How does Boston's urbanism compare?

stick n move

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I do kind of agree that Boston is actually overrated as far as street life. I constantly hear how walkable it is and how it has such a major stock of brownstones/townhouses and I always think this is such a tourist perspective. People who think this clearly only stayed in the back bay newbury/boylston area and never ventured out to Dorchester Roxbury etc.

Dorchester is the largest neighborhood in Boston so its actually a much bigger representative of how avg Bostonians live than these touristy areas. Millions of crappy triple deckers is what my Boston experience is, wayyyy more than quaint brick townhouses. I wish the grid and architecture of the south end had carried on throughout the outer neighborhoods but they just didnt. The majority of Boston is actually separate non connected wood buildings on a suburban layout in what is a pretty poor urban experience.
 

HenryAlan

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I can't agree with that at all.. The 'excitement' for a few of on this website is the Skyline impact. The excitement for actual HUMANOIDS would be at the living human sidewalk level. Real cities don't look like post-Neutron bomb events.

That "dreary street" NEEDED a life injection. Hell, it is right around the corner from where all the tourists jump aboard the Duckboats - - - what a crap sandwich to serve out of towners. That will go nowhere for Boston's reputation.

A real city is about human life - - Boston needs street level windows and corner diners, pubs, etc...........
In my opinion, you are confusing what should be (and I agree with you completely) with what actually is. This building, while fantastic from a skyline point of view failed on the street level. And I suspect it's because the building's customers don't care about that. It's a helicopter sky scraper, not something that creates a bustling neighborhood.
 

stoweker

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I do kind of agree that Boston is actually overrated as far as street life. I constantly hear how walkable it is and how it has such a major stock of brownstones/townhouses and I always think this is such a tourist perspective. People who think this clearly only stayed in the back bay newbury/boylston area and never ventured out to Dorchester Roxbury etc.

Dorchester is the largest neighborhood in Boston so its actually a much bigger representative of how avg Bostonians live than these touristy areas. Millions of crappy triple deckers is what my Boston experience is, wayyyy more than quaint brick townhouses. I wish the grid and architecture of the south end had carried on throughout the outer neighborhoods but they just didnt. The majority of Boston is actually separate non connected wood buildings on a suburban layout in what is a pretty poor urban experience.
i mean.... that's most major cities. if you get off the tourist track in chicago and go NW on the blue line up past Logan Circle it's the same thing, and the south side is disconnected buildings and vacant lots. NYC is similar once you get out of manhattan and go east through brooklyn and queens where it starts to become more dense suburban. i can't think of any american cities that aren't nice / walkable outside of the tourist urban core.

also generally when people think of cities they've been to they're thinking of the tourist areas they've visited, not the time they spent driving through dorchester / the bronx / chicago west side to get there...
 

George_Apley

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It's also worth saying that, despite the dense suburban layout of most of Boston's (and Cambridge, and Somerville, etc.) neighborhoods outside of the core, those neighborhoods are still very walkable and pedestrian friendly for the most part, and it's relatively easy to get to a commercial district on foot from most locations. The same cannot be said of many American cities.
 

HenryAlan

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It's also worth saying that, despite the dense suburban layout of most of Boston's (and Cambridge, and Somerville, etc.) neighborhoods outside of the core, those neighborhoods are still very walkable and pedestrian friendly for the most part, and it's relatively easy to get to a commercial district on foot from most locations. The same cannot be said of many American cities.
Yep, exactly. I never drive anywhere in my neighborhood, despite it's far more suburban feel than one of the core areas. Worth noting, too, that even the "suburban" sections of Boston/Camberville are actually very housing dense compared even to core areas of most other US cities. Pretty much anywher in Boston with the exception of Readville and some parts of West Roxbury is above 10,000 people per square mile.
 

Java King

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It's also worth saying that, despite the dense suburban layout of most of Boston's (and Cambridge, and Somerville, etc.) neighborhoods outside of the core, those neighborhoods are still very walkable and pedestrian friendly for the most part, and it's relatively easy to get to a commercial district on foot from most locations. The same cannot be said of many American cities.
While NOT perfect by a LONG stretch, even suburban locations around commuter rail stations can be quite walkable. I can think of Salem, Concord, Winchester, Wellesley, Newton, Rockport, and many more. Here in Scituate, we've tried to create walkable villages around the two MBTA Regional Rail Stations in Scituate. (....see what I did there? :) ) I've been wanting to do a photo tour of some of the newer development in Greenbush Village that is quite walkable, but it's still a massive work-in-progress. The absolutely MASSIVE Greenbush upper parking lot that the MBTA designed when the line reopened in 2007, is scheduled for quite the make-over with retail, apartments, and pocket parks. (I'm not sure the current status after the pandemic situation.) Anyway, the Scituate Planning Board has done several Village Studies and created Design Guidelines that promote walkability, retail, and activity in mixed-use structures.

I think this region's established pattern of small villages around train stations is a nice European model to emulate. Newer MBTA stations are giant parking lots that don't add much for pedestrians, but I think that design model is changing a bit at the T. There have been more examples of parking lots turned into transit-adjacent development. So, I think that's a good thing.
 

George_Apley

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The "New England Town Center" is a clear benefit of our region when it comes to suburban development. Just from my own personal experience growing up there and having family still there, Acton has done a great job planning how to build out walkable "villages" in different parts of town. They haven't been totally successful at implementing so far, but they've got their heads in the right place. New England suburbs overall are better situated than many other parts of the country.
 

stick n move

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I agree but I feel like we and the country can do so much better. Cauldesacs need to be made illegal, dead ends should be avoided as much as possible, not everything needs to be a grid but better connections would help traffic and people movements greatly, mixed zoning would help out many suburbs to be (less) dependent on cars, mixed income residences need to be within the same neighborhoods, suburbs need to pull their weight on building more affordable units, and higher density would make much better use of land and house more people.

We have all of history up until this point to look back at and see what has worked well and what hasnt and use those ideas to create great neighborhoods and communities. For some reason we keep making the same mistakes over and over. I know a good amount of it has to do with the laws and ordinances that determine street widths, zoning..etc, but its detrimental so we need to change it. Planning should be getting better with time, its unacceptible that all of the best neighborhoods in America are the old ones. Change needs to happen.

Also its not always bad planning but a lack of coordination of planning between developers. Rt 9 in Framingham is a great example of 1000 different ideas lining both sides of the road. That same exact amount of development and money that is on rt 9 today applied to a coordinated masterplan could have created an entirely new modern downtown. Instead its just a road lined with 100 different ideas that have 0 integration between them. This should be unacceptible to happen again.

Also- I wanted to throw my chair when I saw whats going up on senator bolling circle and snowden way right off blue hill ave in Dorchester. What the HELL is up with that?
 

Bananarama

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Parking lot sprawl is a big problem. It's sort of baked into American urbanism though because of all the sprawl and lack of public transport. But it's particularly bad in downtown areas. Instead of front or side lots, parking should be prioritized to the streetside and the rear. Even worse are the lots taking up entire city blocks.

One of the major detriments and failings of mid-tier cities like Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, etc. Granted in time those are the areas that get the fill and will see development.
I think Boston really excels here and emerges as a pedestrian friendly/urbanistically welcoming place.

And aside, I often wonder how big of an impact the road layout and traffic have in the car dependency of this area. I'm familiar enough with the area and can get around without a map, but the number of awful intersections and bottlenecks is such a huge turnoff that I can never see myself owning a car. Some combination of nice walking conditions, just adequate public transit, and grossly daunting idea of the driving stress here.
 

stick n move

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I think these developers are on to something at forest hills with these new row houses. So much new development just falls flat, but at the same time its too expensive to build 19th century rowhouses and a lot of people want something new and I think they nailed it here.

I hope they plan to fill in many more of these in the area, but regardless I think they discovered something. A way to build modern rowhouses that fill the same space and density of the old row houses, creating extremely welcoming streets. Also so many brownstones and row houses had flat roofs, I really like the germanic feel of the triangular roofs.

Id love to see these basic rowhouse shapes replicated all over the city with different mixes of materials. I think the row house is an essential part of the fabric of northeastern american cities and we shouldnt be stuck with whatever weve got. I think they figured out something here that could be very successfully replicated all over the city, allowing the stock to have sustained growth.












-These two 4 story apartment buildings also seamlessly fit in with the neighbors.


Theres been many attempts to build modern rowhouses that capture some of the same magic of old, most of them unsuccessfully, but I think here they struck gold. I think they should take this design and run with it and add lots more units to Bostons stock of row houses so were not either stuck with all that weve got, forced to live with subpar attempts, or as is much more common... no attempt at all and just large 5 over 1 buildings scattered around everywhere of questionable quality. Streets lined with row houses like these would be muuuuch better from an urban design perspective and very welcoming to the people living within or passing through. I really hope to see the rest of this street filled in with the same buildings, and then to see them spread around the city.
 
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BronsonShore

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^^^^ Right there with you, Stick. I love this development and agree with every word. Aside from their location directly abutting the train tracks, who wouldn't rather live in a neighborhood filled with row homes like those?

Check out this block in Downtown Brooklyn. A giant corner lot that, instead of a generic five-story stick building, turned into 10 varied and modern townhomes:

Screen Shot 2020-05-24 at 9.26.12 AM.png
 

whighlander

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[Mod edit: From here.]
Boston will probably take a hit. I'm sure the rest of the country will still keep putting up 500 footers, 800 footers, and 1000 footers. NYC will probably put up 10 thousand-footers in the next 5 years. Cities on Boston's level like Seattle, SF, Philly will probably still put up 800 footers.

Its a minor miracle that Boston being the 10th largest (11th now) metro in the country, somehow has the 7th biggest skyline in terms of 150 meter buildings. You'd expect us to punch well below our weight.
KriterionBOS
Just to correct a major misconception about Greater Boston

People need to do better homework about Boston to properly put it into context

Boston as a city -- now not even in top 20 [2019 US Census estimate]
21
Boston, Massachusetts​
692,600617,594 [2010 Census]

Boston as a metro
just around 10 or 11 Population (2018 estimate) 4,875,390(MSA) Ranked 10th in the US for Metropolitan Statistical Areas​
Boston as a "City-state"
one of the biggest in the US Ranked 6th in the US for Combined Statistical Areas 8,285,407(CSA)​
Boston as a Global Superstar -- one of the most important in the world
e.g. MIT for 10 years ranked #1 in the World​
Harvard does OK too​
even BU makes the 50 or so​
MGH and BWH ranked in top hospitals and in the very top in Medical Research​
Children's Hospital ranked #1 of US Children's Hospitals​
Kendall Sq.​
Logan ranked in to top 20 airports​
some significant history [e.g. the Telephone]​
and a bunch of sports teams, a couple of museums of some note and a well respected symphony orchestra​
 
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shmessy

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[Mod edit: From here.]

KriterionBOS
Just to correct a major misconception about Greater Boston

People need to do better homework about Boston to properly put it into context

Boston as a city -- now not even in top 20 [2019 US Census estimate]
21
Boston, Massachusetts​
692,600617,594 [2010 Census]

Boston as a metro
just around 10 or 11 Population (2018 estimate) 4,875,390(MSA) Ranked 10th in the US for Metropolitan Statistical Areas​
Boston as a "City-state"
one of the biggest in the US Ranked 6th in the US for Combined Statistical Areas 8,285,407(CSA)​
Boston as a Global Superstar -- one of the most important in the world
e.g. MIT for 10 years ranked #1 in the World​
Harvard does OK too​
even BU makes the 50 or so​
MGH and BWH ranked in top hospitals and in the very top in Medical Research​
Children's Hospital ranked #1 of US Children's Hospitals​
Kendall Sq.​
Logan ranked in to top 20 airports​
some significant history [e.g. the Telephone]​
and a bunch of sports teams, a couple of museums of some note and a well respected symphony orchestra​
Kriterion's post was about the future of building heights in Boston.

We've all heard of the city called Boston and its history. But thank you anyway.

.
 
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