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Robert Campbell side-eyes the Innovation District

The Globe's architecture critic damns the area as less than the sum of its parts:

To be fair, not many new developments look good until the cranes go home. But after you’ve made all the allowances you can, you’re still stuck with the fact that the Innovation District is a serious failure of urban design.

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If its bland, boring and not in somebody else's view, you might get something passed in 3-5 years. If you are lucky. Plus everything had to be overlooked by hizhonnah.

If not, you are just another Don Chiofaro who will probably be long passed before anything goes up on the harbor garage site.

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The Harbor Towers NIMBY snobs hired some architecture professor as a consultant to complain about the design of Chiofaro's proposed tower next door. The lengths the got mine so you can't build yours crowd will go in this city is ridiculous and a big part of why housing is so expensive. When every development has to fight through years of approval over trivial matters it's impossible to keep costs down.

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The Innovation District raises one central issue. In a competitive scrum of developers, lenders, officials, citizens, and architects, who holds out for better design? It’s the mayor’s voice that usually matters. Mayors should not let themselves be bamboozled by single-issue experts with fancy computer printouts. A mayor is a surrogate for the general public.

I believe even by his own admission, our surrogate lacked that "vision thing".

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This has been done far more successfully in Europe and in the US.

Someone else linked to a Danish example. Here's a US example: http://www.pdc.us/Libraries/River_District/Pearl_District_Development_Pl...

You can't just throw stuff in and then expect amenities to show up later. Planning is NECESSARY.

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That's a well-written article. While I am very excited by the developments in the district (beats the parking lots) it does seem like a missed opportunity in ways.

Like, it's relatively easy to drive to. So people will drive to and from there, and it might never have the urban scale of the older neighborhoods in the city.

Also it'd be nice if the Silver Line was not so stumpily disconnected from the rest of the T. If one *does* live in the Seaport, Silver to Red to Green is a big investment for brunch at Eastern Standard in February. Just über, right? Different people, different feel.

But one could do worse than live or work in a box right on Boston Harbor.

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He touched on something that's bothered me about that area as well: The buildings are not filling in like a downtown, but like a series of disconnected structures in a suburban office park. That's fine for Unicorn Park in Woburn (which I mention partly because I love its ridiculous name), but for a district in the heart of a major city?

Also, even before Seaport Square, the whole area's already drowning in traffic.

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It's on the old Unicorn Golf Club. Hide Processing Factory View Park didn't fly with marketing.

I will say this, Campbell is about 5 years too late to the show. The ArchBoston people have seen the Alexandria VA ascetic coming to Athanasia for a long time.

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The issues with the Seaport are well documented so I'm not going to parrot them, other than to say the problems created the Seaport, particularly in transportation, are going to metastasize along the T. In particular the SSX and GLX will bring more people in that already hopelessly overburdened magic quadrangle of congestion of Park, Gov Center, DTX, and State. The issues of the Seaport and it's growth are certainly not going to be confined to the neighborhood - which, for me at least, elucidates the need to make some improvements to the T (Red-Blue Connector) and failing that, make the Seaport a better place to live. For example, a supermarket would be nice touch.

I would like to offer something new though: the Nordhavn Project. This is the development of the old "freeport" in Copenhagen and a very similar scenario to the Seaport - an old industrial port area, very close to the city. Despite their similarities, the two projects have utilized different strategies that I think are interesting to consider.

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The only thing more self-important than an architect is an architectural critic.

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deep, elite-school education (Phi Beta Kappa undergrad at Harvard, grad degrees from Harvard School of Design and in journalism from Columbia), was a practicing architect, taught architecture and urban planning at several prestige institutions, and won a Pulitzer for his architecture criticism get the balls to tell us what he thinks of architecture and urban planning? The nerve.

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i don't know, anonymous internet commenters are up there

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We had a plan...in 1997- 1999 after eighteen months of community meetings with the BRA, elected officials, business owners, residents and artists-the City and the BRA created the Seaport Public Realm Plan. It defined the open space, build out of nine city blocks with view corridors to the water, a framework of parks and open space that honored Olmstead in a "sapphire necklace". The document can still find it on the BRA website- which is so insulting..
Mr Campbell missed an opportunity to compare and contrast- what we all thought we were getting, what happened and who is responsible for ignoring the plan.

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Master Plans for Prudential Center and lower Boylston developed about the same time were also ignored - adding buildings as they were proposed (and for all the cynics out there, I challenge you to find a project other than Chioffaro and Millennium Pike air rights about 15 years ago that have been cancelled or materially slowed due to community activism. Note - Columbus Center collapsed under its own financial weight and corruption - not due to community issues). The Stuart Street project literally had Liberty Mutual negotiating a backroom deal while they were sitting on a commission as a "neutral party" discussing potential zoning changes. The neighborhood agreed to double zoning in most of the area. Liberty Mutual built a 500 foot tower on one of the only lots with zoning below 200 feet and got a $50 million tax break to boot.

As the BRA seems to be rebooting some projects and approvals - will be interesting to see if things change or the more they change, the more they stay the same.

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While I agree with a lot of what you say, I think most people who followed the Columbus center project wild agree a large part of the reason it collapsed financially was that the community stalled and sued them for so many years they drained them of resources, causing the financial collapse of the project. So now we got Less housing and a still open highway!

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I heard all those delays simple exposed the fact that from the beginning there was no way this was going to happen without substantial public support to build the decking. Every developer says they can do it without public money - and then comes back hat in hand asking for it (or in this case, money in bra).

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Lower Boylston in the Fenway is being built to the plan set forth in the community based rezoning. The late 80s Prudential master plan hasn't change much from concept to construction.

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There has been at least one tower added to lower Boylston in the Back Bay - not Fenway - the area near Mass Ave (now two instead of one I believe - and that ignores the towers being built at Christian Science center).

The Exeter, at the very least, was not in the planning for the Pru. I believe 888 Boylston, now under construction, is also a more recent addition - although I think at some point there was a more detailed planning process around the building - which was intended to be shorter - but they added several stories.

This is the kind of incrementalism that has defined modern "planning" in the city - oh it's just one more building. Oh, it's just a little taller than the building down the street etc., etc., etc.

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Kendall Square was first built out about 30 years ago (Cambridge Center, the new T stop) and the same mistake was made: wide, boulevard-ish streets, not enough street-level retail.

30 years later, some progress is being made. Main Street is being completely pedestrianized and losing its median and traffic lights. Binney Street has lost some of its median, and apparently the City is considering doing away with the rest of it. New projects generally have street-level retail, which adds some life to the area (although it's still pretty quiet at night). With MIT's billion-dollar project south of Main Street and the Volpe Center likely to be built in the next 10 years, it might just tip the scales to the point where it's not so much a disconnected neighborhood. (It, too, might succumb to transportation capacity issues, especially if nothing is done with the Grand Junction corridor.)

The "old" Seaport has such a great feel—you come across the Congress Street bridge and there are century-old converted warehouses and streets on two levels, and then you go in to the parking lot abyss of the "new" Seaport. At some point in the future, hopefully, the Seaport will lose its wide, pedestrian-unfriendly boulevards for a more urban feel. (In Kendall, formerly-wide Ames Street will have 20 feet of road width cannibalized for street level retail where there is now a garage entrance and loading zone.) Hopefully, it won't take 30 years.

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Hey now that Menino is gone can we put the "Innovation District" term to bed?

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