How Tall Are Boston's Buildings and Should They Be Taller?

stick n move

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If its all we can get I think 750’ is appropriate and definitely isnt short. Especially with higher aspect ratios like 1 Dalton. Now that literally every city on earth is getting supertalls I actually think itd be cool if we keep up with the global cities, without any... like London (used to). Thatd actually be a bigger statement.

Either way though Im cool with either way it goes. Ideally to me our tallest building in the city would be at Volpe tbh. The back bay is really set up with the high spine and honestly its perfect now other than needing a slightly shorter copley tower to balance it out. Downtown is a more traditional skyline but the only thing over 900’ would have to be even past the garden which would look weird not stepping back from the river.

I think Boston is heading in the right direction with winthrop sq coming along and in my own opinion if we were going to get a supertall or 984’ or whatever the cutoff is, I think it would be most badass to be at volpe with a couple shorter 700, 600 footers around it for a cluster with a peak. Itd be sort of like the Shard in London across the river from the main skyline, but itd be a formidable skyline itself. Yet again itd be soo unique for an American city, where Boston is already unlike any other American city, and I think itd just be badass and different. Anyways Im cool with the direction were heading I just want it to speed up..
 

TallIsGood

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D1B09075-51BC-43DF-936F-C89EB0A19DD8.jpeg

Shanghai has different areas. Pudong is the newer super tall area and the Bund and surrounding areas are much older and walkable urban areas. Nothing is one size fits all.
8E902ED7-E5F6-49F5-A286-D065BAE943E4.jpeg
 

odurandina

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"The point at which abstract ideas are tested makes fools of us all...."

Regarding the so-called height fetishism (HF, HF'ers & their ilk): There sure is some bull being sallied about by intelligent people who appear to lose their collective minds over the topic.

Is the source the people who sporadically call for more height, 1000' towers etc---or their accusers, jacked up on coffee and hidden issues of their own "primacy," invariably leaking out?

To be honest, i haven't seen that much height fetishism on the forum--from anyone. Now, before you laugh: the true facts are often stated, then repeated--and still, people don't seem to want to accept that the end of height in any type of dramatic sense is already here.

There have been a few folks who speculate about what might get built vs their hopes and desires--including the dreaded "1000 foot tower."

Boston's practical height limit is probably more realistically in the 840~870' range. That's because first, Back Bay towers aren't going past JHT height west of Mass Ave -- and secondly, all other lots east of Mass Ave would shatter the Shadow Law once you topped about 780' ....and while it's theoretically possible something approaching JHT height could be approved in Back Bay, getting much taller than that can virtually be ruled out.

FACT: Boston's practical height limit can best be tested between the Zakim Bridge, and 65 Martha Road along a point of demarcation at the north side of Causeway St.

Boston is booming. After many years of growth, things are just now, beginning to slow. We do have the Harbor Garage advancing toward an official proposal. But the project itself is not new. Odd, there are no new proposals eclipsing 390' in the City, and there have been no proposals eclipsing even 370' since early in 2016. Some might recall, i predicted such an event (taking place in the near future), in the Globe 4 years ago.

i suspect this has been less to due to the cresting of the cycle, but the challenges involved with building tall on what remains. Writers about development have quipped regarding 1 Dalton: words such as, "possibly the last tower of this scale, that may be seen for decades...."

Before asking the obvious Q of: [why do you suppose this is],
we might first consider its source:

1. deductive reasoning?
2. City planners speaking off the record?
3. the development community pontificating?

Why would it be true?
Is Boston about to be done building >200m skyscrapers?
What about >180m? or >150m, or >120m?

Was Boston ever in danger of so-called "yimby's" getting their way? Frankly, do yimby's even exist, or do they get a bad rap for stating we should consider height where it's appropriate to do so? A few have postured (in heated discussions) as if "things" might have actually gone some crazy way.

No. After the planning of the "Flynnino" years, and early planning of the Walsh Admn where several highrises above 400' were approved, there was never going to be but handful more blocks where >150m could realistically be considered.

The majority of lands/buildings in the dense core of Boston can be ruled out.

There is no height fetishism to be done. And despite random calls for a few extremely tall towers... despite what someone might say to the contrary: Short of some political force of nature like Tom Menino appearing, it's not (ever) going to happen. The number of sites that pass muster for anything >200m, is at most, about 10 lots -- and they're all extreme long shots.
>120m? Don't expect to see much of anything proposed eclipsing this height, anytime soon (either).

The >110m sausage can be run through the slicer, and (maybe) a few possibilities open up. Then, consider the neighborhoods are already dead set against even that type of height. The sentiment isn't going to change. Boston isn't about to spiral out of control w/ tall development. If anything it's quite nearly the opposite. The yimby towers will be rising far from Boston.


The Downtown/West End area:

It's appropriate to look beyond "2030," at the area of the West End roughly between Charles River Park apts/Mass General, and New Chardon St.

It's likely a number of blocks will be developed in the next 20~30 years, ostensibly, with a range of medical and mixed-use residential. But planning won't be like Pemberton Sq (~400') of the 1960s/70s. Height will more reflect the closeness to Beacon Hill, and to a much lesser extent, the proximity to Downtown.

My best guess is that very little if anything will be rising much over 250', except perhaps on a few blocks over by Charles River Park, which could go a bit taller. But most of the area will be planned toward "212 Stuart St" (~230') type of scale--at most .

Most of the West End will go just about that way. The North End and Greenway are wrapping up at the Govt Ctr Garage and Dock Square leaving only about 4 lots a ways down, all the way to the opposite end. (They are listed with the other downtown sites, below).

With this in mind, it's perfectly reasonable to look out beyond 2030 and consider a theoretical upper limit for those few outliers in the West End to approach the nominal height for a 1970s era Los Angeles skyscraper.

Boston is the metro core of the 6th largest CSA in the United States. There's no reason to decry building at this scale, as
1. there would be no Shadow Laws broken, and
2. these sites will continue to be viable as Boston's role as innovation City grows, and transit improvements come to fruition.

Skyscraper sites in Downtown/West End

1. 2~3 sites near North Station, including the low-rise section of the O'Neill Fed Bldg
2. 65 Martha Rd, and the parking lot next door.
3. The State Service Ctr building (a huge land site).
4. The low-rise section of the JFK Fed Bldg (another large parcel)
5. 125 Court St (a long shot)
6. 1 Bromfield St.
7. Pi Alley Garage
8. The Harbor Garage site

of lesser height, in the 300~350' zone

1, 2, 3 Center Plaza,
Hook Lobster site
51-53 High St
125 Lincoln St
a few other sites near the Bay Village/Theater District
such as 290 Tremont St

In the Boston compost, it would require years of recycled proposals, cooperation between multiple .gov authorities (haha), Article 80 review, ritual infighting and a force equivalent to Tom Menino before the first >200m parcels ever reached the shovels to become skyscrapers.

Over the coming decades, it should appropriately, happen.

i'll have "shuffled off this mortal coil" by then. But I'm already telling the young people to keep physically fit so that one glorious October morning, in the year 2078 they can bring their grand kids up to Belmont Hill on the first clear fall day--and take some glorious photos of the Boston Skyline. Hell, they may push it back then. It may become a generational affair. Dreams passed from father to son, mother to daughter.

Maybe Cambridge will pick up the mantle, as some have suggested. But someday, somewhere, someone may see their dreams of a City and metro core unafraid to add a bit of height--realized.


coming soon:
Back Bay: will anything >450' ever (again) be built?
and the Fenway (future home of the 284' neighborhood megatall);
 
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Massachoicetts

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My opinion on this,

Should Boston built taller? Yes. But with caution.

I think Boston should work on maintaining their 'high rise buildings' to dense Office/Financial Areas. Boston's financial district and downtown crossing area should house taller buildings in the range of 500-750ft tall. Millennium, Winthrop, Bromfield (with better street level), Harbor Garage Towers are all steps in the right direction. I have an image for th Downtown Crossing area to be filled with 450-775ft buildings. One on Bromfield, one on Macy's, One on the abandoned site next to Macys, One on Top of TJ Maxx and One Across the street.. eventually filled with Hotels, Luxury Apartments, Mini Microunits and even some offices. Put a good cluster there to fuel the shopping street and recreate a livlier Downtown Xing and Chinatown. It would pay off. Keep the High Spine, well, high. A few more 700fters would look great there with a few 400-600fters to compliment. Make these more Office Heavy as the Back Bay is becoming a better alternative for Business. The South End? Keep it purely residential, max out heights at 250ft, with taller ones going near the highway. Seaport's heights are fine as is.

If there was to be a 990ft building? Cambridge. Volpe can support 1,000ft. Why not build it there. Three supporting 400-600ft buildings around it would compliment the skyline so much and give the city of Cambridge much needed office space with unbelievable views of Boston.

The Rest of Boston? Keep it short. Sure have some random zones of 200fters like Assembly and Dudley... but large swaths of land are highly residential and cutting off neighborhoods with archaic towers wouldnt be right for communities like Roxbury, Dorchester, Allston, etc ... it would take the charm out. I think gridding those areas up if you can and building clos to the road with 6-8 stories would be ideal and gradually fading down to 4-6 stories to outer regions.

So yeah, Boston should Build taller if it can... utilize its established skyline districts and get to work. But dont remove neighborhoods for archaic towers that will separate communities. Just my two cents.
 

stick n move

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"The point at which abstract ideas are tested makes fools of us all...."


Regarding the so-called height fetishism (HF, HF'ers & their ilk): There sure is some bull being sallied about by intelligent people who appear to lose their collective minds over the topic.

Is the source the people who sporadically call for more height, 1000' towers etc, or their accusers, jacked up on coffee and hidden issues of their own "primacy," invariably leaking out?

To be honest, i haven't seen that much height fetishism on the forum--from anyone. Now, before you laugh: the true facts are often stated, then repeated--and still, people don't seem to want to accept that the end of height in any type of dramatic sense is already here.

There have been a few folks who speculate about what might get built vs their hopes and desires--including the dreaded "1000 foot tower."

Boston's practical height limit is probably more realistically in the 840~870' range. That's because first, Back Bay towers aren't going past JHT height west of Mass Ave -- and secondly, all other lots east of Mass Ave would shatter the Shadow Law once you topped about 780' ....and while it's theoretically possible something approaching JHT height could be approved in Back Bay, getting much taller than that can virtually be ruled out.

FACT: Boston's practical height limit can best be tested between the Zakim Bridge, and 65 Martha Road along a point of demarcation at the north side of Causeway St.

Boston is booming. After many years of growth, things are just now, beginning to slow. We do have the Harbor Garage advancing toward an official proposal. But the project itself is not new. Odd, there are no new proposals eclipsing 390' in the City, and there have been no proposals eclipsing even 370' since early in 2016. Some might recall, i predicted such an event (taking place in the near future), in the Globe 4 years ago.

i suspect this has been less to due to the cresting of the cycle, but the challenges involved with building tall on what remains. Writers about development have quipped regarding 1 Dalton: words such as, "possibly the last tower of this scale, that may be seen for decades...."

Before asking the obvious Q of: [why do you suppose this is],
we might first consider its source:

1. deductive reasoning?
2. City planners speaking off the record?
3. the development community pontificating?

Why would it be true?
Is Boston about to be done building >200m skyscrapers?
What about >180m? or >150m, or >120m?

Was Boston ever in danger of so-called "yimby's" getting their way? Frankly, do yimby's even exist, or do they get a bad rap for stating we should consider height where it's appropriate to do so? A few have postured (in heated discussions) as if "things" might have actually gone some crazy way.

No. After the planning of the "Flynnino" years, and early planning of the Walsh Admn where several highrises above 400' were approved, there was never going to be but handful more blocks where >150m could realistically be considered.

The majority of lands/buildings in the dense core of Boston can be ruled out.

There is no height fetishism to be done. And despite random calls for a few extremely tall towers... despite what someone might say to the contrary: Short of some political force of nature like Tom Menino appearing, it's not going to (ever) happen. The number of sites that come up for anything >200m, is at most, about 10 lots -- and they're all extreme long shots. >120m? Don't expect to see much proposed eclipsing this height, anytime soon, either.

The >110m sausage can be run through the slicer, and (maybe) a few possibilities open up. Then, consider the neighborhoods are already dead set against even that type of height. The sentiment isn't going to change. Boston isn't about to spiral out of control w/ tall development. If anything it's quite nearly the opposite. The yimby towers will be rising far from Boston.


The Downtown/West End area:

It's appropriate to look beyond "2030," at the area of the West End roughly between Charles River Park apts/Mass General, and New Chardon St.

It's likely a number of blocks will be developed in the next 20~30 years, ostensibly, with a range of medical and mixed-use residential. But planning won't be like Pemberton Sq (~400') of the 1960s/70s. Height will more reflect the closeness to Beacon Hill, and to a much lesser extent, the proximity to Downtown.

My best guess is that very little if anything will be rising much over 250', except perhaps on a few blocks over by Charles River Park, which could go a bit taller. But most of the area will be planned toward "212 Stuart St" type of scale--at most.

Most of the West End will go just about that way. The North End and Greenway are wrapping up at the Govt Ctr Garage and Dock Square leaving only about 4 lots a ways down, all the way to the opposite end. (They are listed with the other downtown sites, below).

With this in mind, it's perfectly reasonable to look out beyond 2030 and consider a theoretical upper limit for those few outliers in the West End to approach the nominal height for a 1970s era Los Angeles skyscraper.

Boston is the metro core of the 6th largest CSA in the United States. There's no reason to decry building at this scale, as there would be 1. no Shadow Laws broken, and 2. these sites will continue to be viable as plans for transit improvements eventually come to fruition.

Skyscraper sites in Downtown/West End

1. 2~3 sites near North Station, including the low-rise section of the O'Neill Fed Bldg
2. 65 Martha Rd, and the parking lot next door.
3. The State Service Ctr building (a huge land site).
4. The low-rise section of the JFK Fed Bldg (another large parcel)
5. 125 Court St (a long shot)
6. 1 Bromfield St.
7. Pi Alley Garage
8. The Harbor Garage site

of lesser height, in the 300~350' zone

1, 2, 3 Center Plaza,
Hook Lobster site
51-53 High St
125 Lincoln St
a few other sites near the Bay Village/Theater District
such as 290 Tremont St

In the Boston's compost, it would require years of recycled proposals, cooperation between multiple .gov authorities (haha), Article 80 review, ritual infighting and the force equivalent of Tom Menino before the first >200m parcels ever reached the shovels to rise as skyscrapers.

Over the coming decades, it should appropriately, happen.

i'll have "shuffled off this mortal coil" by then. But I'm already telling the young people to keep physically fit so that one glorious October morning, in the year 2078 they can bring their grand kids up to Belmont Hill on the first clear day after a front has pushed through--and take some glorious photos of the Boston Skyline. Hell, they may push it back then. It may become a generational affair. Dreams passed from father to son, mother to daughter.

Maybe Cambridge will pick up the mantle. But someday, somewhere, someone may see their dreams of a City and metro core unafraid to add a bit of height--realized.


coming soon:
Back Bay: will anything >450' ever (again) be built?
and the Fenway (future home of the 284' neighborhood megatall);
Things are beginning to slow? Compared to when? Theres more buildings under construction right now and soon to break ground than at any time Ive ever seen. Even Moxy and 1 Dalton that are literally just finishing are not completed internally yet.. or even 100% externally like the wood at 1 Dalton.
 

odurandina

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Well Stick,
It's a historic leap forward for the region. And i too am very excited to see so many approved projects go u/c. ....i'd like to have the data on office sq ft and numbers of units approved for Boston, Cambridge & Somerville available at a glance.... Acquiring those will be quite a bit of work. .....They'll clarify the issue. The market has enjoyed a remarkable run of expansion. But i think it safe to say approvals started to slow a good many months ago--probably sometime in late 2017/early 2018. There's a delay, on when we see the corresponding drop in construction, but it's not far off.
 
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stick n move

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oh ok I was talking about construction, definitely the most ever right now, but yea theres probably a drop off in approvals.
 

DZH22

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I'll take mid-rise infill and street-level vibrancy citywide over a handful of sexy skyscrapers downtown any day.
Yeah but most of the vibrancy IS downtown. We are keeping the non-vibrant parts (like the still existing parking lots) from being developed and making downtown even better. In particular, I think of all the dead-zone gaps surrounding North Station and leading back towards Faneuil Hall. Instead, we are basically building a whole new neighborhood from scratch, which is all well and good but will never match what the existing city already has to offer.

It also keeps all the potential air-rights developments (covering the Pike!) as pipe dreams, since there is too much low-hanging fruit in the way.
 

FitchburgLine

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North Station infill is happening (the hotel expansion proposed in the triangle, obviously Hub on Causeway). I think you're right but in a slightly different sense - parking lots are so under-utilized everywhere that we're primarily seeing large parking lots devleoped as the 1st wave, then smaller stuff backfills. We even saw this in the seaport with 150 Seaport happening after Pier 4.
 

DZH22

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In all my years living in Boston I never once thought of downtown as vibrant. It's all about the smaller scale neighborhoods. This is why I can't stand the skyscraper foamers on here. They are missing the point of a city entirely.
Places like DTX and Boylston Street have always shown us what is possible. The North Station area is beginning to thrive with people. If we fill in downtown, its vitality will shine through 100%. The problem is there are too many gaps, so many of these thriving areas seem more like islands than in a fully interconnected city. Constantly building outwards without addressing the gaps downtown is not the way to unlock Boston's full potential.
 

vanshnookenraggen

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Sure but fantasizing that 1000' tower will solve these problems is the ends justifying the means.
 

DZH22

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Sure but fantasizing that 1000' tower will solve these problems is the ends justifying the means.
I don't need 1000'. I'll take anything 800'+ thank you very much! The taller buildings do make a big difference. They are visual markers of each area. A few years ago it was a lot tougher to find North Station if you didn't know where you were going. Now the new complex is like "hey, look at me!!!" Even the greenway in that area near the North End feels a lot less desolate with more towers visible. It feels more enclosed and part of the city. I have also noticed a lot of vitality around the newer towers, with people pointing and talking about them all the time. They generate a level of excitement that you just won't find with the stumps we are used to. I pay attention to this sort of thing.

By the way, for somebody who lives in NYC you sure are opinionated about Boston. Let us enjoy our (extremely modest compared to NYC) boom in peace. I mean, you have this insane amount all U/C RIGHT NOW and yet you crap on our desire to maybe get a new tallest building every 50+ years for a city that is supposedly having a massive boom and a top 10 financial powerhouse in the world? One new tallest gets you anti-height fetishists foaming at the mouth? I mean, is a new tallest every 50+ years really that much to ask for? Is it really that unreasonable? gtfoh.....

Capture by David Z, on Flickr
 

vanshnookenraggen

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Because I live in NYC I see first hand how our new super tall buildings don't make this city a better place. You're looking at New York with a blind envy. I'm sorry that some many people here fetishize skyscrapers like a bunch of short dudes in pickup trucks. The people who can afford to live in those towers don't add real value to the city, they cause the mean rents to rise until they move out to the suburbs leaving empty stores with $6 coffees. If this is what you really want then by all means please come to New York and leave Boston a little charm left.
 

KentXie

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This is the weirdest argument I have ever seen. That being said, I really enjoy walking through newly developed area like Assembly Row and the Seaport and am very glad we didn't forsake those location's potential just so we can build skyscrapers in downtown. I look forward to when Northpoint becomes another one of those destinations. Boston still lacks places where people can meander around through but the city is quickly (and finally) rectifying this problem.
 

George_Apley

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Boston still lacks places where people can meander around through but the city is quickly (and finally) rectifying this problem.
Really? I always think that the city itself is a place for meandering. I can happily walk the streets of Boston for hours.
 

KentXie

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Really? I always think that the city itself is a place for meandering. I can happily walk the streets of Boston for hours.
At least for someone like me. Typically, my options are Newbury/Prudential, Faneuil Hall, Fenway, and I guess Cambridgeside (occasionally Harvard Square). Yes, you can walk down the Esplanade or Public Garden/Common but there's no place to dodge the cold here during the Winter for the parks.

Of the three mentioned, there's nothing really to do outside of shopping in the first two. Fenway and Assembly are the only two locations where I would stay for an extended time due to the presence of a movie theater, bowling alley, and arcades (and Red Sox games at Fenway). I do find it a plus that the Seaport added an ice rink as did Landmark Center
 
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DZH22

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Because I live in NYC I see first hand how our new super tall buildings don't make this city a better place. You're looking at New York with a blind envy.
It's not blind envy. I would hate to live in or near NYC. Your city has 19 buildings over 800' UNDER CONSTRUCTION and yet here you are taking a condescending attitude towards somebody asking for ONE. It's been 43 years since the Hancock opened and almost 50 since it topped out. You'd think a city booming this much could get a new tallest building after 50+ years without people being so patronizing to the idea.

When the Prudential was built it was the 12th tallest building in the WORLD and tallest in North America outside NYC. When the Hancock was built it was a top 20 tallest building in the WORLD. Now 16 US cities have buildings taller than the Hancock, with potentially another U/C and another imminent. 3 Canadian cities are taller. A couple Mexican cities (with another U/C), plus Panama City got in the mix. That means we actually went from having the 2nd tallest skyline peak in North America at one point to the 23rd and falling. It doesn't mean they are better cities, as very few on the continent can even pretend to match the urban setting. Also, half a dozen European cities have also eclipsed Boston, most within the last decade, and across the board cities in Europe are at least building new tallests or have within the last few years. We can be snobby about our great urban character to other North American cities, but the denser/older European cities are not just going tall, but providing striking designs to be new symbols of their cities.

For more point-of-reference stats, Australia has 4 cities that have passed Boston. Brisbane has made a particular surge from a city that looked about the size of Hartford to a bigger skyline than Boston, and Melbourne (our sister city) will soon have over 11 taller buildings and over 50 500'ers, while having a skyline reasonably on par with Boston just a short 15 years ago. Note that I am leaving out the Asian cities, particularly Chinese ones, but it's safe to say that every city you have heard of (and many you haven't) have built (a lot) taller than 790'.

So, I guess maybe I just want to feel proud of a new symbol for Boston's future, the way Bostonians would have felt in 1915, again in 1964, and again in 1976 once that unbelievable construction debacle was over with. I am excited when I see the city and Millennium Tower is a gleaming peak, 1 Dalton a new brooding sentinel that blows ones mind from the west. The city feels bigger, and I WANT it to feel bigger, that's always been the exciting thing about a city, is watching it grow and evolve and grow and grow and grow! There is pride to be had in a huge building that shouts to the rafters how important it is (assuming a good design, and not all of the cities that passed ours have them). I am ready to turn the page on a new, bold chapter in Boston and these new taller buildings have been leading the charge. A new tallest would be the icing on the cake, something a city as important of ours deserves to have, and something I hope materializes within a decade.


TL/DR - City hasn't built a new tallest for almost 50 years, it's due, just because we don't NEED it to be a great city isn't a compelling argument AGAINST it ever happening, so stop being condescending a-holes towards those of us who do want it and let us have our 1 big win. Unless you can show me exactly how one new tallest building would make your life worse, some of you Devil's Advocates need to just stuff it already.


Epilogue: Yes I would prefer to see the immediate downtown core developed first, and developed boldly. I recognize that it makes sense to develop all of these other areas including the Seaport, and the overall good to the city that it brings, as well as how much larger the whole area feels. Does that mean I am not allowed to lament the way it undoubtedly delays/stunts the more difficult to attain bold development in the core? I'm actually not complaining about the current level of construction (just the 12 year height-hiatus leading to Millennium Tower) and find Boston looking more and more exciting by the day. I just want to see a new city-tallest before I die. It would be such a disappointment if it doesn't happen.

EDIT: I didn't even realize this rant ended up in the "Aerials" thread. That's pretty funny.
 
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