their immediate vicinities. Perhaps the extent of the land takings, dislocation, and destruction were too much and the only vision that made sense to those involved at the time was one where green space ruled and denser buidlings were to be kept out. Whatever the reason, it has been a long road back to reconnecting the urban fabric up to and across the corridor. The Bartlett Condos represent, at the scale of the individual building lot, the kind of back-filling that has been gradually playing out along the corridor, including Jamaica Plain NDC's painstaking redevelopment of the former Haffenreffer Brewery complex a bit further up Brookside and the residential infill along Amory Street along the other side of the corridor. The biggest and most ambitious project is at and around the Jackson Square station, where a joint venture led by Urban Edge has been trying to recreate a true urban crossroads from excess vacant lots around the station. The first phase of that development is now finally under way. Here's hoping that there's more to come in allowing the urban fabric to come up to and stretch across the corridor at other appropriate locations. It could turn out to be a win-win as the corridor's green space could see more use and the Orange Line could see more ridership.