Saturday, December 01, 2012

Ground Floor Retail in Boston

Boston Magazine writer Paul McMorrow has an interesting article on the design of the financial district called The Empty Quarter.  It looks at how the design and planning of the financial district has caused it's recent emptying out.  I think it's relevant to Fort Pointers, given developers here have been pushing to have projects which follow the same pattern McMorrow argues caused the current emptiness of the financial district:

In other words, no one back then was worrying about what it was like to walk the city blocks, or whether there were enough first-floor retail spaces to engage the people who worked above. As a result, Financial District towers have huge empty lobbies and no amenities. Without life at the pedestrian level, these behemoths turn a cold, blank face to the neighboring sidewalks, making the prospect of walking among them a miserable experience. That fact goes a long way toward explaining why chicken-salad shops and falafel stands are the only food offerings here—workers just grab a sandwich and then run back inside.

The banks that built the Financial District abandoned it long ago, taking their lower-level office jobs with them to the suburbs, or even overseas. The knowledge industries that have replaced finance as the city’s main economic driver depend on attracting young, mobile, urban-minded workers. And that has put the Financial District at a competitive disadvantage when companies look for office space in Boston.

Why should we care? Cities feed off vibrant downtowns, and cities that matter have downtowns that matter. Downtown rot metastasizes: Whether it’s in Detroit or the blocks around the pit that was once Filene’s, dark, dysfunctional blocks chase pedestrians away, driving businesses out in the process. Blight spreads, while money chases money. That’s why Kevin White poured his energies into raising the Financial District’s office towers, and why the mess on the former Filene’s site on Washington Street generated howls from Charlestown to Mattapan. A city can’t claim to be world class if it’s hollow at the core.


Read the full article here:

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