Commentaries Real Estate

Downtown View: No Room at the Inn That is Boston

What about that royal baby? I’m sure I speak for all of downtown Boston when I say we’re over the moon with joy. I’m hoping he or she looks more like Kate than Will. And one wonders, if the future monarch of Great Britain can now be the heir-to-the-throne’s first-born girl, why can’t a lowly bishop in the Church of England be a girl? Let’s hope the Anglicans get that sorted out tout suite.

Meanwhile, let’s forget women and concentrate on that baby. Isn’t it grand that the prospect of a new baby makes people so happy? Look at Christmas—hoopla around a baby. That baby doesn’t have to be royal or holy. It can be yours, or your friend’s. Babies just make people happy. Children make people happy. There is nothing better to brighten a day than to see the nursery school kids holding hands walking to the playground, or watch a 12-year-old trying out her new skates on the Frog Pond, or listen to a wide-eyed 8-year-old cheer at his first Celtics game.

In fact, making sure children live in a city ought to be the first job of any mayor. Without kids, a city becomes a toxic battleground of old folks who want quiet and young professionals who have the time and energy to party all night. Children keep the city sane and quietly entertained. Providing space for kids is a city service just as much as cleaning the streets or picking up the trash.

But downtown Boston has a kid problem. The numbers show it. Kids are born here, live here until they’re 3 or 4 years old, and then they disappear to the kid-friendly ‘burbs.

So what’s keeping Boston from keeping the kids? I could mention the schools, but I’ll save that for later.

It’s also housing. Just take a look at the Seaport/Innovation District—one- and two-bedroom apartments so far, with everyone touting 300-square foot “micro” apartments. With such living quarters, here’s the scenario: Live there until the baby, royal or not, arrives, and then hightail it to the auto-dependent suburbs. Where’s the room for families?

Let’s look at sample projects all over the city. The old Renaissance School building between the Back Bay and Bay Village? “Alcove” studio apartments and one- and two-bedrooms. A small project at 360 West Second Street in the South Boston? One- and two-bedroom units. The Victor, now under construction in the Bulfinch Triangle, at least has two-bedroom units with a den. The state’s favored design for Parcel 9 near Faneuil Hall Marketplace and the Greenway includes only one- and two-bedroom apartments. The developer said at a public meeting that’s what you are supposed to build in Boston.

Who said?

Last spring, Randi Lothrop, the BRA’s deputy director for planning, said providing for children in the city has always been a priority of the mayor.

It is hard to see the evidence for that in downtown neighborhoods, even though the census shows a substantial increase in the child population. Instead we’re pushing kids out.

It is only in the excessively expensive projects that more than two bedrooms get built. The replacement for the garage on the first block of Newbury Street? Five bedrooms. Wonderful room for families, and right near the swan boats. Except for one thing. The price is almost 8 million dollars.

Millennium Place, now under construction in the Ladder District, is more affordable. A three-bedroom condominium will set you back only by about 3 million dollars. Now we’re talking.

Cities like Boston are expensive to build in and expensive to live in. That’s pretty obvious. The only way families, even the wealthier ones, can get a home in the city is to buy a tumble-down building or an old condo and fix it up. Thank goodness that technique isn’t hampered by city policies. But in new projects that have to go through layers of approval, forget families.

State leaders are no better at building housing for families than city leaders are. Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary of housing and community development, announced a few weeks ago an initiative to build 10,000 more units of housing around transit hubs and commercial centers annually in the next eight years. He said while he would like communities to build housing for families, there was no additional incentive for them to do so.

It’s understandable why there is a focus on one- and two-bedroom units. The census shows the population of single people is growing while family size is shrinking. But that doesn’t mean families are going away completely, and it would be nice if they had other options than a house in the suburbs.

If developers were required to build a few family-size apartments, there is no guarantee that families would live in them. A single person or a couple might simply want more space.

But without a requirement to fit in even a few three- and four-bedroom units in condo and apartment projects, the city is telling families “we like you here when you’re the age of the royal baby, i.e. minus 8 months. But once you’re 3 or 4, honey, you’d should head to Needham.”

Leaving the rest of us living in an old folks’ home with some “young professionals” and Suffolk students mixed in.

Downtown View is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at

One Reply to “Downtown View: No Room at the Inn That is Boston

  1. The title of this article should be “No Room in Boston for Karen Cord Taylor”. Her Downtown View of Boston is the most inaccurate account of what really is happening in Boston with regards to keeping young families in the city. If she took the time to check her facts she would have found out that the Mayor, city planners and developers are doing plenty to build “three bedroom” units for young families who choose to stay in the city. She mentions Millennium Place where you need to spend $3million for 3 bedrooms. Would she be surprised to know that their are 65 three bedroom units available starting at $1,245,000-$1,915,000. With this kind of negative reporting about Boston maybe it’s time for this reporter to make her exodus out of the city.

    Cecily Foster

Comments are closed.