Cambridge Crossing (NorthPoint) | East Cambridge/Charlestown | Cambridge/Boston

HenryAlan

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 15, 2009
Messages
2,612
Reaction score
696
By contrast, when you gaze into a true urban street grid, you see corners and nooks and crannies and inlets and outlets and sandwich board signs on the sidewalks and colorful awnings; you think: hmm, let me get lost in here for a while.
And even better, when the street pattern is a non-grid mess, because then you are always wondering what's hidden just beyond that spot where the street curves away from my site line. The magic of Boston is definitely exploration. Open spaces with towers, even when the site lines at ground level are obscured (eg the post urban renewal West End) simply don't stimulate inquisitive exploration.
 
Last edited:

shmessy

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 4, 2010
Messages
2,102
Reaction score
992
All of this discussion, stemming from Jeff's initial complaint, to the debate on urban/suburban, to Charlie's wonderful street grid proposal, to the chatter about Tatte, have helped synthesize a core conception of urbanism for me:

Great urban areas invite and enable ongoing discovery.

I can envision wandering through Charlie's street grid, unsure of what will be on the next block - maybe a shop I find cool, maybe a park I wasn't looking for, but "oh that looks like a great place to relax for a minute before I have to rush off." Maybe I buy a sandwich I wasn't planning to buy. Maybe I see a window sign advertising live music tonight - I wasn't planning to walk back down this street, but this sounds good, and it's been a while since I caught some live music, so I will.

Whether it's the suburbs or (as Jeff put it) a faux-urban area: there's minimal or no discovery. You don't really feel invited in, or, you can predict exactly what's down the other end of that street, so why bother checking it out. Whether its urban-dense or suburban-non-dense, it doesn't matter if you sense it's just a repeating pattern of the known, or long blank glass walls of indifference, or a cluster of Avalon-branded uber-dorms for well-paid young professionals.

When you stand at one of CX's few pedestrian inlets, your gaze actually extends quite far. It prompts you to subconsciously infer a pattern: lots of lab buildings, a bunch of apartment buildings; it gives you a confidence (false or otherwise) that you already know what all of this is. By contrast, when you gaze into a true urban street grid, you see corners and nooks and crannies and inlets and outlets and sandwich board signs on the sidewalks and colorful awnings; you think: hmm, let me get lost in here for a while. That's what a city is to me: "maybe I'll discover something new today; maybe I, personally, feel a bit lost, but here in this city, I know I'm not alone."

CX inspires no discovery for me yet. At present, it doesn't seem like it ever will. But, nonetheless, I am rooting for it to.

That was great, BP7, thank you. What you wrote is one of the best articulated posts I've read about the reason for dense street and building (no landscrapers, or fortress street level) patterns.

It also should be read by every Odurandina/Tosh33 who values height over streetscape. A real city is dynamic with human life. Height is great, but loses any real urbanity value if it doesn't also engage at the the street level.
 

bigpicture7

Senior Member
Joined
May 5, 2016
Messages
1,943
Reaction score
845
So, back to the idea of improved integration with East Cambridge / creating an inviting pedestrian experience (e.g., @Charlie_mta 's street grid) ...
Can anyone share the latest plans for the old Lechmere station? In my recent searching, I can only find vague mentions of it, but perhaps I missed it.

In particular, I'm interested in how that small parcel could become more of a gateway to CX through a better visual connection of First St. to North First. Right now the crumbling remnant of the old Green Line incline is still there with the shady tunnel (and its rat traps). I am assuming that's coming down soon. I hope that whatever goes in this parcel accentuates a connection between First and North First, ideally with a vastly improved means of pedestrian crossing of the O'Brien.

From this view, First & North First are just calling out to be better connected.

 

whighlander

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 14, 2006
Messages
7,812
Reaction score
638
Ruari, I agree with a lot of what you're saying, but with regard to:





Just because someone plunked down a bunch of residences isn't what will/won't make this 'good urbanism' either. I was only half-joking with my Crystal City reference above: there are plenty of examples of botched semi-urban attempts like that that have both residences and workplaces and still fail most/all of my Numbers 1 - 6 above.

I do agree with George Apley (and you) that mocking this by comparing it to the suburbs totally misses the point (fun as that is, and no disrespect Jeffdowntown).

The point is that this is a botched-semi-urbanism -vs- good-legit-urbanism debate, i.e., how do we avoid creating Crystal Cities; it's NOT a suburbs vs. city debate.

Finally, just look to the present-day West End for proof that merely having residences and green space isn't enough to draw people in.
I walk through Cambridge Crossing at least weekly for curiosity/exercise. There are already hundreds if not thousands of residential units within 200 meters of the park. The park is predominately used by these local residents walking their dogs. That's fine for now. But what will the rest of the build-out, ground level uses, and various access features look like? That will make or break this from a good urbanism standpoint.

Again, I have a lot of hope and am rooting for this, but all the necessary evidence simply is not here yet.

BigPicture -- You need to give Cambridge Crossing a bit of time
When the first round of construction has been around for a while and people have made accommodations and adaptations then we can start to judge the urbanity

The key to anything urban is time -- as they say Rome wasn't built in a day -- a mega cliché -- but there is a real element of truth and significance in that -- successful urban places change with changing demographics, technology and economic development

Take KSq for example -- the current redos and redevelopments are in the process of fundamentally altering how someone on foot relates to the "new buildings" some of which are now over 50 years old [e.g. if you include Tech Square]
The Seaport is not yet as mellowed or aged as KSq and already its starting to develop an "urban--feel"

the classic Waltham development on the other hand -- e.g. around and about the Westin -- has been all about getting the commuter from the car to the office and back with minimal distractions

However, now some of this may be changing even in Waltham on 128:
the redevelopment of the old USPS facility 400 k sq ft
the new construction 500k sq ft at Hobbs Brook has a more "urban-style"

In Burlington -- New England Executive Park [next to the Mall] has been reworked quite considerably

and of course there are a couple of old "industrial parks" in the process of being reworked such as Northwest Park in Burlington
 

Andrew

New member
Joined
Dec 19, 2019
Messages
31
Reaction score
31
BigPicture - not sure if you've seen the render from the developer's website but it gives a decent idea of what the old station will look like once redeveloped. Of course the building in that site looks small and bland but that might just be a placeholder here.

Screenshot_20210128-232404.png
 

bigpicture7

Senior Member
Joined
May 5, 2016
Messages
1,943
Reaction score
845
Thanks Andrew and George_Apley. I'd seen that image in the past, but it seemed a bit notional / placehoder-y at the Lechmere site. Great that they are connecting the street. I look forward to seeing an actual proposal for the site sometime soon.

Wighlander, I agree cities take time to materialize; though, once the "bones" are set, they can be hard to change. Note that I said I was "hopeful" and "rooting for this" in posts above.
 

George_Apley

Not a Brahmin
Staff member
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
5,077
Reaction score
1,602
They really should nuke that intersection and have Cambridge Street turn into MA-28 at First St signal. Adds a left turn cycle but eliminates an additional signal that's there currently.
 

whighlander

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 14, 2006
Messages
7,812
Reaction score
638
And even better, when the street pattern is a non-grid mess, because then you are always wondering what's hidden just beyond that spot where the street curves away from my site line. The magic of Boston is definitely exploration. Open spaces with towers, even when the site lines at ground level are obscured (eg the post urban renewal West End) simply don't stimulate inquisitive exploration.
Henry -- not to digress too too much here -- but Paris would not be the place we all admire without the the open spaces created by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, Préfet de la Seine, aka Baron Haussmann
He opened up the Souk-like Medieval Paris to the 19th C of photos, film and of course paintings

1611947790118.png


Camille Pissarro Avenue de l'Opéra, effet de neige, le matin (1898)
Of course you need to go to Moscow to see that image of Paris in the real paint and canvas
 

Attachments

HenryAlan

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 15, 2009
Messages
2,612
Reaction score
696
Haussmann's boulevards are great, but where would Paris be without the narrow, winding, medieval streets he didn't touch? There is room for both visions in Boston (see Back Bay for Housmanesque), but Northpoint is neither.
 

bigpicture7

Senior Member
Joined
May 5, 2016
Messages
1,943
Reaction score
845
There's not one truly attractive building in that whole dog's breakfast of a project. What a missed opportunity.
This whole thread tears at me emotionally. On the one hand, I'm fully aware that a number of very hard working, real humans spent a lot of time working on all of it. I'm sure some of them catch this discourse on aB and roll their eyes very hard. As an engineer (not on this sort of thing) it always tore at me to hear stakeholders crap on my work; it sucks - especially when external forces shape one's work, and when one probably did the best one could with "multiobjective optimization." To all of those folks: this is not personal, and I've been in your shoes.

That said, I am not going to concede that this looks or feels great yet. Hulking lab buildings aren't fun to walk around and be around unless exceptional measures are taken. I do hope the devil proves to be in the details, and that some of those details turn out to be surprisingly positive. In the mean time, why do we need to mince words: this was a profit driven development, and big fat labs are what sold here. It would take intense public/private collaboration, zoning, planning (more than the extraordinary effort that I'm sure was already carried out here) to change that. So, again, it's not personal. But this is still "dog's breakfast" until proven otherwise. To the CX folks: prove us wrong (and I want you to).
 

whighlander

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 14, 2006
Messages
7,812
Reaction score
638
Haussmann's boulevards are great, but where would Paris be without the narrow, winding, medieval streets he didn't touch? There is room for both visions in Boston (see Back Bay for Housmanesque), but Northpoint is neither.
Henry -- you are of course right on both points

Northpoint aka Cambridge Crossing is closest to Le Courbousier's plans in Paris -- or perhaps how La Défense has evolved
1611950155333.png
 

Charlie_mta

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 15, 2006
Messages
2,004
Reaction score
808
BigPicture - not sure if you've seen the render from the developer's website but it gives a decent idea of what the old station will look like once redeveloped. Of course the building in that site looks small and bland but that might just be a placeholder here.
I don't expect even a medium-rise building here, as it is in the old East Cambridge neighborhood and NIMBYs seem to have an aversion to height.
 

bigpicture7

Senior Member
Joined
May 5, 2016
Messages
1,943
Reaction score
845
I don't expect even a medium-rise building here, as it is in the old East Cambridge neighborhood and NIMBYs seem to have an aversion to height.
Same, but I don't think height is needed here. It's a nice transition parcel to try to stitch the neighborhood together. It just seems weird that we've seen no concrete proposals for this; perhaps the small size/odd shape is tough to get someone to bite on right now.
 

whighlander

Senior Member
Joined
Aug 14, 2006
Messages
7,812
Reaction score
638
Same, but I don't think height is needed here. It's a nice transition parcel to try to stitch the neighborhood together. It just seems weird that we've seen no concrete proposals for this; perhaps the small size/odd shape is tough to get someone to bite on right now.
Bigpicture -- I suspect that there could be EPA-type issues involved with a site which has had buses hanging around for well over 50 years
the other matter is that obviously its "close" in the neighborhood context of the old Middlesex Court House -- that project will probably need to be done and accepted before anything more happens on-this side of the Viaduct

My guess -- is that It will get developed -- and it will probably be fairly large -- but I wouldn't expect anything immediately
 

Life Coach Mike

Active Member
Joined
Aug 26, 2019
Messages
157
Reaction score
185
I don't expect even a medium-rise building here, as it is in the old East Cambridge neighborhood and NIMBYs seem to have an aversion to height.
In all fairness, East Cambridge is in many ways a poor man's Back Bay. Most of the housing is early to mid 19th C, built for workers in meat packing houses, candy factories, and other Lechmere/Kendall locales. I was born in 5 Fifth Street in what would have been thought of as substandard housing today. It was located right next to an oil barrel storage yard that caught fire regularly (Now a park on Fifth and Gore). My family's tailor shop is still on Warren St., right next to the multiple rail lines that crossed Cambridge St. up to the slaughter houses. When the trains came through the entire 4 story house shook! Warren Street alone had a chicken house, a sausage factory, at least 3 bakeries, a penny candy/slush shop, a barroom, a produce store, a tailor/dry cleansing shop (still there 100 years later), and a club house for the Warren Pals, a bowling fraternity fpr neighborhood boys/men that lasted 60+ years, and more! (the nicknames of the members were a riot: Lamb Chops, Cigars, Brigga, Pierre del Paris, Charpy, Squeegie, Joe Chicken....). Of course lots has changed; The Roosevelt Apts. and the brutalist elder housing high rise behind Warren St. are the only really tall buildings in the area. Otherwise it's a neighborhood still bustling with shops all the way to Inman Sq. (you can still get a freshly killed chicken). The ethnic makeup used to be Italian, Lithuanian, Greek, Irish, and Portuguese, each with its own churches. Now it's mostly Portuguese, Italian, and Yuppy. Why Yuppy? Because you can barely get a 4 room row house for less than 400K! A big step beyond the $15.00/month rent my father paid in 1952.
 
Last edited:

Charlie_mta

Senior Member
Joined
Jul 15, 2006
Messages
2,004
Reaction score
808
In all fairness, East Cambridge is in many ways a poor man's Back Bay. Most of the housing is early to mid 19th C, built for workers in meat packing houses, candy factories, and other Lechmere/Kendall locales. I was born in 5 Fifth Street in what would have been thought of as substandard housing today. It was located right next to an oil barrel storage yard that caught fire regularly (Now a park on Fifth and Gore). My family's tailor shop is still on Warren St., right next to the multiple rail lines that crossed Cambridge St. up to the slaughter houses. When the trains came through the entire 4 story house shook! Warren Street alone had a chicken house, a sausage factory, at least 3 bakeries, a penny candy/slush shop, a barroom, a produce store, a tailor/dry cleansing shop (still there 100 years later), and a club house for the Warren Pals, a bowling fraternity fpr neighborhood boys/men that lasted 60+ years, and more! (the nicknames of the members were a riot: Lamb Chops, Cigars, Brigga, Pierre del Paris, Charpy, Squeegie, Joe Chicken....). Of course lots has changed; The Roosevelt Apts. and the brutalist elder housing high rise behind Warren St. are the only really tall buildings in the area. Otherwise it's a neighborhood still bustling with shops all the way to Inman Sq. (you can still get a freshly killed chicken). The ethnic makeup used to be Italian, Lithuanian, Greek, Irish, and Portuguese, each with its own churches. Now it's mostly Portuguese, Italian, and Yuppy. Why Yuppy? Because you can barely get a 4 room row house for less than 400K! A big step beyond the $15.00/month rent my father paid in 1952.
Mike, you're preaching to the choir. I love East Cambridge and have really fond memories of it growing up. My uncle Joe Santos had a restaurant for decades at the NW corner of 7th and Cambridge Street, and I lived in the early 1950s at the SW corner of Fulkerson and Otis Street, and east of there a block or two before that. East Cambridge was the epitome of what an urban neighborhood should be: vibrant, diverse, a mix of small stores, houses, row houses, apartments, restaurants, bars, churches, schools; everything within walking distance, even a light rail line nearby at Lechmere. I remember the Catholic procession for Mary parading by our apartment in May, with all the dollar bills attached to the float, the old Italian and Portuguese men sitting with their incredibly shiny shoes on the benches along Cambridge Street where the public library is now, the Clydesdale horses coming up the street by our house from the Budweiser brewery to the south, the old carts pulled by horses selling various things, the stores and shops along Cambridge Street, and the small corner stores on my street. So many wonderful memories, I could go on and on. It will always be the best place I've ever lived in.
 

Top