The City of Boston is conducting a comprehensive study of the Downtown area, called PLAN: Downtown. The goal is stated as, “Building on past studies, the primary goal of the study will be to develop a new framework for the preservation, enhancement, and growth of the Downtown area of the City of Boston, while balancing the importance of livability, daylight, walkability, climate change, access to open space, affordability, and a dynamic mix of uses, among others.” The City released a Request For Proposals in 2018 for teams to conduct the study and after reviewing nine responses, selected NBBJ who is partnering with Arup, Nitsch, Boston Conservation Associates, and others to complete the study. A preliminary map of the study area has been presented and is attached below. An Advisory Committee of residents and members of the public is being formed. Final recommendations and the study’s completion is anticipated in the spring of 2020. The recommendations are intended to result in permanent zoning changes, but that is not a requirement of this study.
Planning for the downtown area is a result of mitigation efforts for the Winthrop Square tower project, which will itself have significant impacts on this diverse neighborhood. The Alliance strongly urged the City to undertake a comprehensive planning process during the Winthrop Square mitigation discussion. We then joined our partners at Friends of the Public Garden and Downtown Boston BID to form the Downtown Plan Advocacy Coalition and cooperatively we provided guidance to the City about the boundary of the study, what should be considered, and the priorities of those represented by each of our advocacy organizations. The Alliance is pleased that this planning initiative is moving forward and we will provide feedback throughout the process.
Highlights from our Activity Log:
• March 7, 2019
Alliance staff attends the first Advisory Group (AG) meeting. Information is presented by planning staff at the BPDA about the timeline of the study and expectations of the group. Members of the AG expresses concerns about the final product (guidelines or zoning for downtown) having enough “teeth” to be worthwhile. The Alliance is helping the study team determine which aspects of the boundary area are historically significant.
• February 19, 2019
Staff attends a Preservation Round Table discussion with NBBJ (project managers) and other preservation professionals. The discussion revolves largely around the diverse nature of historic resources in the study area and how to best identify and plan for the preservation of those resources, which include buildings, streetscapes, viewsheds, open space, monuments and markers, paving and materials, etc. The group discusses ways to bring attention to these resources such as signage, public art, or technology. A need is expressed to connect the “character corridors” or sub-districts through hardscape, signage, lighting, etc. It was made clear that protecting the historic character of downtown is about more than protecting just the “historic” buildings but the sense of place throughout the district as defined by a collection of influences including businesses and cultural activities. Alliance staff agreed to help identify the unique qualities that create the sense of place in the study area.
• December 13, 2018
The Boston Guardian publishes an article about the planning initiative. In the article, long-time Alliance Board member Beatrice Nessen is quoted, “I think development is exciting and necessary but what makes Boston special is its historic character and quality walking experience… all of that can be lost with development on a case by case basis. Unless you have a regulatory way to implement what’s coming out of here, it won’t amount to much.” Beatrice also said that she wants to see Washington Street retain its historic properties and to protect the Common, and that new rules need to have teeth to prevent individual projects from affecting the area. The full article is attached below.
• December 3, 2018
The first Open House and Information Session is hosted by planning and urban design staff at the Boston Planning and Development Agency. Alliance staff attends and provides feedback on the public boards and displays. Materials from that meeting can be found here.