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How to revive Downtown Crossing: Less Copley Place, more Porter Square

Enough with the edifice complex. Mike Mennonno details how to revive Downtown Crossing:

... The problem with Downtown Crossing is partly the muddled vision of a Mayor whose solution for urban blight is always the same: luxury high-rises that remain mostly empty, and high-end retail shopping. But if the vision for Downtown Crossing were more reflective of the cross-section of Boston that actually passes through it every day, more reflective of their practical needs, the shopping district would be thriving.

One of the best ideas I heard when Menino started on about "re-branding" Downtown Crossing, was to bring a supermarket in. A Super Target was mentioned. And while that brought a squeak of protest from those who fear an invasion of Big Box retailers, a supermarket is precisely the type of anchor the area needs. People obviously have other options for high-end retail, and discounters like Marshall's and T.J. Maxx have the low-end covered.

The city could also do much, much more to encourage small businesses like bakeries, butchers, diners and cafes, even (gasp) pubs -- practical shopping for a transport hub, a convenient location to hang out, grab some groceries and head home -- by offering merchants tax breaks or subsidies. ...

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Comments

How can you carry your large purchase home without your car.

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You have it delivered. I bought a mattress from Sleepy's in Downtown Crossing a few months ago. They delivered it the next day.

The vast majority of purchases people make are not large, however. Most can be easily carried in bags.

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When I've gone and bought a sizeable box of stuff anywhere in Downtown crossing, I either ask the people at the store for more bags, or, if it's in a box, to have them put some sort of a handle on the box, or even rope, or even to bag the box in a large bag to make it easier to carry .

Two or three years ago, when I purchased a new flexible shaft at Cohen's down in Washington St.'s Jewelry building, I had them make sort of a handle out of twine so that I'd be able to carry it home on the MBTA train easier. No big deal, and they were extremely helpful.

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"when I purchased a new flexible shaft"

*ahem*

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So that's what Central is doing right? The Hubba Hubba store? :)

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Where else can you step in vomit, get accosted by 6 panhandlers (one lying in the doorway of the store you want to get into), be almost run over by 2 over-educated bicyclists, receive a ticket for jaywalking, and purchase some so-so Indian food...all in the space of 15 minutes, only to come back to your car and find a ticket for having a light colored car on the odd numbered side of the street after 2:45PM in a light commercial zone?

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Thanks for that ray of sunshine. We can always rely on you.

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Heard of it?

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It is on New Years Day and features football players from two colleges for students with ADD/ADHD.

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You're starting to suck a lot less. Keep it up.

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Central Square has a bunch of great places, and I think over the last decade I've spent more money at Central Square shops than I have on any other expenses other than rent.

There are things that I'd like to do to make Central more pleasant for pedestrians and safer for bicyclists, but I think Central isn't doing too badly.

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it has to do with the fact that I purchased a very large item that's needed for my work at a store downtown in the Jewelers' Building, which is in that same area, on Washington Street. I had no choice but to bring it home on the subway. Duhhhh.

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Many large stores offer pay in store, deliver to your home. Even stores you would not expect have started doing this when they run out of stock (they show you the item then help you buy it online and they fedex it.) Ikea does this as well and will even set it up for you for a price. Many mattress places deliver, heck even my local liquor store delivers.

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How have people always done it? Jordan Marsh and Filene's in their heydey could be considered 'big box' stores that sold everything -- furniture, appliances, rugs, etc.

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These are creative solutions but all substandard.... Maybe a Trader Joes is more the size of the store you want, you have to think about how much people are taking home. And even with all its granola appeal, Trader Joes always has a parking lot.

I've been thinking about working urban shopping districts, and came upon reference to Central Square in Cambridge, which is hardly designed at all. I also had an office on Moody St. in Waltham for a while. For these marginal districts, the 2 hour lot is essential, just because it gives you the idea that there may be reasonable parking at your destination.

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...shopping/dining/drinking arcades centered on major public transportation hubs (and ancillary stores etc. on side streets) provide very little in the way of parking.

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TJs Back Bay doesn't have parking unless you count the Pru parking across the street.

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I mean, to other cities - and not Buffalo by car.

Trader Joes always has a parking lot? Really? The ones that I saw in Seattle and San Francisco must have been hiding theirs in a hyperspace lot between stores.

Nevermind that Downtown Crossing is handy to tens of thousands of office workers, many of whom already manage to get to work with their trader joes foods without a car.

Target is a poor choice? I take it you have never visited Minneapolis, Pasadena, and other places where people who comment here have seen urban versions in real life. Perhaps you have, but you had to have a car and missed out on the pedestrian-oriented amenities.

If you are going to make statements like you do in this comment, at least bother to notice where other people are basing their suggestions on actual, real life, and valid witness of thriving elsewheres - not on conjecture based on blanket assumptions. Also consider this: just because you have a car and drive it everywhere, doesn't make it a practical choice for people who live and work in areas designed before cars were common.

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The one I went to in San Fran has a big parking lot.

Anyway they should have a store there that can survive because people want to go there, not because they will get snippy comments when they drive to arsenal to pick up a dehumidifier that you expect them to carry home on the T.

If there was a way for everybody who didn't get with the program to receive sarcastic abuse from you, and be shamed into hauling their goods home tied to their bodies with twine then your attitude might work. Otherwise it's just mental masturbation.

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and people seem to shop there just fine.

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When I worked and went to school near grocery stores while taking the MBTA I would buy some stuff on Monday, then on Wendsday and then on Friday. I just always bought enough so it would fit in my back pack. These days even guys in nice suits carry messenger bags around with them, its not inconceivable to imagine office people shopping on their lunch breaks, before and after work, and then taking stuff home. Thats why there is a farmers market at Government center under the fake ship beams a few times a week, I was shocked the first time I saw it but it made sense and I started visiting every week to buy bread.

Now I live a life based off of the car lifestyle so I buy every thing once a week or every two weeks and drag it all home at the same time.

You obviously also missed the discussion about Market Basket when we found out half of her shopping is done at Market Baskets ranging from Lowell to Somerville by car.

OH thats what they need, a Market Basket lol

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I like the way you're thinking. I'd happily patronize such a store and I bet lots of other T-using folks would, too.

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that, with the length of time it often takes to get home by T from downtown, depending on what part of the city where one resides, is that some foods would stand a good chance of spoiling even before the person got home. No? Especially on a hot, sultry summer day, when the A/C on the train stopped working, as it can and occasionally does.

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So there is only one Trader Joes in all of San Francisco? Never mind how many people pointed out that Copley doesn't have parking, the only ones that you know of have parking so therefore all Trader Joes have parking. That is your rule? Most target stores are suburban big boxes, therefore all are suburban big boxes, etc.

This is exactly the problem I have with many of your comments. The one that EM went to was configured a certain way, so each and every store in that chain must be configured in that way. No others exist. EM likes his car, therefore every store must be reachable by car for an area to survive because nobody takes the T to shop, and nobody picks stuff up on their lunch hour and takes it home. Etc.

Meanwhile, in all of your pronouncements without support, you still have yet to address the core problem of cars in the downtown area. That problem is NOT a lack of parking (I work downtown. I know this). That problem is street size and layout and relationship to major arterial roadways.

If you can find a way to get cars in and out of downtown crossing, be my guest. Unless there is another fire on the scale of the last great conflagration, or a West End style bulldozing job, I don't see that it will be possible to include cars in a DTX revitalization scheme in any meaningful way. The roadways simply will not deliver vehicles into and out of the area in any appreciable numbers as currently configured.

There are a lot of people who work in the area, myself included, who would make a solid market for the things that one cannot currently get in the area - like workday groceries - that don't require a car to haul. My coworkers frequently lament the lack of options for stocking up at work and not carrying lunch in every day. There are enormous numbers of tourists during the summer who aren't in the market for a dehumidifier or a mattress. Many well-capitalized and successful retail chains have created successful urban niche store models that would be an asset to the area while catering to foot traffic. Just because you personally have never seen this doesn't mean that it doesn't exist or work. Similarly, your love of your personal vehicle does not mean that only car accessible businesses are viable downtown, or that DTX will only be saved by car traffic.

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Not to mention who cares if I can drive in there if I cant park. Driving without parking is useless.

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such as Pi Alley and Post Office Square. So I don't think that's the issue.

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The city deliberately limits parking below what the market would demand. Which is a good reason for me to not go in to the city.

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Let's not forget that it was the EPA that forced restrictions on downtown parking.

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Let's not forget that it was the EPA that forced restrictions on downtown parking.

With ample reason. As in all downtown areas, vehicular traffic moves at a snail's pace, increasing pollution or whatever.

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I don't have time to do all the google maps and satttelites and arguments and so on. It would be so much easier if you just look in your heart and accept that I am right.

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I still think we should just shoo away all the loud black kids and homeless people; then Downtown Crossing will get better immediately. If you've ever walked your lilly white bleeding heart liberal ass down the street at around 4 pm, civilization ends somewhere by the Wendy's.

Yes, opening more coffee houses and bars in downtown is surely the answer!!! No one was ever stabbed by a Starbucks.

It is the criminal element, pure and simple. You can dance around it all you want, but that's the truth, ruth. Take your social science degree and cram it.

Howseabout you bunch of self righteous armchair activists get your pimpled ass off the couch, stop blogging and go down there and make a difference? Pick up some trash, walk by some minotiries without clutching your purse, give some money to the homeless etc. We don't need to change DTX, we need to change ourselves. Swirlygrl can do a poetry slam whilst the fur is murder people dance a jig. Don't do it after dark though, or someone will slit your throat for a quarter.

Long live the smugness of the liberal agenda!

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How is giving homeless people money going to fix the homeless problem?

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Zipcar to the rescue. 33 Arch St (a block from DTX) has 9 cars of various shapes and sizes that would gladly drive you and your purchase home. I count about 40 cars all within about a 5 block walk from DTX....gas and insurance included.

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If Im going to borrow a zipcar why am I doing it at Downtown? Why not pick one up closer to my house and go to the burbs to pick up my purchase? The Downtown option requires me to get there, drive home, drive back, then get home.

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Because the big box wasn't the only reason you went to DTX that day? Because it was an impulse buy? Because you stopped by after work?

I was answering the question of how to get home with a purchase that was large (and where "tying it to your back" was too "creative" for the questioner).

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Why? "Your" car is never available when you need it, it's filthy/smells funny, half the time you get in it and there's no gas, etc.

Two weekends ago, I found there was ONE car left within any sort of sane, practical distance. I called a friend, we made plans over the course of about a 60 second phone call...and when I went to rent the car....it had been RSVP'd for the next several hours.

This weekend I wanted to go somewhere in the morning. Every single #[email protected]!ing zipcar for 2-3 miles was booked for the entire day, and on top of that, the nearest Zipcar location (when it does have cars!) is about a 15 minute walk. That's great in May- enjoy a nice morning or evening walk. That really BLOWS when it's February.

The cars are tiny- none of them is even a mid-sized sedan. The hybrids aren't cheaper, despite Zipcar saying it would make them so. The last Zipcar I rented was nearly out of gas and filthy; it was like they had 3-course meal with 2-year old on their lap. The car before that reeked of cigarette smoke and was missing its radio antenna- and from the looks of it (I ride past the location to get to work), they still haven't fixed it 2 months later. The one before THAT made a hideous grinding noise that became frighteningly loud above 25mph. It was also a tiny little shitbox, which meant that I was going to die if I was involved in a collision at any greater speed anyway.

Meanwhile, I'm supposed to fill up the car with gas. I'm supposed to take it to the carwash. They're all happy and cheery about that, and of course they are- because YOU are paying THEM to do it...at $10+/hour. FAIL.

You can't rent a car for less than 30 minutes, and you don't get a credit for returning the car early. If you RSVP it for 3 hours, return after an hour, and someone else rents it- Zipcar double-bills.

The only reason Zipcar can exist in this state is because car insurance is so expensive- and because Zipcar has managed to exploit a giant loophole by having their vehicles registered with commercial plates.

Meanwhile, insurance companies can't seem to explain why it is so cheap for Zipcar to get insurance coverage for someone....the same someone who they will nail for $1k-2k a year for owning and driving a vehicle they presumably are slightly more attached to.

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Ive been in zipcars with people in three different cities (Boston included) and never had these issues. You need to complain if the car is out of gas, they know who took it when. Ive also seen them driving around and they seem to look fairly nice. I also wasnt aware that it was your responsibility to clean it unless your the one who made the mess, which they charge you for if the person after you complains about it.

Dont rent it for 3 hours if your not going to use it for three hours. Its a business , if you put in for three hours they have an expectation that your going to use that three hours. Other people can not rent the car ahead of time because you have it blocked off already. If they let you give the time back then everyone would overbook and then just return the extra hours later. Then you would bitch even more about a lack of cars.

The lack of cars is supply and demand. As demand increases they increase cars. Sometimes they can not expand because they have run out of space. Othertimes these cars that are "always busy" are not busy for 6 out of 7 days and it would not be feasible to expand anymore in that area.

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Zipcar is a reliable and good company and service, your crappy experiences aside (and that's if I can believe anything you just said). Let me count the ways you were completely wrong and I'll leave it to others to figure out what else you said might also be a pantsload:

  • There are pickups, SUVs, all the way down to Minis. The cars range in luxury from Civics to S40s to BMWs.
  • The hybrids, Priuses and Civic Hybrids, are not only cheaper per hour but they are available as hourly rental only, making them available to more people more often. Not only that but more fuel efficient cars like the Versa are cheaper than the SUVs like the CRV.
  • No repair has taken more than about a week in any car which I've called in to report.
  • You only have to get gas if you are at a quarter tank or lower on the gauge before you put it back. Who did you expect to fill it? The gas fairy? Besides, it's free to do so at the pump (included in rental rate).
  • You are not "supposed" to take it to a car wash unless you *want* to and when you do, if you call in and tell them, they will credit you a half-hour of cost back onto your bill (most car washes don't take 30 minutes), so it's not on your dime unless you want it to be.
  • Most cars are available at less than $10/hour even on the weekends when you pay a higher rate (large vehicles and premium vehicles cost over $10/hour but never more than $15/hour, even for a BMW 328 on a Saturday)...hybrids are $6.30/hr EVERY DAY. Cars are even half price between midnight and 6 AM.
  • You cannot rent for less than _1 hour_ and in chunks no smaller than 30 minutes.
  • If you reserve a car for 3 hours and return it in 1 hour, no one can rent it for the full 3 hours so there is no double billing. If you change your reservation to unreserve it early, there is a small penalty (because they lost the chance to rent it ahead of time) but you may be able to pay less for the fee than your unused time would be. They allow for that.
  • Zipcar passes on the money saved on parking, gas, AND insurance because they pay in BULK for all of these things, not simply because any or all of those things may be more expensive here. They are paying for parking, gas, and insurance in MA...just like you would be for your own car instead. The location is a constant so your comment on this state creating their viability is just garbage. Your logic is just false. They rent parking in places that were unused and take multiple spots year-round, so they get a bargain. They use a fleet credit card so all gas is paid through one account...thus, a discount through the bank for gas purchases. It's also just an actuarial fact that it's cheaper to insure a group of users for a lower cost than any one user could get independently. Group Insurance -- read it.

Your entire diatribe is bunk. You might not like Zipcar for whatever concocted biases you have, but don't libel them here for absolutely no good reason.

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No repair has taken more than about a week in any car which I've called in to report.

Some people in this world do not understand that problems happen and when they do you call and complain and the problems get fixed. If nobody ever complains then the problem never gets fixed. they feel that the world should be perfect for them all the time and that they should never encounter problems, less their little princess world comes apart at the seams.

These same people complain about price and quality at the same time. When you try to fix one the other goes the other way. If you raise the price you can hire more people to monitor every issues before it happens. If you pay enough you can even have someone check the zipcar after every rental! Im sure the same person who complained about the occasional salty car will then complain they are spending too much time keeping the cars free of salt. You can not win with them so you ignore them, and then they get upset about that...

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No, no, see, some people are just better at everything, and thus they have demanding standards that few people meet.

That's why Brett runs a multi-million dollar business that pleases tens of thousands of people. When he's not being a superhero.

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How long have you been waiting for a chance to break out that "edifice complex" joke? Cause you picked the right time, that's for sure.

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Would _covered_ arcades be feasible?

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I agree, ideally glass the whole thing in, heat it/cool it.

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Yikes , I dont know if I agree with that. Who would pay to heat and cool this bloated monster? Thats the problem with anything you do, unless you build an association to act like a mall and charge all the stores you cant have things that require regular expenses.

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...in Japan.

In case people are interested, some pictures (not mine) of arcades here:

http://ojisanjake.blogspot.com/2009/01/aakeido-jap...

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I think it would work, but only if these were sheltered from the elements. If there were some way to enclose a space somewhat in the winter, people would walk through to stay out of the wind. It would have to open up in the summer, though.

How well do the vendors do in the glassed in wing areas of Quincy Market?

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so they really can't cover it and have some traffic driving through.

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The blog post imagines the area being something special, a true draw, a welcomed slice of the best of urban life.

We need more of that kind of talk to get us excited about the possibilities.

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And while that brought a squeak of protest from those who fear an invasion of Big Box retailers, a supermarket is precisely the type of anchor the area needs.

The city could also do much, much more to encourage small businesses like bakeries, butchers, diners and cafes, even (gasp) pubs

Phhhbt. "Bring in the big boxes! Oh yes, and Boston needs small businesses."

Here's a concept: let's not offer ANY incentives to ANY company or brand with more than, say, 2-3 stores...and work instead on spending time developing the lesser used/populated parts of the city. Let's also make sure that each part of the city gets an equal amount of 'spending money', so that we don't end up with potholes in Mattapan, but gas street lights, cobblestone roads, and guilded street signs on Beacon Hill. I've had it up to my eyeballs with this city spending millions and endless resources on the richest parts of towns, and shafting the outlying black communities.

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How many public elementary schools Beacon Hill and Back Bay have.

Oh, right, you can't, because there aren't any - not even after some residents offered to buy a building and give it to the city.

You're going to have to come up with a better example of reverse Robin Hoodism in Boston than a bunch of gaslights. Maybe you can do your research in that fancy new library the city just opened in Mattapan Square.

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How many public elementary schools Beacon Hill and Back Bay have. not even after some residents offered to buy a building and give it to the city.

I bet they wanted to buy it and then "give" it to the city in exchange for the city giving them exclusive access and/or turning it into the Boston equivalent of Stuyvesant.

Fine, you want a better example? Chinatown and the Leather District- both have been getting the shaft on city services for decades.

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You lost.

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Beacon Hill bring people who spend money into town, like it or not its a historic district and if it looks like thrash people will not come and spend money there. Downtown should look nice as well, as people will come spend money there if they felt safe, its got great location. If your looking to compare different neighberhoods you need to look at those that are not in the middle of historic and shopping districts.

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I asked this back on another thread.... I am very leery of the city having a giveaway building to a museum or whathaveyou, but there is nothing in Downtown Crossing besides shopping. A tourist area will have an actual non-shopping thing there. There are a fair-number of semi-successful shopping areas around, they have certain characteristics. Cars are a part of them. Young women can walk through them and feel safe.

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That I have to see :-).

But on your actual point, Downtown Crossing is absolutely ringed with attractions. In fact, Filene's Basement used to be one of those attractions. For that matter, the jewelers' buildings certainly are a unique part of the Downtown Crossing experience, drawing people from all over.

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Yes, I went there to get an engagement ring. I go there every time I need one.

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Aside from the obvious issues of traffic safety, the typical shopping mall attracts a lot of unseen nasty activity - like drug deals, car thefts, and rape - owing to the ease of cover in a parking lot.

Not that the problems of a rat's nest of tiny roads into the area could ever be overcome anyway. The whole area would need to be leveled and re-parceled around western-style four lane roadways on a grid system for cars to participate in revitalization of the area in any meaningful way.

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is right across from Borders, so I'd count it as Downtown Crossing. It's a stop on the Freedom Trail.

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Beacon Hill bring people who spend money into town, like it or not its a historic district and if it looks like thrash people will not come and spend money there.

Your argument is cyclical: if we've spent money fixing up the place, then the argument is that we have to continue putting money only into the nice places (similar to the we've-come-so-far logical fallacy.) Then other parts of the city get ignored until they become so bad that someone finally agrees they need attention. How about we maintain ALL of our city?

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There is a difference between parking issues and free parking issues. Is there anywhere cheaper than $20 for 2 hours? Even if I lived in town with a car Id be better off going to Watertown for big shopping.

Vote me in for the pub options at downtown crossing.

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Beacon Hill is in the middle the busiest part of town and is a qualified historic zone. Also as others have noted that area doesnt use much in the form of resources, and bring more money in in the form of tourism then they expend in the form of maitnence a dollar spent maintaining the area brings that dollar back and then some. Im not saying your shouldnt maintain and fix up poorer areas, but it does make sense to treat those areas frequented by high spending tourists as an investment in its own right because they pay themselves off.

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Before there is a discussion of what to put downtown, I think we need to think about who is there already. Then we can think about who might drop by.

First of all, there are people that live downtown. What do they buy? What would they buy?

Then there are a lot of people who work in the area - probably the biggest group.

Then there are those who commute through the area - what would it take to get them to jump off one train and buy things? What would they buy?

The tourists - same questions

Ditto for students

Teens - is there a way to get some help designing a facility to attract them - a safe place with expectations of behavior that they will still go to? Remember that kids buy clothing and media and phones and often work downtown too.

What about Beacon Hill - would a grocery store draw from there? What do those residents want to buy? What would draw them across the park?

In stead of building luxury housing in hopes that rich people will move downtown and then building luxury shopping for them to luxuriate at, I think the area would be better served and more successful if it were based on the needs of the worker bees and those who live in and nearby already. That would, in turn, draw in those who would take the T to shop but are not wealthy.

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I fully agree, my comment was aimed at an off rant by an off poster.

Unlike other run down areas Downtown is in the middle of the world and just needs a big push. It has students, office workers, local residents of all types, and is near major centers of government. What its lacking is confidence which can be pushed by Boston and the BRA if done right.

It was a success before because of its location, it can be a success again. You just need to be willing to put in what people will use instead of what you want people to use.

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Another great model to follow would be that of the ubiquitous Marks & Spencers in London. A market/food hall on the ground floor with lots of sandwiches/salads/convenience food catering to the workaday crowd and then several floors of retail above.

Agree also that an urban Target would be fantastic! I am carless living in Roslindale. It would make more sense for me to hop on the Orange Line to go to a Target than to take multiple buses to South Bay or Watertown.

I think looking to other cities to see how they use similar urban spaces is key.

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Partly inspired by this thread, I just took a walk to survey the land. What struck me as wrong with the place is that too much of what is there is generic. Why go to Footlocker at Downtown Crossing when there's one near my house? The Army/Navy store, on the other hand, is a real draw for me.

The single greatest feature of the area is that it is proximate to three subway lines and a fairly substantial concentration of people. What makes sense in such a location is unique shopping. Most Boston neighborhoods might not need a diamond district, for example. And I don't think an army/navy store on every corner is needed either. If I were to open a store there, I think I'd go with gourmet/specialty foods, something along the lines of J. Bildner and Sons. Get enough retail of the sort that can only be supported by lots of foot traffic, and it will become a real shopping destination.

What I'm not clear on, is why this hasn't already happened. I reject the notion that unemployed teenagers are the cause of empty storefronts and propose an alternative theory: not enough neighborhood activists. The resident population is mostly high end or transitory. For a neighborhood to work, it needs long term middle class residents who might be interested in opening stores and other small businesses. The luxury residents are already doing something more financially rewarding, so they won't take on the store front issue. And the students lack enough money or long term interest.

A few blocks away, there is a vibrant neighborhood packed with restaurants and stores, and no less crime or loitering. Why does Chinatown work? People who care about Chinatown can afford to live there. Middle income housing would work the same trick for DTX.

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