General Boston Discussion

stick n move

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Community Input Is Bad, Actually

“Development projects in the United States are subject to a process I like to call “whoever yells the loudest and longest wins.” Some refer to this as participatory democracy.

Across the country, angry residents and neighborhood associations have the power to delay, reshape, and even halt entirely the construction of vital infrastructure. To put a fine point on it: Deference to community input is a big part of why the U.S. is suffering from a nearly 3.8-million-home shortage and has failed to build sufficient mass transit, and why renewable energy is lacking in even the most progressive states.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/a...y-input-housing-public-transportation/629625/
 

stick n move

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Boston explores converting office buildings into housing, but challenges abound
The concept of reusing and converting space in Greater Boston, or indeed nationally, isn’t new. But it’s a post-pandemic priority for Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration, which is aiming to inject some energy into a downtown core that’s still struggling with the realities of a workforce that’s no longer coming into the office five days a week.

The Boston Planning & Development Agency is interested as well. New BPDA director, Arthur Jemison, said in an e-mail that the agency “is exploring the feasibility, costs, and incentives of office to residential conversions as a solution to help increase housing supply in Downtown Boston.”

Design firm Gensler, which has studied the ins and outs of residential conversions across North America, recently studied some 84 commercial buildings in downtown Boston to gauge their suitability for conversion. Gensler has crafted its own scorecard ranking buildings on factors such as location, cost of conversion, and current vacancy rate.
https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/09...ice-buildings-into-housing-challenges-abound/
 

shmessy

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Boston explores converting office buildings into housing, but challenges abound
The concept of reusing and converting space in Greater Boston, or indeed nationally, isn’t new. But it’s a post-pandemic priority for Boston Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration, which is aiming to inject some energy into a downtown core that’s still struggling with the realities of a workforce that’s no longer coming into the office five days a week.

The Boston Planning & Development Agency is interested as well. New BPDA director, Arthur Jemison, said in an e-mail that the agency “is exploring the feasibility, costs, and incentives of office to residential conversions as a solution to help increase housing supply in Downtown Boston.”

Design firm Gensler, which has studied the ins and outs of residential conversions across North America, recently studied some 84 commercial buildings in downtown Boston to gauge their suitability for conversion. Gensler has crafted its own scorecard ranking buildings on factors such as location, cost of conversion, and current vacancy rate.
https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/09...ice-buildings-into-housing-challenges-abound/
This is THE solution and a unique opportunity for Boston vis a vis other cities. People are climbing over themselves to move to the Hub. Workers are increasingly going virtual and Mayor Wu had to hold some stunts this summer giving out free food etc to entice workers to come back downtown. STOP chasing 9-5 workers! The 24/7 residents are right there for the taking!!! Ask the restaurants, museums, theatres, etc. who they‘d rather have - - - the Baby Boomer Empty Nesters who won’t leave the city at 4:45pm 5 days per week!!! Boston can be a 24/7 far more human dense dynamic environment.

My only disappointment is that, per the study in the article only 10 of 84 of the office buildings listed can be economically viable for retrofit. OK, it’s a start, though, and the city should be encouraging the construction of scores of new residential towers. More supply will ease the affordability crisis (not just artificial rent controls or other government quotas).

It’s all there on a silver platter and I am pleased that Mayor Wu now seems to realize this and is looking to take action.
 

bigpicture7

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This is THE solution and a unique opportunity for Boston vis a vis other cities. People are climbing over themselves to move to the Hub. Workers are increasingly going virtual and Mayor Wu had to hold some stunts this summer giving out free food etc to entice workers to come back downtown. STOP chasing 9-5 workers! The 24/7 residents are right there for the taking!!! Ask the restaurants, museums, theatres, etc. who they‘d rather have - - - the Baby Boomer Empty Nesters who won’t leave the city at 4:45pm 5 days per week!!! Boston can be a 24/7 far more human dense dynamic environment.

My only disappointment is that, per the study in the article only 10 of 84 of the office buildings listed can be economically viable for retrofit. OK, it’s a start, though, and the city should be encouraging the construction of scores of new residential towers. More supply will ease the affordability crisis (not just artificial rent controls or other government quotas).

It’s all there on a silver platter and I am pleased that Mayor Wu now seems to realize this and is looking to take action.
shmessy, past posts suggest we think similarly about this and very much share the excitement of converting Boston into a dense, multidimensional, highly-utilized, 24/7 city. I also agree with your frequent point about the aging population looking for a more enriching, convenient living experience post-kids/ in retirement.

But there's one piece that I think you view as an "either/or" that I view as an "and". Sure, we agree that the 9-5 (sprint to commuter rail at 4:45) 5-days per week crowd is forever changed and that a 9-5 office-based core is a poor concept for the city to try to cling to. But I think you are being too limiting in excluding career-age people from city vibrancy. There is a serious induced demand element of this: IF there were tons of quality housing available NEAR their job's lab/studio/office/collaborative space, it would induce more career-age people to want to live in the city that they work in and therefore hang out in/around their collaborative work space more often. Sure, there will always be career/family age people who are obsessed with the suburbs and will do anything to remote-work from there as much as possible, but, there are also a lot of folks who like the city and are interested in seeing their coworkers a couple of times per week but HATE their commute, and so they are using their discretion (& the availability of remote work) to not hang out in the city more often. What people want is autonomy and having their needs met. If they can have those things AND be near their work, they'll hang around there more - and then participate more in the non-work goodies that coexist next door.

So what I hope the Wu administration pursues is not just making downtown Boston a giant retirement home, but a discretionary live/work/play co-location for younger generations as well. It's not for everyone, but it IS for more people than currently have the opportunity to participate in such.
 

stick n move

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It definitely feels like right now there is more construction happening than at any point I can remember. Its pretty crazy to see being that weve been in a massive building boom for years. It seems like with the economy, how long the boom has gone on for, and with winter coming up that it would slow down a bit, but if anything its picked up a lot. Weve been in a boom for a long time now but at certain times it felt like it was mostly confined to the seaport, downtown, cambridge etc. Right now we still have some huge projects going on in downtown, back bay, the seaport etc, but also every smaller neighborhood has apartments going up everywhere.

It seems like a ton of the smaller 5 over 1s and low rise apartment buildings that had been approved but not yet built are all finally breaking ground and under construction. You cant go anywhere in the city right now and not see multiple buildings under construction. Its always nice to see labs, office buildings, and residential towers, but it finally feels like the rest of the neighborhoods have finally popped with low rise housing construction.
 

xec

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It definitely feels like right now there is more construction happening than at any point I can remember. Its pretty crazy to see being that weve been in a massive building boom for years. It seems like with the economy, how long the boom has gone on for, and with winter coming up that it would slow down a bit, but if anything its picked up a lot. Weve been in a boom for a long time now but at certain times it felt like it was mostly confined to the seaport, downtown, cambridge etc. Right now we still have some huge projects going on in downtown, back bay, the seaport etc, but also every smaller neighborhood has apartments going up everywhere.

It seems like a ton of the smaller 5 over 1s and low rise apartment buildings that had been approved but not yet built are all finally breaking ground and under construction. You cant go anywhere in the city right now and not see multiple buildings under construction. Its always nice to see labs, office buildings, and residential towers, but it finally feels like the rest of the neighborhoods have finally popped with low rise housing construction.
My thoughts exactly! I'm flabbergasted because there's so much construction going on the city despite all the news I read about inflation, gas prices, the generally poor state of the economy, and all the other problems afflicting the country. But Boston seems largely unaffected by all that. I don't get it. Why are we immune?
 

Charlie_mta

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My thoughts exactly! I'm flabbergasted because there's so much construction going on the city despite all the news I read about inflation, gas prices, the generally poor state of the economy, and all the other problems afflicting the country. But Boston seems largely unaffected by all that. I don't get it. Why are we immune?
There's a lot of construction, but are there any big projects with significant towers on the docket? It seems like the actual upcoming projects are mid-rise or less.
 

bigpicture7

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There's a lot of construction, but are there any big projects with significant towers on the docket? It seems like the actual upcoming projects are mid-rise or less.
What's your definition of significant towers? The ~450' "Cambridge's tallest" at 135 Broadway is through approvals and nearly underway, as are several others at ~300' in the Kendall vicinity, such as 250 and 290 Binney. Not fully through approvals, but still firmly on the docket is another 450+' residential tower via the Volpe development. The South Station 600 footer in Boston is, I suppose, not up-and-coming, but is vertically just getting underway. The Hurley Development in Boston still has a shot at going taller on the residential side since what they proposed is ridiculous for a variety of reasons and will likely at least see some design iteration before finalized. I agree that we don't seem to have entirely new 500+ footers with any significant momentum at this moment, but given the couple of 450's in-queue that seems a bit of an arbitrary cutoff. Unless you count that moonshot 700 footer near north station, I don't think we'll see another 500'+ proposed until things settle out a bit more with the economy, with the Wu administration's development agenda/policies, and with the hybrid work realities more shaken-out and understood. But given those considerations I just rattled off, I'd say we're doing extraordinarily solidly in these circumstances. It's the landlords of aging office towers that have something to sweat, but elsewhere things are looking positive.
 

KentXie

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My thoughts exactly! I'm flabbergasted because there's so much construction going on the city despite all the news I read about inflation, gas prices, the generally poor state of the economy, and all the other problems afflicting the country. But Boston seems largely unaffected by all that. I don't get it. Why are we immune?
This isn't a Boston only thing. NYC, Seattle, Los Angeles, SF, Miami are all undergoing major building booms. Arguably, Boston's boom is the smallest of the above list. People are still being hired and being employed. Their salary might not be keeping up with the inflation but there is still money in people's hand to spend. If the unemployment rate starts to climb coupled with rising inflation, then this rosy picture will immediate turn on its head.

What concerns me is that Boston doesn't have anything significant in the pipeline after SST while the other cities mentioned above continue to churn out new proposals for the foreseeable future.
 
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Suffolk 83

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My thoughts exactly! I'm flabbergasted because there's so much construction going on the city despite all the news I read about inflation, gas prices, the generally poor state of the economy, and all the other problems afflicting the country. But Boston seems largely unaffected by all that. I don't get it. Why are we immune?
because its things arent as bad as your favorite political pundits what to make it out to be
 

DZH22

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...I agree that we don't seem to have entirely new 500+ footers with any significant momentum at this moment, but given the couple of 450's in-queue that seems a bit of an arbitrary cutoff...
South Station Tower will be Boston's 26th building at least 150 meters, ie 492'+. After that we might not get another Top 25 building for the rest of the decade. Doesn't seem too arbitrary to say that anything outside of the Top 25 will not have a major impact on the skyline, although certainly the positioning of ones such as at Kendall will help the overall urban aesthetic.

My thoughts exactly! I'm flabbergasted because there's so much construction going on the city despite all the news I read about inflation, gas prices, the generally poor state of the economy, and all the other problems afflicting the country. But Boston seems largely unaffected by all that. I don't get it. Why are we immune?
Statically superior cities such as NYC, Chicago, and Toronto continue to chug along, especially NYC and Toronto.
Rival cities such as San Francisco, Miami, and Philadelphia continue to chug along.
Inferior cities such as Austin and Nashville continue to chug along. Austin in particular is going from a Providence sized skyline back in 2000, to now building an ~870' with one over 1000' also having broken ground. In fact, Austin is probably going to statistically have a Top 5 US skyline by 2030.

I think the biggest difference with the cities listed above is that they are building taller, and in larger highrise quantity, than here. SF is planning a ~990' to complement its relatively new 1070'. Philadelphia has a stream of 500'-700' towers filling it out and also added a new tallest over 1100'. NYC is going gangbusters with massive supertalls, including multiple new tallests by roof. Toronto is finally adding supertalls to go along with their 20+ years of insanity building. Austin continuously proposes 700'+ buildings almost every week. Nashville is adding many new upper-limit buildings to its skyline. Miami may finally see some supertalls come to fruition. From an "impact tower" perspective, Boston is artificially holding itself back compared to what it could and should be building in the proper locations.

More interestingly, Boston is lagging even further behind European skylines in terms of current construction. Warsaw in particular is the next surging skyline, London now blows us out of the water, Frankfurt continues to push taller, etc etc etc. Compared to other cities both domestically and worldwide we are absolutely lagging given the demand for this city and region.
 

xec

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My question was about apples, but apart from Suffolk 83 all the subsequent comments are about oranges. I'm not in real estate and don't follow what's going on in other cities with the exception of NYC and SF. Now that I know this boom is not unique to Boston and is happening in many other US cities I'll rephrase my question: Given the inflation, high gas prices, supply line problems, looming energy shortages, etc. etc. why is real estate development in so many cities not affected? What makes them immune to the bad economy?

Here's another question, to tie the oranges to the apples. Given the Ukraine situation and the energy crisis that seems to be developing in Europe, do people here think that the skylines of Frankfurt, London, Warsaw, etc. will continue surging? If so, what is it that makes them immune to the deep pile of doo-doo Europe is sinking into?
 

KentXie

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Given the inflation, high gas prices, supply line problems, looming energy shortages, etc. etc. why is real estate development in so many cities not affected? What makes them immune to the bad economy?
Companies are still hiring and fighting over talent and making a profit. People are still employed and salary is still growing but not at the rate of inflation. As such, while inflation is bad, people still have disposable income. From a real estate perspective, remote working has allowed people to no longer be constrained to live in the city where their employer is based in, allowing for a robust real estate market. In addition, supply chain issues are creating a massive housing shortage at the same time that Millennials (the largest generation), and Gen Z are looking to move out. One more thing about real estate is, housing is more of a need rather than a luxury, meaning you can have a bad economy, but people will still need a place to live so demand for it is less elastic (i.e. if they have to, people will fork up 40% of their income rather than the recommended 30% over the alternative of living in the streets, a phenomenon that we are seeing today).
 
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bigpicture7

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Companies are still hiring and fighting over talent and making a profit. People are still employed and salary is still growing but not at the rate of inflation. As such, while inflation is bad, people still have disposable income. From a real estate perspective, remote working has allowed people to no longer be constrained to live in the city where their employer is based in, allowing for a robust real estate market. In addition, supply chain issues are creating a massive housing shortage at the same time that Millennials (the largest generation), and Gen Z are looking to move out. One more thing about real estate is, housing is more of a need rather than a luxury, meaning you can have a bad economy, but people will still need a place to live so demand for it is less elastic (i.e. if they have to, people will fork up 40% of their income rather than the recommended 30% over the alternative of living in the streets, a phenomenon that we are seeing today).
I wouldn't hold my breath on many of the things you mention. Boston is fortunate to be a multi-industry town, including with robust higher ed, R&D, and lab sectors. While unprecedented flexibility will be a norm going forward, full remote is not and won't be the configuration for the majority for white collar work. The crazy demand for programmers that we've seen over the past few years will not continue at this pace. Hybrid work will be prevalent, but that still places a premium on location. There is also a major market correction in-process/coming; it's just a matter of how much of a crash it is. It may be minor, but my point is simply that we are not in any way in a "steady state" of how things are going to be going forward.
 

KentXie

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I wouldn't hold my breath on many of the things you mention. Boston is fortunate to be a multi-industry town, including with robust higher ed, R&D, and lab sectors. While unprecedented flexibility will be a norm going forward, full remote is not and won't be the configuration for the majority for white collar work. The crazy demand for programmers that we've seen over the past few years will not continue at this pace. Hybrid work will be prevalent, but that still places a premium on location. There is also a major market correction in-process/coming; it's just a matter of how much of a crash it is. It may be minor, but my point is simply that we are not in any way in a "steady state" of how things are going to be going forward.
I'm going to disagree with you and say that the demand for programmers is going to continue. We need programmers, developers, analysts, and engineers as Big Data continues to grow and every single business decision is data driven. A business that doesn't utilize data is doomed to lose its competitive edge. Data is worth MORE than gold in today's world and data is growing exponentially. The amount of data projects that I'm being thrown at would require at least a tripling of my team and accomplishing those projects will only unlock more intelligent projects
 

xec

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From a real estate perspective, remote working has allowed people to no longer be constrained to live in the city where their employer is based in, allowing for a robust real estate market.
I don't follow your argument. People not having to live in their employer's city should mean fewer future employees will be moving there and some current employees will move out. That should mean less demand for housing and hence less need for construction. Rather than booming, cities should be de-booming as some of the development that would have happened there absent remote work will now be taking place elsewhere.

In addition, supply chain issues are creating a massive housing shortage at the same time that Millennials (the largest generation), and Gen Z are looking to move out.
I'm not following cause and effect here. How can supply chain issues that are causing a massive housing shortage also be supporting a massive building boom? To restate my original question: what makes the building boom in some cities immune to the supply chain issues that are causing the housing shortage? Are there separate supply chains for residential housing and thousand-foot high-rises, and only the former is having issues?

One more thing about real estate is, housing is more of a need rather than a luxury, meaning you can have a bad economy, but people will still need a place to live so demand for it is less elastic (i.e. if they have to, people will fork up 40% of their income rather than the recommended 30% over the alternative of living in the streets, a phenomenon that we are seeing today).
Yes, people need a place to live, but demand for housing doesn't translate into that housing getting built, which is exactly why so many people are living in the street. If housing supply follows demand it should again lead to de-booming cities, because development costs in cities are extremely high and would lead to housing most people can't afford, and the way to get around that is to build outside these cities, where development costs less. Ergo, less development in expensive cities and more development in cheaper places. But the building booms in the cities you mentioned are the opposite of that.
 

KentXie

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I don't follow your argument. People not having to live in their employer's city should mean fewer future employees will be moving there and some current employees will move out. That should mean less demand for housing and hence less need for construction. Rather than booming, cities should be de-booming as some of the development that would have happened there absent remote work will now be taking place elsewhere.
It's robust in the sense that people are able to live where they want to. Want to live in Boston but your company is located in OKC? Well now you can! Want to buy a house in an urban city that you can afford but your company is in SF? Well now you can! Prior to this, growth in a city can be limited by the companies that operate there. That barrier has somewhat been removed. So no, it isn't de-booming. Where it is de-booming is rural and suburban towns.

Remote jobs and remote interviews have also made matching employee talent and employers' needs much easier. For example, let's say Boston is full of techy people, so much that there isn't enough jobs for them. In Austin, TX, they don't have enough. Remote jobs now make it possible for someone in Boston, to stay in Boston and work for a company in Austin. And given that Austin has a shortage, these candidates can negotiate for a higher wage than they would have gotten if they had to compete for a job in Boston. As a result of this, these candidates have more money to buy homes in Boston, fueling construction growth.

I'm not following cause and effect here. How can supply chain issues that are causing a massive housing shortage also be supporting a massive building boom? To restate my original question: what makes the building boom in some cities immune to the supply chain issues that are causing the housing shortage? Are there separate supply chains for residential housing and thousand-foot high-rises, and only the former is having issues?
Developers stop building residential housing when the ROI is negative. Given that demand is way outstripping supply, the margin will continue to be positive, supporting construction growth despite the increase cost of material. And as major developers can fork over more money and buy more material in bulk than a single-housing developer, they get higher priority among sellers of construction material.

Yes, people need a place to live, but demand for housing doesn't translate into that housing getting built, which is exactly why so many people are living in the street. If housing supply follows demand it should again lead to de-booming cities, because development costs in cities are extremely high and would lead to housing most people can't afford, and the way to get around that is to build outside these cities, where development costs less. Ergo, less development in expensive cities and more development in cheaper places. But the building booms in the cities you mentioned are the opposite of that.
Except the demand is for in the city, not outside the cities. In addition, large scale development general do not occur in suburban and rural area (unless it's China), meaning the money to be made is in the city. Sure, lower income people are being pushed out to the fringes, replaced by higher income folks but that's because they have no choice. They aren't demanding to live in the fringes.
 
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bigpicture7

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I'm going to disagree with you and say that the demand for programmers is going to continue. We need programmers, developers, analysts, and engineers as Big Data continues to grow and every single business decision is data driven. A business that doesn't utilize data is doomed to lose its competitive edge. Data is worth MORE than gold in today's world and data is growing exponentially. The amount of data projects that I'm being thrown at would require at least a tripling of my team and accomplishing those projects will only unlock more intelligent projects
I didn't say that strong demand for programmers wasn't going to continue; I said it's not going to continue growing at this current pace. If for no reasons other than that the pipelines are flooded with aspiring candidates, and that the overall economy will likely shift and/or correct, even if temporarily. My job affords me insight further upstream in the talent pipelines, and it is astounding the proportion of teens and college students pursuing computer science and data related fields as a general proportion of their peer groups. For the reasons you mention, the demand could remain very strong indefinitely - I am not disagreeing with that - but we are presently in off-the-charts strong labor demand territory, yet the size of the labor pool itself is/will be expanding in ways that are not yet realized. My point was not to dispute any of the basic logic you're outlining above, which I generally agree with. My point was simply to highlight the ways in which Boston might be different from other cities if/when the overall economy dips. I agree that things look similar across other cities at present.
 
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KentXie

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Btw, watched a B1M video yesterday and they noted one thing that can turn the high-rise boom into a bust is the rising fed rate which will in turn make loans much more expensive and harder to attain for development. This, I don't think any city is immune from so if the Fed hikes the rate again, we may still see building proposed and approval, but putting the shovel in the ground may be a few years after that.
 

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