New mayor, new tower for Don Chiofaro?

The Globe looks at the prospects that the downtown developer may finally be able to tear down the Aquarium garage and put up that tower he wants, now that Boston has a mayor who doesn't take offense at his existence.

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Boston needs to decide what it is

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Was at a meeting last week and heard a comment that I thought was interesting. If Boston simply becomes NY - who would come here instead of NY? We'll of course never be on that scale and if we destroy what attracts people to Boston, the charm and history, why would tourists want to come here if all we are is Manhattan, Jr. with history - which would basically make us Philadelphia? Frightening.

Thinking about what makes Boston Boston. We aren't NY, or Chicago, or LA, or Hong Kong - and thank God for that. I do see us in a class with other historic cities - DC, Paris, Jerusalem, Kyoto and they are bustling, successful cities that have not sacrificed their historic charm to reach for the sky. Where they do go tall like in Paris, it tends to be somewhat removed from the downtown historic areas, not on top of them.

Maybe we should take another look and start building our tall buildings in Dorchester - easy access to highways and transit, relatively cheap land, no 200 year old infrastructure to build around...

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I agree

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However here in Boston, if you tried to develop on a large scale an "African-American" (originally Irish/Jewish) neighborhood it would be automatically deemed racist and an attack on the Black community. Ironically the same thing happened 50 years ago and it was labeled progressive.

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Worry not, citizen.

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Appointed member of the liberal thought police here! You can go ahead and bring economic development to impoverished and/or historically minority areas, and we won't tag you as racist. We might look slightly askance at you pre-emptively defending yourself from accusations of same, though, especially when you bring it up out of the blue, inexplicably use scare-quotes, and don't know your history.

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O, So you and your

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Family lived in Boston between the 40's - 60's when most of the demographic changes took place. Funny because the Boston my family has lived in for over 100 years has a neighborhood called "Dorchester" which experienced a massive demographic change during that time period.

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You probably won't be targeted as racist.

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But you will be roundly accused of ignoring the liberal tenants of "environmental justice" by not proposing to build your development in wealthy suburbs that don't have large skyscrapers. even though logic dictates that locations that already have the type of facilities you are planning to construct are more suitable than those that don't.

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Boston had been on a half

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Boston had been on a half century trend of suburbanizing the urban core as part of the "New" Boston. It is good thing that trend has reversed itself.

Now if only the whole freaking city could be rezoned to allow for realistic as of right development along major transit corridors. Getting rid of mandatory parking minimums in transit heavy neighborhoods would help as well.

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In and of itself, the idea

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In and of itself, the idea that we need to be in any way worried about "Manhattan-ization" is crazy.Manhattan itself has over a million people. It's gigantic. A handful of tall buildings in downtown Boston isn't going to turn us into Manhattan. If we built 10 towers a year for 100 years, MAYBE we'd turn into Manhattan. MAYBE. Until then, everyone needs to stop using this ridiculous line of thinking.

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Thanks for checking in Don

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You're right. We'll never be Manhattan. Going forward I will be sure to use the more appropriate Philadelphization of Boston.

Feel better? Or does it just give you a hankering for a cheesesteak?

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Last time I was there,

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Last time I was there, Philadelphia had only a smattering of skyscrapers, due to the fact that for many years, city ordinances ruled that nothing could be taller than the statue of William Penn on top of City Hall (quite a nice City Hall too, compared to others - ahem). However, what they are building now, like the Comcast building, are quite tall.

I for one, would rather have a glass skyscraper than yet another Brutalist-style concrete garage - unless you consider those part of our precious historic link to the past.

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It wasn't a city ordinance

It was a "gentlemen's agreement" among builders and developers. The agreement fell in 1987 when one developer broke the agreement and built One Liberty Place.

There's a legend that this resulted in a sports curse. After 1987, no Philadelphia sports team won a championship until 2008. In 2007, when the Comcast Center was constructed, construction workers placed a small statuette of William Penn atop the building--lifting the curse. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008.

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You're way off...

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I grew up there. How about the Mellon building, Liberty I/II, and a ton of other skyscrapers. They've been there for decades. You can see the skyline for 20 miles away.

You're right. Anyone who

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You're right. Anyone who doesn't think Boston could somehow turn into Manhattan is obviously Don Chiofaro. It's so OBVIOUS.

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Boston's problem in a nutshell"

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If a tree casts a shadow it is shade.

If a building casts a shadow "ZOMG!!!111 WUR GUNNA DIIIEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!! THINK OF TEH CHILDRENZ11111"

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Well then,

Well then, by all means, let's just keep the garage and not redevelop the site. You know, for the sake of not being Manhattan.

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Where did I say don't build anything?

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Not my fault Chioffaro paid $150 million for land that would only support a building where the land cost should have been about $50 million.

This is the problem in this town. Developers massively overpay for a piece of land based on its current zoning. Then they tell the city the only way they can get financing is to build two or three times the allowed zoning. Gives cover to the politicians who are complicit in this scheme.

Variances (and the other schemes of the BRA) should be extremely rare exceptions - not business as usual for every project that literally comes down the pike.

Hey - I don't have a problem with tall buildings. It's a matter of where should they be built. Land cost aside, I have a hard time believing that a 5 story garage is more profitable than say a 10 or 12 story waterfront office, residence or hotel. He needs 30 stories or whatever because he gambled. He overpaid by a factor of 3. Making an exception to planning and zoning so one guy can recoup or profit on a bad investment is stupidity.

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If Boston seems to be continually making

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exceptions to the zoning laws by granting variances, then perhaps it's time to go ahead and actually re-evaluate the need for most of those laws. Oh wait, that would be intelligent government. And we can't have any of that, now can we.

And the only legitimate reason for restricting the height of a structure in Boston is if it could potentially impact the flight paths at Logan Airport. Actually, it sounds like a building at the Aquarium might qualify under this.

For the "quality of lifers" out there who disagree with this viewpoint, consider this: When they were constructed, I'm sure there was opposition to both the Prudential Tower and the new John Hancock Tower for reasons like "shadow effect". Today, these are two of the most recognizable landmarks on the Boston skyline. And the earth hasn't fallen off it's axis yes because these towers were constructed.

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I recall reading somewhere

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I recall reading somewhere that Chioffaro purchased the property AFTER meeting with the BRA and being promised that he could build something big enough that he could recover the cost of the land. The BRA then changed their mind.

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Boston's highway and public

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Boston's highway and public transit hub-and-spoke layout is at or past capacity for getting people into the hub. I'd love to see large-scale development away from the downtown area but close to transit. I agree about Dorchester but Wonderland, Suffolk Downs, Cleveland Circle off the top of my head also seem like ideal locations for Co-op City-sized satellites for 10^5 housing units with retail and offices.

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Check your history books

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Dorchester founded: June 1, 1630

Boston founded: September 7, 1630

Looks like both "neighborhoods" are on the older side with very similar infrastructure problems, see National Grid, http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/mass_roundup/2014/04/legislature-..., or the recent changes to flood-zones for insurance purposes.

Sure, eastern Dorchester is close to the highway but once you get past Dorchester Ave and approaching Columbia Road, you are probably the same distance to a highway as Allston, Brighton, West Roxbury, etc.

I do appreciate your overall point though. We are not NYC or Chicago and do not want to be Philly.

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Past and future

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I'm all for saving good, historic buildings that give Boston its character. I'm also all about improving the city at the street level, below the 6th floor, the part that affects pedestrian life the most.

The trouble is, we're a city pock-marked with the wreckage of urban renewal. We have empty, vacant lots. Nasty Brutalist parking garages. Windswept, desolate "plazas" that nobody seems to care about. Industrial lots with little to no activity going on. Surface parking lots.

I don't think any of those things are the kind of "character" that are worth preserving.

And yet, so many people claim that Boston is "built out." It's not. Not by a long shot. There are many places in the city, places close to the T, that are just empty.

The thing about cities like Paris and Kyoto is that they have mostly filled in those kinds of spaces. Either with buildings or with actual parks. Paris famously has a height limit yet also a housing unit density that is only surpassed by places like Manhattan or the North End here. It does go to show that you can build a lot of city within a height limit, absolutely. And it can be very nice.

But why do we have to imitate that entirely either? I think we're capable of handling tall buildings. The real battle is making sure that life at the street level is not neglected by architects with their heads in the clouds.

Older cities with their neighborhoods intact have an advantage over newly developing areas. Boston once had much more contiguous "historic" neighborhoods, but a large chunk was destroyed, foolishly. Now, there's really nothing we can do about the mistakes of the past, except build with the future in mind.

Boston isn't going to become NYC. I get the feeling that people making that claim are people who haven't spent very much time in NYC. The form of that city is very much due to the particulars of the last two centuries of NY's weird and unique politics and history.

This tower that Chiofaro wants to build, it will be adjacent to the Financial District that has plenty of tall buildings already, in an area that was destroyed by the Central Artery back in the 50s. So... what's the big deal?

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I agree...

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It's better than the suggestion to tear down Dorchester to make way for high rises.

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Why?

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You can acquire land for next to nothing - build there (and in many other parts west including West Rox, Roslindale, Brighton and more) and you might actually be able to build apartments that rent for $1k - $2k and commercial space for say $20 per sf. Build anywhere east of Mass Ave and the land costs automatically drive rents up by double or triple. There are virtually no concerns about historic structures and you can probably build far enough from any parks so shadows don't become an issue.

It's next to roads, transit and more. Why WOULDN'T you build tall there?

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West Roxbury, Roslindale

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There's not really great transit out there. Not even any key bus routes. I know that the Washington Street corridor has enough buses on it to make a key corridor. But I'm pretty sure that Rozzie Square folks would scream quite loudly about any tall buildings there. So I'm not sure why you think that a tall building out there would be "next to transit."

Now, Forest Hills, that's another story. One of the premier transit nodes in the entire region, and criminally underbuilt.

Now about prices, I have to say that for-profit developers typically wait until rents/purchase prices reach a point where it is profitable to build something. To get a tall building built in a cheap area you would need some sort of other motive, such as a non-profit CDC, or some kind of government subsidy, etc. Alas.

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Commuter rail?

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The Needham line runs at a fraction of its capacity and you are 12 minutes from Back Bay. Transit is LITERALLY across the street. You could add 500 units tomorrow and not fill the Needham line. You want to build something like that downtown and land acquisition is hundreds of millions. You could buy the entire square for probably in the range of $5-10 million. After that - you are talking construction in the range of what it costs everywhere else in the country - plus maybe 10 or 20%? If I can build housing that rents for under $1k in the rest of the country, why can't I build the same that rents for $2k here - still a bargain by Boston standards and you shouldn't need any CDC to make money - if land costs are low enough, a private developer should have no problem .

As for the residents - EVERY neighborhood in this city has to build - about 1% to 2% more every year. There is most certainly room to build downtown. The problem is we don't need much/any more office space, high end rentals or condos or expensive hotels. We're not built out - but we are pretty saturated for things that you can sell/rent. What growth options do we have other than the neighborhoods?

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Ways to grow Roslindale without turning it into downtown

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Not to get all NIMBYish, but Roslindale IS different from downtown and people actually move here because they don't want to live downtown. We're not Hong Kong and there's no reason every last bit of the city has to be turned into a mini-Manhattan.

If Roslindale has to grow by 1% a year, we're talking roughly 300 people, so that's, what, 100 to 150 new units?

We're already seeing some development that fits into the existing character of Roslindale - the new building that just went in near that other commuter-rail stop (the one within walking distance of the one next to Roche Bros.), the units going in next to the Rozzie Square station and the building that will wrap around the old trolley substation.

There's probably room for more of that - especially down by Forest Hills.

Even aside from the MBTA land right at the station, there are all those businesses on Washington Street that might be willing to sell if the price were right - the lumber yard, the monument places, the Emporium. And at some point, somebody's going to figure out there's a better use for that little strip mall with the big parking lot on Washington out by the parkway.

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Surely I jest

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A bit - as you know - I have a vested interest in NOT seeing the square developed (at least our building). And I agree with all of your suggestions about other places development is possible - I really don't think you need towers there - but buildings about the size of where Emack's was throughout the square (eventually!) would probably work - even a couple stories taller.

But this whole practice of "just throw another tower up downtown" is going to come to a crashing halt. We will run out of millionaires to buy/rent the places and crashing prices doesn't help the city (and probably won't happen - you'll just get stalled projects while the others fill out). We need A LOT more development in the neighborhoods - and perhaps little or none downtown. We are creating a lot of areas with no character - DTX, Financial District, near the Liberty Mutual building - dead as a doornail after 5 pm. Not sure these luxo towers are much better than an office tower for street life.

It's a dilemma. The residents want their single family homes and quiet neighborhoods. The city doesn't want families that send kids to schools. The city likes it when each new unit throws off $10k of new tax revenue. But for now we grow a couple thousand new residents every year and they have to live somewhere - and they are not all rich.

Great article from Boston Magazine December 2013 - somewhat related and outlines the failure of the White and later Menino "build it and they will come" development policies-

http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2012/11/empty-financial-district-boston/

Matthew below - have you ever ridden the Needham line? I do - regularly - rush hour outbound and other times. Always get a seat - worst case we need some more double deck coaches. As for towers - you do realize the whole reason we are having this discussion is because Chiofaro wants to build three times the allowed height because once you put in a foundation and an elevator - it's not that expensive to start adding floors.

Frequency is king

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Matthew below - have you ever ridden the Needham line? I do - regularly - rush hour outbound and other times. Always get a seat - worst case we need some more double deck coaches.

I have ridden the Needham line, but it's irrelevant. Fact is, there's only about 16 trips per day on that line. And that's about all there ever will be, for the previously stated reasons. You cannot sustain a major urban district on 16 trips per day. Empty seats at 8 a.m. do nothing for the person who needs a train to SS at 10 a.m. (sorry, gotta wait until 10:35 a.m.) or one back out at 1 p.m. (sorry, wait an hour). By comparison, the Orange line makes about 160 round trips per day. That's 10x the frequency of the Needham line, and it means not only more capacity but also enormous flexibility. That's why the buses on Washington Street get such heavy usage.

If you want to build big without giant parking lots and terrible traffic, then you need to place the buildings near hubs of frequent, all-day transit. Forest Hills has the Orange Line and numerous bus routes radiating in all directions. That's what makes it an excellent transit hub and a good site for development. And downtown is the best transit hub of all, with multiple rapid transit lines, buses and more.

I agree with the McMorrow article that you linked. I remember when it came out. The problem with the Financial District is the "single use" character -- that ought to be fixed and avoided in the future.

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Fine

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Then take the bus down Washington to Forest Hills

It's never more than 30-45 minutes to Back Bay/SS. And there's plenty of capacity to serve a few hundred units - which is probably all you can cram in the square even fully built out.

I do that ride on a regular basis - both on the commuter rail and the orange line. It's very easy and there's always room - not just to get on - but also to sit down.

There are lots of issues around such a proposal. Transit in that area is a positive, not a negative.

Rents are escalating downtown

There is, as you probably know, a fluid market pushing businesses needing office space between Cambridge, the Fort Point area, and the Financial District. Rents in Fort Point/Seaport are now pushing offices (like my husbands) to look for new space in the Financial District. Rents in Cambridge pushed my .org first into Charlestown and then into Downtown, and now we are trying to negotiate an extension to our lease because our building, which was about a third empty at one point, is now filling up again and we would like to stay. But we may be pushed into Fort Point, or elsewhere in the next lease interval, because Downtown office rents are growing again.

So, I find it hard to believe that there isn't a market for office space or for housing in the area, because a fair amount of both are being built and they are starting to fill up. If you have a business that is reliant on people with skills and seniority who live throughout the area, being in the area is a priority for not losing people.

Have heard that Swirly

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and hope it's a trend. We'll see - I just don't see the demand. I see musical chairs for office space and expensive apartments looking for lots of millionaires that want to rent rather than own in the city.

One piece of evidence that has troubled me - we haven't built a major new spec office building in about a decade. Heard one might be getting ready to break ground in Back Bay - but nothing concrete - and since LibMu moved into their new building, they opened up space in three other buildings nearby.

Commuter rail is not appropriate

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For what you are talking about, you want true rapid transit-like frequencies. Under 10 minute headways for sure. American-style commuter rail only gets people from parking lot to CBD and back. That's about it. Now if we were talking RER-style express transit then you could dream up some kind of La Défense-style district. The Needham line will never achieve that for a number of reasons, it does not have that much capacity as you seem to think: it's single tracked mostly, which limits frequency pretty badly; it requires valuable slots on the busy 3-tracked Northeast corridor, so if anything, it's going to get pushed out by the rest of the lines. Orange Line extension is probably the future of this corridor -- far future.

Building tall is pointless here anyway. It costs more, as costs increase super-linearly as you go up, and as you reach certain thresholds. There's much that can be done in these areas that stays under 5-6 floors and doesn't require the more expensive construction methods.

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How?

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How does advocating for desperately needed middle class housing make me a cold hearted elitist prick? Should I advocate for a further glut of luxury housing for the 1% instead?

"Needed middle class housing"?

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So my plan is to tear down working class housing to build middle class housing... Someone is getting the shaft here, and I suspect your idea of middle class differs greatly from mine with regards to income. Therefore, I can only presume that the housing that you want to see built will end up pricing out working class buyers.

P.S. Sorry for calling you a prick.

Dorchester?

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Sure, we can just bulldoze the entire neighborhood. Who cares, right? They're just working class poors. Who'd stop us?!

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There are places in

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There are places in Dorchester that could be built up on a large scale without a single house being torn down. The Globe and Expo sites or example.

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Expo site already spoken for

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UMass owns it and has some plans for it (dorms, anyone?). But what about the Sovereign Bank processing building across from it?

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Yes please

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Mid-rise or high-rise housing with ground floor retail along Dot Ave and Morrissey Blvd would be great, as long as it's condos and/or market rate rentals. High-density housing works great as long as it's not given away for free - people respect things they have earned through hard work, but they tend to shit where they eat when it's given to them for free. Just look at all high-rise housing projects - they turned into shitholes in no time at all and ended up getting demolished, whereas condo towers built to similar crappy specs with similar crappy materials are still standing, often selling for a nice chunk of change.

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I get it...

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Price out the poor people. You obviously hate them. Just admit it.

You know what, people will only allow you rich folks to piss on this city for so long. Trust me

Aren't new waterfront towers

Aren't new waterfront towers difficult anyway because of FAA rules? I thought that's what sunk the tower that was proposed for the site of the old parking garage that used to be somewhat near-ish Post Office Square (Sorry. Blanking on the name of both the old garage and where it was located.)

ETA: Winthrop Square.

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FUD

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Comparing Boston to Manhattan sounds more like a matter of fear, uncertainty and doubt rather than a realistic consideration of what how Boston's urban core will develop. As mentioned already Boston's core is just too small to build gigantic buildings. Even of Chiafaro persuades everyone to let him build taller than anything else I doubt if it will be much taller than International Place. The scale would thrown everything else out of whack and might even be a problem for air traffic to and from Logan.

On the other hand if Chiafaro could build a few or even 10 stories higher than International Place then that does potentially change the scale for later and taller buildings. But is bedrock strong enough? Can it support taller buildings without damaging nearby buildings. Already the new buildings in the Seaport district have damaged nearby buildings. Or would there be a series of potential disasters such as when the Hancock building damaged Trinity Church?

If Chiafaro does build on the lot with the parking garage then I hope that he uses as facade that is more interesting than what looks more like cookie cutter suburban house windows. As a feature he could build a waterpark inside the building. A gigantic wave pool that operates all year? Imagine being able to spend a day at an indoor waterpark in downtown Boston during a stretch of temperature that stays in the teens?

Incorporating a museum celebrating Boston's history would be a terrific feature. It is ironic that a city rich with historical sites does not have unified institution that informally ties and celebrates the sites and the history of the city.

In an urban setting big can be fascinating. Chicago's Millennium Park went in the direction of big and is a wonderfully playful place. While I like the Greenway I wish it was more like Millennium Park.

But Boston will never be Manhattan or Chicago. I've heard people describe Boston as a manageable big city. Or as a small city with a big city feel. It is no less nor more parochial than large cities (New Yorkers are no less apt to parochialism) but it still carries its own weight in terms of culture, recreation and overall quality of life.

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