How does Boston's urbanism compare?

George_Apley

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I don't think I've ever heard it claimed that Boston was anything other than a livable and vibrant city, certainly not in the last couple of decades. It's certainly one of the *more* livable and vibrant US cities by plenty of metrics. Manhattan is a unicorn.
 

Norval Elliot

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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:

View attachment 5325
What this Street View snapshot does not show are the late-Italianate/Renaissance Revival brownstones on the block. While the well-preserved 19th-century "State Street Houses" retain most of their original detail, the 14 new townhouses (built in 2007) are bereft of ornamentation and seemingly unable to decide whether they're old-fashioned or modern. Though their scale and proportion agree with those of their venerable neighbors, their austere, contemporary styling is disagreeable at close range. Alack, this block is outside the Boerum Hill Historic District.
 

Charlie_mta

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What this Street View snapshot does not show are the late-Italianate/Renaissance Revival brownstones on the block. While the well-preserved 19th-century "State Street Houses" retain most of their original detail, the 14 new townhouses (built in 2007) are bereft of ornamentation and seemingly unable to decide whether they're old-fashioned or modern. Though their scale and proportion agree with those of their venerable neighbors, their austere, contemporary styling is disagreeable at close range. Alack, this block is outside the Boerum Hill Historic District.
Townhouses, or any structure built today will always lack the detail and workmanship of buildings from 150 years ago. That's just the reality of today's labor costs, codes and tastes. Besides, I don't think it's generally a good idea to try to replicate a 19th century look. Doing that just seems to create a Disney theme park, The buildings put up around the Harvard Square area in recent decades attempt to mimic a "historic" look to appease NIMBYs, but these buildings really just come off as boring and phony.
 

Arlington

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Thing is, Federal-style doesn't take much detailing, it just needs faithful proportions and massing.
 

Charlie_mta

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I agree. Context sensitive massing is what's most important, which these new Brooklyn townhouses shown here achieve.
 

Norval Elliot

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Townhouses, or any structure built today will always lack the detail and workmanship of buildings from 150 years ago. That's just the reality of today's labor costs, codes and tastes. Besides, I don't think it's generally a good idea to try to replicate a 19th century look. Doing that just seems to create a Disney theme park,
Consider the row comprising seven townhouses below. They were built two years after the contemporary houses on Brooklyn's State Street. Perhaps you'd consider them to be apropos of a Disney theme park, but I'd not want anything more modern-looking on this West Village block.
Bethune Street.png
 

Charlie_mta

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Those are nice. The brick work and (stone ?) work are great. However, I do like the contemporary townhouses better, but that's just my personal taste.
 

theSil

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Thanks @JS38!

For someone who is familiar with the history of Boston's infill but not an expert, the TL;DW takeaways for me were the explanation of why the Seaport laid essentially empty for so long and why the Kennedy presidential library is located where it is. Essentially, the intended purpose of filling in the Seaport at the end of the 19th century was to build modern wharfs that could accommodate the (then) modern shipping industry. The work took decades and by the time it was finished much of the industry had left for other cities, leaving the Seaport as little more than parking lots up until up until recent times. Potentially interesting prompt for our "Alternative History" thread: what the area might've looked like had they finished the work a couple decades earlier, retaining the industry and causing the Fort Point neighborhood to develop and stretch much further east.

The Kennedy Library had an I.M. Pei design that looked like the glass pyramid at the Louvre and was supposed to be in Harvard Square, where the Kennedy School and Memorial Park ended up. Cambridge NIMBYs afraid of throngs of tourist killed the idea and the library got relegated to Columbia Point, with the hopes of becoming something like the Statue of Liberty for Boston.
 

Bananarama

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Thanks @JS38!

For someone who is familiar with the history of Boston's infill but not an expert, the TL;DW takeaways for me were the explanation of why the Seaport laid essentially empty for so long and why the Kennedy presidential library is located where it is. Essentially, the intended purpose of filling in the Seaport at the end of the 19th century was to build modern wharfs that could accommodate the (then) modern shipping industry. The work took decades and by the time it was finished much of the industry had left for other cities, leaving the Seaport as little more than parking lots up until up until recent times. Potentially interesting prompt for our "Alternative History" thread: what the area might've looked like had they finished the work a couple decades earlier, retaining the industry and causing the Fort Point neighborhood to develop and stretch much further east.

The Kennedy Library had an I.M. Pei design that looked like the glass pyramid at the Louvre and was supposed to be in Harvard Square, where the Kennedy School and Memorial Park ended up. Cambridge NIMBYs afraid of throngs of tourist killed the idea and the library got relegated to Columbia Point, with the hopes of becoming something like the Statue of Liberty for Boston.
This is fascinating! I had no idea about the original plans. Grass is always greener I suppose, but that looks like a pretty compelling proposal for the area.
Classic Cambridge NIMBYs...
 

Charlie_mta

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This is fascinating! I had no idea about the original plans. Grass is always greener I suppose, but that looks like a pretty compelling proposal for the area.
Classic Cambridge NIMBYs...
That's so true. I grew up in Cambridge and it's very much like a small town. The locals are a tight knit group which benefitted me in many ways, but not so good for any kind of supertall development. But maybe that's for the better to keep Cambridge's small town feel.
 

Blackbird

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That's so true. I grew up in Cambridge and it's very much like a small town. The locals are a tight knit group which benefitted me in many ways, but not so good for any kind of supertall development. But maybe that's for the better to keep Cambridge's small town feel.
Ha! If Cambridge is a small town, then what are Waltham, Watertown, Everett, Somerville, etc? Pastoral hamlets? :LOL:

In all seriousness, though, I hadn't realized that Cambridge passed Lowell in population to become the state's 4th largest after Boston, Worcester, and Springfield. I wonder if it'll ever pass Springfield? If my calculations are right, it could happen in around 23 years if both cities keep the same rates of population growth.
 
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Charlie_mta

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It's obviously not a small town, but if certainly feels like one. I mean, a few of the kids I went to high school with went on to the City Council and School Committee, Tip O'Neil went to my church and his kids to my grade school, one in the same classes as me, my dad and mom were friends with some Cambridge elected officials, my mother got Tip O'Neil to do us a really big favor with the Federal Government. etc. That's the kind of small town feel I'm talking about. I never got that sense in Boston.
 

shmessy

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Not sure where to put this - feel free to move - but thought some on here may appreciate watching this
recent 30 minute+ video lecture by Alex Kreiger of the GSD about Boston's topographic/urban history:

www.gsd.harvard.edu/2020/12/land-for-a-city-on-a-hill-alex-kriegers-iconic-tour-of-boston/
Thank you for this video by Alex Krieger and the Harvard GSD.

What a great, dense and concise (at the same time) walk through parts of the Harbor's edge. A real treasure!

You most certainly were right - - this was very appreciated.
 

shmessy

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That's so true. I grew up in Cambridge and it's very much like a small town. The locals are a tight knit group which benefitted me in many ways, but not so good for any kind of supertall development. But maybe that's for the better to keep Cambridge's small town feel.
Silicon Valley/NC Research Triangle/Manhattan's Silicon Alley/Austin, etc. have been eternally grateful for that.
 

bakgwailo

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Silicon Valley/NC Research Triangle/Manhattan's Silicon Alley/Austin, etc. have been eternally grateful for that.
Not many supertalls in the Valley or NC Research Triangle. Speaking of - Austin and the NC Research Triangle don't really belong being mentioned with us & NYC for tech markets, nor do we or NYC really have any business being mentioned with the Valley.
 

shmessy

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Not many supertalls in the Valley or NC Research Triangle. Speaking of - Austin and the NC Research Triangle don't really belong being mentioned with us & NYC for tech markets, nor do we or NYC really have any business being mentioned with the Valley.
Good points. I was talking more generally about the mindset of the previous poster's " The locals are a tight knit group which benefitted me in many ways, but not so good for any kind of supertall development. But maybe that's for the better to keep Cambridge's small town feel."
 

Bananarama

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it's gonna be tall, but not that tall (except by boston standards) and it's going to be pretty boring and ugly (except by boston standards for skyscrapers).
I'm laughing at this particularly because today, funnily enough, SOM just released their design for 175 Park next to Grand Central/Chryler Building. And it's almost twice the height of this thing. While also being quite beautiful imo. Like it wasn't just designed by a committee of zoning law bean counters.

5d3d60b84c3edc6480670791e3d4b506ed-175-Park-Avenue---Image-Overview-6.w710.jpg

https://www.curbed.com/2021/02/first-look-at-175-park-avenue-the-grand-hyatts-replacement.html
The highrise/skyscrapers we get here pale in comparison.

But oh well. I don't think Boston needs to turn into an exclusive playground for millionaires.
 

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