In Boston, a booming job market is drawing people back from far-flung suburbs and remaking the region, but it is also exacerbating a housing-affordability crisis and forcing difficult conversations about the future of the city. Greater Boston is riding a wave of development that is perhaps the largest the region has ever seen. By 2030, the city of Boston projects its population will top 700,000, a number it has not seen in 60 years. “The vast majority of our growth is happening in the inner core of the Boston region, so within the city of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Everett, Quincy, and in some of the other municipalities within the Route 128 corridor,” said Eric Bourassa, director of the transportation division at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). “This is a trend we’ve been seeing over the past decade, and we’re just predicting more of this growth.” The MAPC is in the process of updating the 30-year plan it released in 2008, highlighting housing, sustainability, and transportation. Another regional planning group, the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, is updating its periodic long-range regional transportation plan. But change is happening quicker than the region’s existing plans can reflect. Data from the MAPC shows the region added more than 225,000 jobs between 2009 and 2015, and nearly two-thirds of them were in those inner-core cities. In July, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Boston’s non-farm employment rose 2.1 percent compared to the previous year, outpacing the national rate of 1.5 percent. The engines of that growth are Greater Boston’s dozens of colleges and universities, and the biotech industry that grew out of them in the 1970s. Biotech turned Cambridge’s Kendall Square from an undeveloped urban frontier into a regional hub home to the highest concentration of biotech companies in the world, but many migrated to the area around Route 128 during the 1980s and ’90s to build suburban campuses. Today some of the same genetic engineering startups that began that transformation, like Biogen, are reinvesting in Boston and Cambridge. That trend is likely to continue. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recently announced his plans to put another $500 million into the life-sciences industry over the next five years. In addition to Kendall Square, the South Boston Waterfront—better known as the Seaport—has gathered a growing share of those new jobs in a growing portfolio of pricey office developments and luxury condos. Many suburbs are also becoming more dense. Needham, Natick, and Framingham are among the further-out cities developing around commuter rail stations in their downtowns. Two areas of Somerville are undergoing massive redevelopments tied to public transit, as well: Assembly Square, which recently landed the new offices of the state’s largest private employer, Partners Healthcare; and Union Square, which is preparing for major changes ahead of getting the first new MBTA train stop in decades. Matthew Littell is principal of the Boston design firm Utile, which is working on the Cambridge Master Plan, and was a lead consultant on Imagine Boston 2030, Boston’s first citywide plan in 50 years. His firm analyzed demographic patterns in the region and found that younger employees in industries like tech tended to cluster around the inner-core cities and neighborhoods where they worked, compared to Boston’s bankers and lawyers, who still generally preferred houses in the suburbs. Littell pointed to Autodesk’s decision to supplement its office space in the suburban Route 128 corridor with a new space in the Seaport. “That’s a classic example, and the only reason these companies are moving is to attract and retain talent,” he said. “The young, smart folks don’t want to be out in Framingham or Waltham. They want to be in downtown Boston or Kendall Square or somewhere like that.” MAPC socioeconomic analyst Sarah Philbrick agreed that young people are flocking to the inner-core cities in search of walkable neighborhoods and city life, and businesses are following them. “Businesses want to attract these workers and therefore decide to locate in highly desirable locations,” Philbrick said. “I don’t believe many businesses would pay the high rents of the core if this were not the case.” Real estate is booming along with the regional job market, but housing is coming up short, and local business leaders worry that could hobble their ability to attract top talent. Finding enough skilled employees is already an issue in a state with one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates—soaring housing costs could drive away would-be residents. “We just we don’t have enough housing to meet the demand,” said Bourassa, “and so we lose a lot of young professionals who can’t afford to live here.” The MAPC estimates only about two-thirds of the region’s housing needs are being met. Some worry that could lead to long-term stagnation or brain drain away from Greater Boston. “I have a real question about how sustainable this rental housing boom is actually going to be in the long term,” said David Hacin, principal of Hacin + Associates. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand here, but it’s hard to build in the Boston area. It’s a very expensive market from a construction cost point of view, and when you combine years-long review processes with limited site opportunities because it’s a mature market, you run into problems of affordability.” The City of Boston said it’s trying to address that problem. Mayor Marty Walsh has pledged 53,000 new housing units as part of a new housing plan—a sizable effort that may have contributed to median rent in the inner-core cities dropping for the first time since at least 2009. Still, Barry Bluestone, professor of political economy at Northeastern University and lead author of the Boston Foundation’s Housing Report Card, estimates the region needs around 160,000 new housing units by 2030. So far statistics show that efforts to ease the housing crunch are having mixed results. The pace of new housing construction in the same inner-core cities seeing the most population growth has slowed lately, according to the Foundation’s report card, published in November. In its report, the Boston Foundation found that the City of Boston has issued more than 41 percent of the new housing permits in the region this year, almost double its share five years ago. But fewer than one in five new units put on the market since 2011 were affordable, less than half the rate seen between 1996 and 2003. Meanwhile, the number of permits issued outside the city of Boston declined this year, while more than half of renters reported paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to the report. The region’s recent growth spurt may be making that problem more severe, but it should not come as a surprise, said Michael Goodman, executive director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “Population growth is contributing to some of the congestion and growth pressure being experienced in Greater Boston,” said Goodman. “But our transportation and housing issues are primarily the result of inadequate infrastructure investment and counterproductive zoning regulations which limit new housing development.” With more people and corporations calling Boston home, housing advocates are calling on local governments to direct the benefits of a growing tax base into more affordable housing initiatives. “Even in Boston, there continues to be a challenge of creating a housing stock that benefits working households along with everyone else who strives to live in the city,” said Barry Bluestone, lead author of the Boston Foundation’s housing report, in a statement. He recommends the creation of “21st-century villages,” defined as multistory mixed-income buildings located near public transit. In an interview, Bluestone expanded on that idea. Many communities around Boston currently prohibit accessory dwelling units and, in some cases, ban multifamily housing outright, he said. “In the past, everyone has acknowledged there’s a housing problem, but they’ve mostly looked to their neighbors to solve it,” said Bluestone. Now that the whole region’s housing market is feeling the squeeze, however, more local governments are starting to take note. On December 5, municipal leaders from 14 cities and towns in the Boston area came together to identify a regional housing goal and recommend zoning changes to help them get there. “I’ve been looking at housing for two decades, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen this kind of coordination,” said Bluestone.
Posts tagged with "Utile Architecture + Planning":
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.
The Boston Harbor Islands Pavilion roof channels rainwater for irrigation on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.Jump on a ferry in Downtown Boston and in twenty minutes, you’ll arrive at the Boston Harbor Islands, an archipelago of 34 islands dotting Boston Harbor managed by the National Park Service. To entice city-dwellers to make the trip, Boston-based Utile Architecture + Planning has designed a composite steel and concrete pavilion with a digitally fabricated roof for the National Park Service and the Boston Harbor Island Alliance to provide travel information and history about the Islands and a shady respite atop the highway-capping Rose Kennedy Greenway. Two thin overlapping concrete canopy slabs supported by delicate steel beams provide a sculptural shelter. Utile digitally designed the $4.2 million Boston Harbor Islands Pavilion using Rhino to respond to the surrounding cityscape and serve as a playful rainwater-harvesting system to irrigate the Greenway’s landscape. Initially working with a fountain consultant, the design team experimented with the shape of the roof deformation that guides rainwater to a catch basin. The roof’s unique shape was determined using digital models and by rolling BB’s over physical models to gauge how water would eventually behave on the surface. “We realized in modeling the pavilion that the water would ‘prefer’ to follow the same axis through both pavilion roofs,” Tim Love, principal at Utile, said. “Turning the curve would have created unintended consequences in the flow of the water.” The final shape propels water from the symmetric top roof, onto the asymmetrical lower roof, gaining speed as the concrete pinches together and funneling down to what the architects described as a “giant scupper,” finally cascading into a sculptural catch basin on the ground designed to create different splash patterns depending on how hard it's raining. “The roof pinches in as closely as possible to control the flow of the water,” Chris Genter, project architect at Utile, said. The arc of the water had to be precise enough to land in the catch basin, “like water pouring from the spout of a pitcher.” Supporting the two 40-foot by 60-foot roofs, a series of steel beams form a sort of Gothic tracery, splitting in half to reduce the effective span of the concrete and minimizing the overall depth of the slab by requiring less rebar. The roof slabs vary in thickness from three-and-a-half inches at the perimeter to five-and-a-half inches at the center. “We were always interested in making the primary material concrete with as slim a profile as possible,” Love said. “The concrete structure enters into discourse with the heritage of concrete architecture in Boston and responds to the heroic modernism of Boston City Hall.” “The steel beams offered enough repetition that they began to look like contour lines,” Love said. “They allow you to more easily read the curve of the slab.” Each metal band, what Genter described as a sort of steel “fettucini,” was fabricated directly from the digital model, first laser cut and then bent to the correct shape using CAD-CAM technology. “You typically don’t see these kind of geometries in permanent structures,” Love said. “There was a lucky convergence of high ambitions all around.” In generating the digital model for the pavilion, the team had to ensure that the data was clear for the multiple fabricators involved in the process. “The curves had to form a describable surface,” Love said. “The model and its geometries had to be translatable to different fabrication processes. The model for the project literally became the model for fabrication.” Working with two separate materials built from the same digital model presented real world challenges when fitting the two together. “The project required more craft in the field than we initially thought,” Genter said. Each steel beam is made up of four pieces welded together and required more room for error in fabrication. On site, the wooden concrete formwork was subtly changed to adapt to small variations in the shape of the steel. “The answer was to get fabricators on board who can get our model translated into the final product,” Love said, explaining that working with contractors on digitally fabricated projects can be a learning experience for everyone involved. “There were a lot of subspecialties working together.” Concrete contractor S+F Concrete brought millworker C.W. Keller on board to create the elaborate wooden mold for the concrete slab. For most of the surface, deformed plywood was used, but as the curve approached its spout, a custom mold was required. “The curve was beyond the tolerance of plywood,” Love said. “Every single piece of plywood in the formwork was pre-engineered before it arrived.” Once on site, the individual pieces were fit together like a puzzle.