The City of Boston is finally heeding 50 years of recommendations from countless undergrad architecture theses: fix the bricked-up prairie that surrounds Boston City Hall. Today Mayor Marty Walsh announced that the city would throw $70 million to hometown firm Sasaki over the coming years to spruce up the outdoor space, whose size and scope was dictated by I.M. Pei & Associates' master plan for Government Center. Its red-brick surface is a nod to the comely rowhouses of Beacon Hill and a complement to Kallmann, McKinnell and Knowles's brutalist City Hall. Both the building and plaza opened to the public in 1969. Sasaki aims to create a "front yard" for public gatherings that scales down the 305,000-square-foot terraces into seven softer, more manageable mini-landscapes that can be used for events or leisure. Notably, the renovations will make the site's 22-foot change in elevation more manageable for those who use mobility aids like wheelchairs. According to presentation documents, the project is on the cusp of design development, with final delivery expected as soon as 2021. The area's master planning kicked off in 2015, and since then, the city has tried to enliven the site via temporary light shows, beer gardens, and art. Phase One will more clearly connect Congress and Cambridge streets via a promenade equipped with shaded seating and play areas. By the time all renovations are complete, there will be 3,000 seats, 100 new trees, and associated programming, as well as a new public building on Congress. To facilitate access to City Hall, the long-closed second floor of City Hall Plaza will re-open to the public, as well.
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The City of Boston has put together a rigorous, Boston-centric reading list in advance of Imagine Boston 2030, the city's first full-scale plan since the 1960s. If urban planner heaven is a bookshelf, it might live here. As Imagine Boston 2030 creates a plan to preserve and grow the city, the readings (12 for adults adults and 8 for children three-plus) ground Boston's cultures and social history in a distinctly American urban framework of prosperity and poverty; integration and isolation; weak policy and smart growth. The reading list grew from conversations between staff at the Mayor Marty Walsh's office on books and thinkers that shaped their understanding of Boston. After some lively debate, they developed a list of books to share with the public. The books—which range from Cities 101 classics like Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Robert Caro's The Power Broker, to Boston-based fiction (Rishi Reddi's Karma and Other Stories) and nonfiction (J. Anthony Lukas's Pulitzer Prize–winning Common Ground), and praiseworthy new titles like Matthew Desmond's Evicted—will be available at all Boston Public Library branches. But that's not the end of the story. The city is asking its citizens to vote on three more books that should be added to the list. The suggested titles explore similar themes to illuminate the urban experience, but are more international than the core 12. Up for consideration: Alan Grostephan's Bogotá, Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, and Dinaw Mengestu's The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, among others. Check out the full list below and follow the project @ImagineBoston @BPLBoston and with the tags #ImagineBoston #IB2030bookworm. Adult reading list: Evicted by Matthew Desmond The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development by Mel King The Given Day by Dennis Lehane Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas All Souls by Michael Patrick MacDonald The Power Broker by Robert Caro Karma and Other Stories by Rishi Reddi The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong by Judith Rodin Villa Victoria: The Transformation of Social Capital in a Boston Barrio by Mario Luis Small Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future by Joseph E. Stiglitz Youth reading list: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau Pennies for Elephants by Lita Judge What’s the Big Idea? Four Centuries of Innovation in Boston by Stephen Krensky Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Amazing Places Real and Imagined by Steve McDonald Beneath the Streets of Boston by Joe McKendry On the Loose in Boston (Find the Animals) by Sage Stossel
For decades, there have been plans to transform Boston's City Hall Plaza, the windswept concrete wasteland, or triumphant frame around an outstanding piece of Brutalist civic architecture, depending on your view. Now, the plaza is poised for a major makeover into a year-round leisure zone. Mayor Marty Walsh has prioritized the revitalization of the barren plaza with the launch of Rethink City Hall! Last summer, the city installed an Astroturf front lawn and solicited ideas for a redesign from Bostonians. Other plans called for an urban habitat with micro wind turbines and stormwater-collecting planters. The City has signed a three year contract with hospitality management company Delaware North (which also own TD Garden and New York's Rockefeller Center ice rink). Concept plans call for a 200-foot-tall, 42-gondolas Ferris wheel, a restaurant and beer gardens, a summertime beach, a winter garden with ice rinks, curling, and hot chocolate, as well as interactive public art installations, including a massive selfie-ready sign that spells out #BOSTON. The contract raises an all-important question: Who's paying for this? The City states that no public funds will go towards the project, although Delaware North is willing to invest more than $15 million dollars, on the expectation that it will recoup its investment in a revenue-sharing agreement with the City. Although free beer would be nice, some of the amenities will be fee-based. The proposals still need to be opened for public comment and city approval, The Boston Globe reports. To ensure the project's financial viability, Delaware North would like Boston to commit to a longer contract. The company is also seeking corporate partners to help pay for the project. Construction on the winter garden and a temporary restaurant is set to begin this October.
Boston's plans to build the most walkable Olympic Games in history will not come to fruition. On Monday, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and Boston 2024 jointly announced that they were dropping the city's bid to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The surprising news came hours after Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced that he would not sign a host city contract that could have left taxpayers on the hook for the the games' cost overruns. "I refuse to mortgage the future of the city away," said the mayor at a press conference. "I refuse to commit to signing a guarantee that uses taxpayer dollars to pay for the Olympics." With Boston out, the USOC is in a tight spot as it only has seven weeks to officially nominate another American city. The organization's CEO is now looking pretty closely at Los Angeles.
Sasaki Associates proposes a community-friendly Boston City Hall Plaza buzzing with cultural activities
Requests, complaints, and even full-fledged proposals came flooding in after Mayor Marty Walsh issued a Request for Information (RFI) in January for the redesign of Boston City Hall Plaza. Four months and nearly 1000 tweets later, plans to launch a complete assail on the eight-acre eyesore of red brick and concrete are beginning to consolidate. One firm, Sasaki Associates, took to Twitter to solicit ideas from Boston residents on what to change, what to axe, and what to add. The design firm then compiled the responses on cards and shared them on social media using the hashtags #PlazaPlus and #CityHallPlaza. Mayor Walsh couched his call-to-action in broad terms in his State of the Address early this year, invoking a redesign which would be “an inviting and attractive public forum that is robustly used by residents and visitors.” While one brazen submission suggested privatizing the entire plaza, Sasaki Associates zeros in on public programming and community engagement by incorporating benches, Hubway bike share stations, pop-up cafés, music festivals, food truck gatherings and public art installations. Surprisingly, the renderings do not propose any alterations to the foreboding Brutalist building itself, focusing instead on activating the exterior space. Bike lanes, an outdoor market, and lounge seating encourage passersby to convene, while a stormwater collector planter and micro wind turbines address environmental concerns. "The team is firm on its stance that while the plaza is in need of major renovations of its physical infrastructure—the underground parking roof, new pavements, fountain renovation, and tree planting, among other things—the form and circulation patterns do not need an overhaul." The Massachusetts-based practice proposed the following four guidelines for its design:
- Extend plaza into the city + leverage cultural capital
- Design for civic and human scale + populate with variety
- Preserve City Hall’s character + activate underused space
- Enhance infrastructure and natural systems + showcase Boston’s innovation
If Boston City Hall were a celebrity, it might be a fixture on tabloid “Worst Dressed” lists. The Brutalist building elicits strong sentiments from architectural observers and everyday citizens alike, but most agree the City Hall Plaza could use some sprucing up. In his inaugural State of the City address Mayor Marty Walsh called on residents to help him reimagine the barren, 11-acre brick expanse. Boston City Hall Plaza is an inductee into Project for Public Spaces’ "Hall of Shame" and rated on par with Barbie’s Dream House by California Home and Design. But perhaps the city can help elevate the windswept space. Even in a city replete with 18th-century Georgian-style churches, the plaza, built in the 1960s, has long been an architectural bane. Walsh’s administration has spruced up the interior somewhat, revamping the 3rd floor mezzanine and installing the Stairs of Fabulousness by artist Liz Lamanche to inject a sorely needed pop of color, but the Brutalist face of the building belies these improvements. The administration has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to gather the data required to take concepts from the drawing board to actualization. Last year, AN reported the municipality’s master plan for revitalization designed by Utile Architecture + Planning with Reed Hilderbrand Landscape Architecture, but other than the replacement of the bunker-like Government Center subway station with a sleek steel-and-glass exterior, little else has been done, notes local news site Bostinno. Other plans announced last year involved replacing a labyrinth of staircases with sloped walkways to ease access to City Hall from the subway station, installing seating, and resolving frequent flooding by planting trees in an open-joint permeable brick paving system to simultaneously green the concrete expanse. Big players the likes of landscape architecture firm Halvorson Design and architecture and engineering firm HDR had signed on. This year, Mayor Walsh’s administration is sizing up plans for a city-sponsored seasonal skating rink to be named “Frozen Harbor” as well as a 20,000-square-foot, glass-enclosed restaurant called “Polar Bar”, according to Boston Herald. Officials have not made headway with securing permits and no project costs or plans have been put forward yet.