By Priscilla Liguori 4/19/2016
2030 will be Boston’s 400th birthday and Mayor Marty Walsh already started preparing with some huge renovations. The city is undergoing a massive building boom with development by both private developers and the state. The Mayor says he wants these constructions to support the additional 91,000 people expected to be in Boston by 2030.
Downtown was historically used for commercial business, but that is quickly changing. A lot of energy is being put into creating high-end residences, like the Millennium Tower in Downtown Crossing and One Dalton Street near the Prudential Center.
Still, the Mayor plans to add 53,000 units of housing for a variety of incomes. He said there will be some new affordable housing at the state-owned lot 185 Kneeland Street replacing the Massachusetts Department of Transportation District 6 Offices.
“If a public entity already owns the land, that reduces the cost of housing or whatever goes there. The theory is that increasing the supply of housing in the city will eventually lower the price because of supply and demand economics,” Renee Loth, Editor of ArchitectureBoston, explained.
Boston Architect David Eisen said that the shift in uses downtown comes from lifestyle changes. He thinks that more and more people want to be in walk-able communities.
“Part of it is time. People don’t want to sit in traffic for an hour,” Eisen said. “Part of it is the understanding the environment consequences of burning gas. Some of it is social. People want to walk to a coffee shop to meet their friends.”
Still, not everyone is happy about developments across the city. Residents worry about parking, traffic, shadows, and raises in rent. The Boston Redevelopment Authority holds public meetings for people to share their concerns and opinions about particular projects and developments in the city.
Another pressing concern about the building boom is preserving history. Various neighborhood groups regulate new developments. In the past, architects have tried to get rid of old buildings or make new buildings look old. Now, Eisen said architects try to make the new blend with and compliment the old.
One of the controversial development projects is the already shut down Northern Avenue Bridge at the Boston Harbor. Walsh issued an ideas competition for the bridge’s renovation, and the competition’s jury includes members of the Boston Preservation Alliance and the Boston Harbor Association.
No matter the project, it isn’t easy to build in Boston. The city hasn’t completed any significant rezoning in 50 years and breaking the zoning code requires developers to go in front of the Boston Board of Variance.
“We have the reputation of having a opaque and very political process and that sort of is self-reinforcing. People think that it is very difficult to build in Boston so they don’t try,” Loth explained.
This leaves many of the same developers and architects shaping Boston. In Walsh’s Boston Chamber of Commerce speech in December 2014, the Mayor expressed that he didn’t think Boston’s buildings reflected the reputation the city has as a center for innovation.
“The Mayor has issued a challenge to the Boston design community to come up with some really distinctive designs for some of these new buildings. I think architects are trying to rise to the challenge. It’s not the architects who determine what a building looks like. It’s the developers,” Loth said.
The main players in Boston’s building boom have been listening to Walsh. The Millennium Tower made the glassy sleek look a trend. Diagonal from that, One Bromfield Tower is set to also have a glassy façade but will be more rounded, according to its developer Midwood.
Eisen and Loth agree that what is exactly to come in terms of length of the boom and styles cannot be predicted and can only be told by how the economy shifts. Either way, the city’s population is expected to reach 700,000 for the first time since the 1950s and Walsh insists Boston will be prepared.