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

jdrinboston

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Outside New York or Chicago, these cities with singular 800'-1000' buildings tend to be surrounded by lifeless surface parking lots, trenches for 12 lane freeways, and true blight- previously vibrant neighborhoods levelled and now derelict for love of the car. These tall buildings don't add, they take. The jobs, urban energy and investment that could (and should) go to activate surrounding streets of the city, is instead sucked into a private auto-centric superblock. No thanks. If Boston went super tall in only one or two places, perhaps (and likely) you'd never get these transformative projects being built all over the city. Everyone wants in on the action.

One of the best parts of Boston is that developers have to work harder and more creatively than almost any other city in America. Development bends to Boston, not the other way. It's not always perfect, but we should be proud of that.
Hartford is actually a great example of this. City has a few 500+ towers and certainly photographs nicely from certain angles for a city of its modest size. And had the real estate market not collapsed in the late 80s/early 90s, there was a real possibility of 2 or 3 600-700 foot towers. And several heritage buildings were leveled during the period in anticipation of becoming major towers. Those former buildings are now all virtually parking lots today and the larger urban fabric of much of the downtown has been lost.

And at the end of the day, the city of Hartford is only about 125,000 people with a greater metro of about 850,000 people, the majority of whom do not choose to and have no compelling reason to interact with the large city in the middle of the region. As a result, all of the potential real estate leasing demand that exists in the city is sitting in these few 500+ and a handful of other 300+ buildings that have already been built. (and most are experiencing vacancy rates north of 12%). And today, there is no real demand to build on these vacant parking lots - at least not without a major infusion of state sponsored grants and loans. So the prospects of ever meaningfully sewing back the city remain as slim as they did when I was in a suburban Hartford high school in the mid/late 1990s.

My 17-year old self loved the look of the city when crossing over the Charter Oak Bridge and lamented that the taller buildings of the late 80s were never built. Buy my 42-year-old self realizes now the city would have been far better off if City Place and Goodwin Square had been 250 to 300 feet the remaining square footage was scattered more around the downtown.
 
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stick n move

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Id be much happier seeing the city continue to densify further and further outward from the core than building any more 500’ plus towers. If skyscraper building actually does slow down, but the city keeps up the rapid building pace outward and filling in empty lots thats perfectly fine with me tbh. The core as it is breaks down into detatched homes way too quick as it is, as long as we keep building density the city will be perfectly fine. That being said I dont believe that skyscraper building is over.
 

HenryAlan

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Now, even mediocre places can still throw up a taller building, while we have people screaming that "WE'RE NOT NEW YORK" while ignoring that we are still a powerhouse of a city that deserves to be thrown a bone once in a while.
I think this sentence nicely captures what I see as the flaw in your presentation. If even mediocre places can build tall, then building tall is no longer very special. As for Boston not being New York, that is how we can see that we are special, whether or not we have tall buildings. Given the ease with which mediocre cities can achieve tall buildings, maybe that's not where we should be trying to make our mark. I have nothing against tall buildings, they look cool, they are sometimes important for the business or housing needs of the city, but Boston has so much more going for it than that, it seems pointless to work up such a lather.
 

HenryAlan

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Id be much happier seeing the city continue to densify further and further outward from the core than building any more 500’ plus towers. If skyscraper building actually does slow down, but the city keeps up the rapid building pace outward and filling in empty lots thats perfectly fine with me tbh. The core as it is breaks down into detatched homes way too quick as it is, as long as we keep building density the city will be perfectly fine. That being said I dont believe that skyscraper building is over.
Exactly! I spent some time this weekend in Brighton, and was mesmerized by how urban Western Ave. has become. I still thought of it as a low density wasteland, yet instead found a vibrant corridor of large residential buildings, lab buildings, and businesses to serve the people who live and work there. This needs to happen in all of Boston's outer neighborhoods and is far more important to whether or not Boston is special, big, important, etc., than any particular downtown tower.
 

found5dollar

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I'm actually pretty happy we haven't built a new tallest in a while, because a tall building isn't just a building, it is a monument.

Throughout history every time a society builds a tallest building it is a representation of what that culture deems as the most important, and most powerful, thing to them. Through most of history, that was almost exclusively churches and religious structures. In the late 1700's government buildings began to give religious ones a run for their money. Democracy was replacing the religious hold on power, with the division of church and state in the newly formed American society as well as other places going through revolutions around the world. In the late 1800's, with the advent of the skyscraper, commerce became the most recognizable idea to build large buildings/monuments to. We were celebrating the ability to build wealth through labor and trade with our tallest buildings. This continued through the middle of the 20th century and In the 60's and 70's it became large banks and insurance companies that were building the tallest structures (see the John Hancock and Prudential tower in Boston). These structures celebrate using wealth to create more wealth. Vast amount of space in these buildings were dedicated to file storage. With the inventions of computers and the internet the files previously taking up entire floors of tall buildings could now be held in compact hard drives. This lead to business not needing to build such big structures and by the mid 2000's the tallest buildings being constructed were turning towards housing for the super wealthy. These current tall towers are no longer about building wealth, but about already having it. These buildings are being used as a way to show individual wealth, store that wealth, and hide it. As a layperson I was welcomed into all the tallest buildings up until this current crop. They are gated communities in the sky.

The purpose of extremely tall buildings has become more and more exclusionary through time. religion, government, commerce, financial services, and now exclusionary housing. I am proud of Boston for not building a new tallest that is a monument to those that are already wealthy. I want my tallest buildings to be useful and helpful, not reminders of what I'll never have.
 

DZH22

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I think this sentence nicely captures what I see as the flaw in your presentation. If even mediocre places can build tall, then building tall is no longer very special. As for Boston not being New York, that is how we can see that we are special, whether or not we have tall buildings. Given the ease with which mediocre cities can achieve tall buildings, maybe that's not where we should be trying to make our mark. I have nothing against tall buildings, they look cool, they are sometimes important for the business or housing needs of the city, but Boston has so much more going for it than that, it seems pointless to work up such a lather.
In the early 2000's we could have told all the elderly Red Sox fans it's too bad, it makes no difference if they ever win or not, so who cares? But plenty of people did care, as evidenced by over 3 million people showing up for the parade! They didn't get richer, the city didn't get safer, education didn't improve, and yet tons of people had a void in their heart finally get filled. I can just imagine you walking around in 2003 after Grady Little left Pedro in too long and telling everybody to get over themselves, that it's just a game.

What you have failed to do is make an argument AGAINST tall buildings. Just because you feel like you don't need them to be happy, maybe you didn't need the Red Sox to win either. But for me, I'm like a Red Sox fan born in 1924 (6 years after the last World Series, or in my case 6 years after the Hancock was completed) who just wants to experience that same lift in their life time. In this case, I should be able to. It's not like we are some fading city trying to get traction wherever we can. We have been building at an insane pace (except when it comes to the much needed housing) and are one of the most in demand cities in the country. How about people like you, who don't really care, allow people like me, who do really care, to get a couple taller towers? Why do you consider it your duty to rain on my parade?

If tall buildings weren't special, then the Hancock/Pru/1 Dalton triumvirate wouldn't feel special, and yet they do. When they are lined up in a row (like coming down the Pike) they look AMAZING! Heck, we just had a 10 year process to go big (supertall! errr.... new tallest! errr... 725'! errrr......) on a site that ultimately didn't support more than a 691' due to the FAA/shadows issues, and yet we have other sites that could support 700-900'+ and act like they are a dime a dozen. In this city, they are decidedly not a dime a dozen.

Traffic is going back through the roof, partially because we say let's cut the housing component at North Station, or instead of adding housing by South Station let's put a lab, and then more housing gets built away from transit (in this case the 2 busiest train stations in the city!) and we wonder why the roads are clogged. In the core of the city height both makes sense and looks great. In the neighborhoods that are well served by transit height also makes sense. Yet we continue to make cuts, especially to housing, never satisfy demand, and build in areas that truly can't support it.

But again, what really pisses me off is that you seem to intentionally feel the need to rain on my parade. There's a difference between not caring about something, and actually laughing at the pain of those who do care. I honestly don't know what the hell your problem is. The next time something you really care about falls through, let me know so I can tell you that since I don't care about it too, it isn't really important so get over yourself. If that sounds obtuse, try looking in the mirror.
 

DAVE

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In the early 2000's we could have told all the elderly Red Sox fans it's too bad, it makes no difference if they ever win or not, so who cares? But plenty of people did care, as evidenced by over 3 million people showing up for the parade! They didn't get richer, the city didn't get safer, education didn't improve, and yet tons of people had a void in their heart finally get filled. I can just imagine you walking around in 2003 after Grady Little left Pedro in too long and telling everybody to get over themselves, that it's just a game.

What you have failed to do is make an argument AGAINST tall buildings. Just because you feel like you don't need them to be happy, maybe you didn't need the Red Sox to win either. But for me, I'm like a Red Sox fan born in 1924 (6 years after the last World Series, or in my case 6 years after the Hancock was completed) who just wants to experience that same lift in their life time. In this case, I should be able to. It's not like we are some fading city trying to get traction wherever we can. We have been building at an insane pace (except when it comes to the much needed housing) and are one of the most in demand cities in the country. How about people like you, who don't really care, allow people like me, who do really care, to get a couple taller towers? Why do you consider it your duty to rain on my parade?

If tall buildings weren't special, then the Hancock/Pru/1 Dalton triumvirate wouldn't feel special, and yet they do. When they are lined up in a row (like coming down the Pike) they look AMAZING! Heck, we just had a 10 year process to go big (supertall! errr.... new tallest! errr... 725'! errrr......) on a site that ultimately didn't support more than a 691' due to the FAA/shadows issues, and yet we have other sites that could support 700-900'+ and act like they are a dime a dozen. In this city, they are decidedly not a dime a dozen.

Traffic is going back through the roof, partially because we say let's cut the housing component at North Station, or instead of adding housing by South Station let's put a lab, and then more housing gets built away from transit (in this case the 2 busiest train stations in the city!) and we wonder why the roads are clogged. In the core of the city height both makes sense and looks great. In the neighborhoods that are well served by transit height also makes sense. Yet we continue to make cuts, especially to housing, never satisfy demand, and build in areas that truly can't support it.

But again, what really pisses me off is that you seem to intentionally feel the need to rain on my parade. There's a difference between not caring about something, and actually laughing at the pain of those who do care. I honestly don't know what the hell your problem is. The next time something you really care about falls through, let me know so I can tell you that since I don't care about it too, it isn't really important so get over yourself. If that sounds obtuse, try looking in the mirror.
The pain of not getting a skyscraper to look at?? I cant.... Like, there are seriously worse things that could happen to you than not getting a new 800 foot tower.

skyscrapers =/= density. Much of boston's most dense neigbhorhoods (beacon hill, north end, symphony, etc.) are low-rise communities. We don't need 800 ft towers to solve our housing crisis.
 

DZH22

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The pain of not getting a skyscraper to look at?? I cant.... Like, there are seriously worse things that could happen to you than not getting a new 800 foot tower.

skyscrapers =/= density. Much of boston's most dense neigbhorhoods (beacon hill, north end, symphony, etc.) are low-rise communities. We don't need 800 ft towers to solve our housing crisis.
Why don't you tell me what your favorite hobbies are so I can tell you that they're f***ing stupid?

PS it's not like we're Atlanta or something. An 800' tower on a given plot in Boston will be more dense than a 400' tower on that same plot. If it isn't more dense, the 400' tower is going to be way too fat for its own good.
 

ctsketch

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The pain of not getting a skyscraper to look at?? I cant.... Like, there are seriously worse things that could happen to you than not getting a new 800 foot tower.

skyscrapers =/= density. Much of boston's most dense neigbhorhoods (beacon hill, north end, symphony, etc.) are low-rise communities. We don't need 800 ft towers to solve our housing crisis.
yes, medium housing is better than skyscrappers in terms of efficiently housing people, over a certain number of stories it really is diminishing benefit.
 

ctsketch

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Why don't you tell me what your favorite hobbies are so I can tell you that they're f***ing stupid?

PS it's not like we're Atlanta or something. An 800' tower on a given plot in Boston will be more dense than a 400' tower on that same plot. If it isn't more dense, the 400' tower is going to be way too fat for its own good.
building taller doesn't necessarily mean you will have more housing, services and structures start to take up more realestate the taller you go such as elevators and the size of steel. Some of these new tall and thin buildings in NYC barely house anyone
 

Charlie_mta

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The one concern I have about more supertalls in downtown Boston and Back Bay is the strain on the capacity of the subway lines. If Red-Blue connector is built, that will help, also Green Line to South station.
 

ctsketch

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Why don't you tell me what your favorite hobbies are so I can tell you that they're f***ing stupid?

PS it's not like we're Atlanta or something. An 800' tower on a given plot in Boston will be more dense than a 400' tower on that same plot. If it isn't more dense, the 400' tower is going to be way too fat for its own good.
for example:

 

DZH22

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I think most of us know well enough to not emotionally invest in things that are totally out of our control and have no bearing on our own lives.
Then go ahead and tell every sports fan that they are stupid. Most people seem to be a fan of at least 1 sports team, that they have no control over. What's the difference?
 

KentXie

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I think it's pretty clear, with the constant arguments over this same topic, that what each person values is different and that's okay as long as it doesn't hurt anyone
 

ctsketch

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Then go ahead and tell every sports fan that they are stupid. Most people seem to be a fan of at least 1 sports team, that they have no control over. What's the difference?
There are sports fans that take things wayyyyy too far too
 

DZH22

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for example:

Yet in Boston we knock down the Times buildings to put up a 10 story residential on the greenway, or we knock down the Dainty Dot instead of saving it as part of a taller tower because that tower was "too iconic." Facadectomies plus height would allow us to actually save the outside of more of these buildings. So it's kind of a different argument compared to these other cities that knock things down to go tall. We knock them down to go (too) short, which makes no dent in demand, and forces us to knock down more stuff.
 

DZH22

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There are sports fans that take things wayyyyy too far too
You don't have to be fighting in the stands to care about your team. I think people around here forget how important the Red Sox winning in 2004 was for so many people in the region. Hundreds of thousands of people were able to "die happy" after that, even if the rest of you think that is kind of ridiculous. People like what they like, and care about what they care about. If you don't like or care about the same things, it doesn't mean you should intentionally stand in the way of somebody else's happiness as long as it isn't directly affecting your own.
 

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