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

MrDee12345

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I think we have to realize that there are limits to the demand for space for housing or businesses.

Let's assume that some company has decided there is enough demand to build either a 120 story super tall or 10 twelve-story buildings clustered around a T station. I go with the latter any day because the super tall will be dense by definition, but it won't create a walkable, interesting neighborhood.
 

chrisbrat

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I think skyscrapers are exciting and cool. I would be stoked if Boston got a new "tallest" (so long as the design -- from street-level on up -- was good). I'm much MUCH more excited about how many neighborhoods have been expanded, stitched together, created out of nothing, etc. in the past 20 or so years than I ever would have been, had none of that happened and we got a 900-footer anywhere in the city. Thoughtful architecture and urban planning is way more important to any city than how tall the tallest building is. Honestly, unless you're going for "tallest in the nation" (or world or whatever) bragging rights, then who really gives a shit? Our tallest is (basically) 800 feet. And? That's depressing because...? Some emotional void would be filled if we could match up with Oklahoma City, height-wise? That seems like an endless loop -- wouldn't it then be depressing that there were 7 (or however many) other cities with towers that exceeded the height of our "new tallest" that finally exceeded the JHT? Again, unless you're jockeying for "tallest in _____" status, it's just a weird and self-defeating pursuit.
 

DZH22

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I think we have to realize that there are limits to the demand for space for housing or businesses.

Let's assume that some company has decided there is enough demand to build either a 120 story super tall or 10 twelve-story buildings clustered around a T station. I go with the latter any day because the super tall will be dense by definition, but it won't create a walkable, interesting neighborhood.
In empty cities like Charlotte then definitely. In Boston the correct answer is start with 4 parcels, and average ~30 floors per parcel although with a bit of height variation, maybe a 25, 25, 30, and 40 story residential to start. Then wait and see the demand return within a year or 2, and build more towers accordingly. Instead of 10 key transit parcels wasted on 10 12-story buildings, you can built 8 25-50 story buildings over a couple extra years and have the funding (and parcels!) remaining for a 2 parcel park. So you end up with a nice variation of height, way more overall units, and a park, instead of a soul crushing under-build that was clearly rushed compared to the total demand that would be placed on those parcels.

Again, this is Boston, not Charlotte. We're not trying to develop our city from scratch over here. There are actually a ton of parcels still open in areas with lower height allowances, like Suffolk Downs, the Seaport, Fort Point, etc, and on those we should get what we can with the lower allowances. However, let's not blow our prime downtown parcels with the same type of stuff that can be accommodated by these other neighborhoods.

There's a saying you can't have your cake and eat it too. But what's the f***ing point of having cake if you can't eat it? This isn't an either/or proposition. We should be able to do both. There are absolutely places for tall buildings in Boston, and there are huge swaths of areas for lower buildings in Boston.

If we can support a 600' residential on 10 parcels across the whole city, and a 190' lab building on 1000 parcels, let's not blow one of those 10 parcels on a 190' lab building! (one by South Station) It's just a total defeatist attitude to say otherwise.

"Aesthetics don't matter in a city that is centered around how beautiful it is. Walling off the beauty with fat pieces of crap that hide the city instead of integrate within it is A-OK!" It's such a defeatist attitude and it's sad how prevalent it is here. Aesthetically we could still improve on Boston at the macro level with no negative impacts at the micro level. Nobody here has ever given 1 example that contradicts that. It's one non sequitur after another. It also leads to wider buildings overall, which are much more oppressive from street level than a taller/thinner tower. If you don't believe me, take a walk on Oliver Street and behold the giant glass wall attached to 1 Post Office Square. Somehow the parking garage provided a better experience than that soulless wall. Overly wide, stubby highrises do more to injure the street level experience than any other comparable structures, and yet that is what we're trending back to. Visually walling off sections of the city will hurt it 1000x more than a few taller buildings ever could.

"Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser." - Vince Lombardi
This quote isn't aimed at anyone in particular, but it is aimed at the prevailing ArchBoston attitude, which is starting to echo the NIMBY/Flynn/Walsh attitudes. Here's a fun fact, we still haven't made a dent in the housing crisis! Now let's keep cutting floors and units from new builds, and then blame the lack of affordable supply on greedy developers!!!
 

Brattle Loop

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If we can support a 600' residential on 10 parcels across the whole city, and a 190' lab building on 1000 parcels, let's not blow one of those 10 parcels on a 190' lab building! (one by South Station) It's just a total defeatist attitude to say otherwise.
It's unclear to me, but based on the context of the surrounding paragraphs, are you suggesting that the city should, what, just block development proposals that aren't sufficiently high because reasons? In the hope that someone, someday decides actually, you know what, we'll build something way taller? (And, if so, is there a cutoff point where we can go back to reality when no one wants to build a supertall on a cruddy parcel?)
 

DZH22

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It's unclear to me, but based on the context of the surrounding paragraphs, are you suggesting that the city should, what, just block development proposals that aren't sufficiently high because reasons? In the hope that someone, someday decides actually, you know what, we'll build something way taller? (And, if so, is there a cutoff point where we can go back to reality when no one wants to build a supertall on a cruddy parcel?)
If the developer proposed a 600' residential there would likely be a 10 year protracted battle and less than 50% chance of it being built without major concessions. It's easy to look over at what has happened at, say, the Harbor Garage or 1 Bromfield and choose to take the path of least resistance. Even the tall residentials (or tall anything) that have been built have all taken many years, often over a decade, to be seen to fruition, and have often made height concessions to get there. If the city said "we would allow you to build tall as long as you meet XYZ requirements" then we would get tall residentials proposed instead of peppering/visually-wrecking the immediate downtown with stubby labs. Simple economics, included transparent agreed upon concessions (such as affordable units and other monetary set-asides), would lead to taller buildings and more appropriate uses in areas downtown. The government, catering to NIMBYs, is the reason we aren't seeing them proposed anymore.

By the way, a supertall is 300m/984'. Due to FAA constraints it is impossible to build a supertall in Boston, and nobody who understands this is asking for a literal supertall. The tallest that could be built by South Station is somewhere in the 600's. If it was actually zoned for 600's, (in downtown, next to the state's busiest train station, without shadow-on-the-park encumbrances) we wouldn't get 190' proposals.
 
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chrisbrat

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Political and financial will can move mountains (or, in this case, build very tall skyscrapers). Remember that there was *masssive* resistance to JHT, but it eventually got green-lit when John Hancock threatened to move its HQ from Boston to Chicago. Developers and companies with enough clout and power could build/could have built more tall buildings in the city if they wanted to.

Point being: if there was massive desire or need for taller buildings in Boston then they would have been built more often.

Currently, demand for office space in tall buildings is very low and the notion that tall residential buildings have some sort of meaningful, positive impact on housing/housing crisis is disproven by facts. To tell a developer or land-owner that they're "wasting" a parcel by not building to the highest allowable limit is presumptuous, at the very least.

Skyscrapers are exciting and fun to look at, go to the top of, etc. That's all valid and good (and, again, I'm a "fan" of skyscrapers), but like it or not, in many instances that's about it.
 

DZH22

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Currently, demand for office space in tall buildings is very low and the notion that tall residential buildings have some sort of meaningful, positive impact on housing/housing crisis is disproven by facts. To tell a developer or land-owner that they're "wasting" a parcel by not building to the highest allowable limit is presumptuous, at the very least.
It's my contention that if the city zoning in certain areas matched with the FAA and legal allowances such as shadows rules, instead of being arbitrarily low, we would see taller buildings proposed more often.

I am talking about mainly about specific areas downtown, in the back bay, and right by transit. I am not in favor of mowing down historical neighborhoods and would personally like to strengthen historical protections. I also do not believe we can force a developer to build tall (or to build at all really). However, if it was clear from the outset that a 600' residential would be allowed, as opposed to a 385' office being initially proposed (and ridiculed for being too tall), then it would be more likely we'd see that 600' residential, or at least more of them on the other parcels that could handle it. Similarly to the effort with Winthrop, that same effort should be put into the Hurley location, with the only height cap being the FAA and otherwise allowing the developers to propose whatever they are comfortable with. Plenty of developers seemed comfortable with proposing 700'+ down the street at the Winthrop site.

I could also see use related to a building's zoning, with residentials allowed to go higher and with a larger FAR in order to get more total and affordable units into the city. Right now we have a housing crisis, and the main way to help alleviate that is to build more.

The link you posted is mainly related to areas like "Billionaires' Row" and is an extreme exception, rather than the rule. So "disproven by facts" is something of a misnomer. Are you extrapolating that the experiences of one global-outlier of a neighborhood, in one global-outlier of a city, can be used as conclusive evidence about the would-be results of building residential highrises in all other cities worldwide?
 

chrisbrat

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1 Dalton, Sudbury, Hub50House, and others are all having trouble selling/renting available units. There's plenty of available office space, even in bustling areas like the Seaport and Downtown.

Again: if there was demand -- or if a suitably well-heeled individual or corporation shared the passion for building tall in Boston -- it would happen.
 

Arlington

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I'm also thinking that
1) Zoom/Teams/Slack have reduced demand the need to concentrate people in a single very expensive node.
Covid didn't completely remove the need to be in a single, omnidirectional-commutable building, but it did reduce both the attractors and the attraction of "being there"

2) Having to change elevators sucks.
We know that 1-seat transit beats a two-seat ride. Same goes for 1-cab trips vs 2-cab elevator trips. On the days I've worked on the 85th Floor of 1 WTC, the change at the Sky Lobby (64th Fl) is a hassle, and also the limted food and lack of retail options on 64 makes it a kind of lame little "neighborhood" that those in the upper third work in. For me, I wouldn't want to live/work in a building that was so tall it required a sky lobby (it is admittedly a hoot to visit, though)
 

KentXie

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Currently, demand for office space in tall buildings is very low and the notion that tall residential buildings have some sort of meaningful, positive impact on housing/housing crisis is disproven by facts. To tell a developer or land-owner that they're "wasting" a parcel by not building to the highest allowable limit is presumptuous, at the very least.

Skyscrapers are exciting and fun to look at, go to the top of, etc. That's all valid and good (and, again, I'm a "fan" of skyscrapers), but like it or not, in many instances that's about it.
An argument that I made time and time again in this forum but that some seems to have trouble grasping or they see the housing market as a homogenous market (it isn't, there IS a difference between a "luxury" apartment and an affordable apartment and you can go even granular between condos vs single family unit vs multi-family unit, etc). The point is, no developer will ever build affordable housing under their own volition without incentives because the returns don't make sense. The incentive that Boston have been throwing to developers is that they can build luxury residential towers if they also build affordable housing but given the decline in demand, the return no longer makes sense because there isn't enough potential customers buying condos to offset the cost of the required affordable housing. So until the demand for luxury apartments/condos are there, there will be no increase in supply for affordable apartment, the unforeseen consequence of tying these two things together.
 
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