Commentaries Real Estate

Why I Won’t Be Submitting a Formal Proposal for City Hall Plaza

Sure. I have some feelings about Boston’s City Hall Plaza. I like parks and I like outdoor activities, concerts and World Cup celebrations. I like a good City celebration as much as the next guy, but I can’t stand City Hall Plaza and I won’t be happy until every square foot from Congress to Cambridge, from the Sears Crescent to the JFK building is ground down to powder to feed concrete for something better.

I walk across the gross expanse of CHP every day, kicking aside syringes and plastic nips. I keep a tally in my head of the familiar faces who wake up there when the weather isn’t sub-arctic and worry about each blanketed soul who claims one of the 50 odd concrete benches as a bed. I count the scofflaw parkers that dot the front of City Hall, and pity each pedestrian who has to dodge broken bricks and standing mud lakes to traverse the bleak tundra to the other side. The common thought is like a tragic breakup: “If I can just get through it.”  And aside from the occupation by the Big Apple Circus, a couple of food fests, an occasional Scooperbowl, and the ongoing construction du jour, neglect is the watchword. That is the reality. Spin it how you will.

More reality… When the plaza was built, Boston was scared. It was losing population quickly. It decided to take some federal money to get rid of the “blight” of Scollay Square at a time when nobody wanted our urban real estate. Buildings were getting hacked down for parking lots and to dodge tax payments. Fast forward 50 years and the value of each foot has bounced back with a vengeance. Everybody wants a part of this city. But we hang on to the half-million square feet City Hall Plaza. At $500 a foot, I am at a loss for words as to why. The Fear must remain, or some twisted nostalgia. Like the city doesn’t want to let go of the remnants of that awful time when people didn’t value it. Personified, the city suffers a crippling insecurity, not knowing how beautiful it can be. It’s holding on to a dated wardrobe and it just doesn’t go with anything. Call the networks – this girl needs a makeover.

And no, contrary to the tone and focus of the Mayor’s RFI, I don’t want to dress it up in green. I don’t want a park there. No amphitheater. No pubic events space. Nothing like the soft BS wish-list we return to again and again. No. I want the whole broken and cursed mess of City Hall Plaza gone. Bulldozed. What I’d want instead? I want to slice it up into small blocks and build a street grid that connects to the world around it. I want to open it all up to closely coached developers. I want to build a new larger, more versatile City Hall higher up the hill. I want to pay for it with the taxes from the new tenants in the new buildings that will be on the extension of Hanover Street, as well as the new (old) streets of Bowker, Cornhill, Marsh, North and a clutch of micro-streets named after the people who got screwed when their homes were taken from them by imminent domain. I’d like us to take an honest look back, to pay homage to the displaced, acknowledging the hasty mistakes we’ve made as a city. I’d build a future in a pedestrian friendly mix of modern businesses and new housing. New design and materials with pre-war density and human scale mixed zoning. In short, build something that works for Our New Boston, without ’60s fear and fatalism. The best of history with the optimism we deserve. A neighborhood built for living, not annual visits from interloping suburbanites. The programming they’d visit can easily be moved to the Greenway, The Common or on the Waterfront.

Events space! Bah. Lets expand the dialogue and talk about bringing what we need to Boston’s City Hall Plaza. We need to bring Boston.

Matt Black lives in Boston’s North End and is the owner of 100K Design.

8 Replies to “Why I Won’t Be Submitting a Formal Proposal for City Hall Plaza

  1. I agree on many levels. Creating a new sub-market of office towers or extending the existing one across the street is a great idea. However I dont remember there being a homeless issue. That’s really one of the big draws to Boston. Maybe it was because I lived in the North End. Ain’t no low-life gonna be walking those streets.

  2. Agree with you on many levels Mr. Black. Heard a rumor last year that one of the applicants for the RFI is actually Ashkenasky Acquisition Corp same folks that are now managing Quincy Market. Seems to me that if changes have to go before the Landmark Commission they will be unanimously approved. On September 2014, the Landmark Commission approved changes to Quincy Market to accommodate Uniqlo, the Japanese retailer which displaced many of the small business pushcarts. As a result of the displacement merchants have seen a decline in sales of 30% or more. In addition with the construction that is now taking place the west end of the market has endured hot temperatures in this past week in which an employee who works for one of the food vendors today passed out from heat stroke. If the vendor is smart they will contact OSHA and tell them what happened to their employee today. Thank you soooo much Landmark Commission for turning your backs on the local vendors and for turning Quincy Market into another mall of America! It’s truly wonderful that you just don’t care about Boston based small business owners. As usual it’s all about the money forget the locals! Right?? It’s really a shame that the majority of the Landmark Commission members don’t speak against the sheep like opinions of other members on the board. You all follow each other and don’t stand against the majority. It’s like watching a really weird version of the Stepford wives when it comes to voting on changes to our great city. This is my humble opinion as a concerned resident of Boston since you didn’t give the pushcart vendors a chance to express their concerns in September 2014 about the changes that were presented to all of you at that meeting which has also made it impossible to meet with Mayor Walsh. I was appalled at your elitist attitude. You all looked down at those vendors as if they didn’t matter and you have proved it! Again thanks for nothing and for homogenizing a beautiful historic landmark! Quincy Market will no longer have the charm of a venue that is occupied by local vendors and actually offers UNIQUE shops and restaurants….but the local vendors don’t matter because they don’t have the deep pockets of huge INTERNATIONAL and NATIONAL retailers that occupy every mall in this country. Go ahead and give the green light for the demolition of the glass greenhouse too so that Sephora yet another chain can occupy that space. Mayor Walsh will love looking out his window at Sephora. Mayor Menino would have NEVER approved!! One more thing I’ve also heard that Paul Barrett a former BRA director has been hired by Ashkenasky to help push permits through for the changes to the marketplace. He needs more income since he owes back taxes!! Shame on you Landmark Commission!

  3. The photo confirms the public’s thoughts as they ‘make their way’ across the unforgiving cement ! The space is a waste of valuable property. No place for towers, however !

  4. Fanuiel Hall has enough chsin stores it’s becoming another Prudential or Copley Mall, the city doesn’t need that. There is no other place in the world like Quincy Market and this management company is trying to ruin it. $$$$$$ is all the see they don’t care about history or the vendors that have business there for generations . They want to but a sephora when for as many years as any of us can remember that was a green house there changes are ridiculous, lucky them for having friends in the landmark committee how many other friends does AAC have at city hall?

  5. I agree with all the comments. Money shouldn’t be the only reason we do things. Some, more important, things take precedence. Quincy Market has been a local family owned market since the early 1800’s. It’s history and charm persist even in the dawn of a new age. If everything “old” is torn up and replaced with new multi-million dollar investors then what do we know of our history? Big conglomerate nameless,faceless enterprises tearing down the small buisines owners has, and should never be the “norm”! Leave something for the people who can’t afford $100 meals and Rolex watches! For the people and by the people ….remember? This, again, is a disgusting representation from our so called leaders in he Mayor’s office. The food vendors in Quincy Market have no leases and are on a 30 day termination. Spread knowledge, spread the word to anyone and everyone who will listen. Help small buisiness and help our local economy by fighting this dreadful atrocity.

  6. Luv luv luv all the comments, especially ones regarding qn.
    Boston should stand up for its history and preservation and stop politicking. Greed never works our and will ruin our great and fantastic city.
    The blc should be more active and conscienscous in their reviews and preserving it’s history. Isn’t that a part of the reason there is such a board. Be proud.
    I live and walk in city and the writer is right, it has become a dirty city.
    What’s going on here? Let’s maintain its deep roots and beauty and stop messing it up.

  7. Faneuil Hall & the 3 long buildings, Quincy Market, North Market and South Market all have a meaningful place in the hearts of Bostonians. I don’t feel the same about City Hall or it’s ugly plaza. I think history needs to be preserved and a quaint marketplace is what Boston expects to see when they visit the marketplace. All this talk about Uniglo and Sephora taking up residency at Faneuil Hall really bothers me. Where is the city and the BRA in these decisions? This property is a landmark and belongs to the people, does it not? It opened in the 70s and has millions of visitors each year. It’s the most beautiful place to see during the Holidays and that time of the year is for the Bostonians to enjoy the market without the crowds. It has a world renowned food hall with seating in a beautiful rotunda space that everyone knows very well. Why mess with success? It could use a facelift but not an entourage of chain stores. I don’t think it is right for an out of state developer to come in and take away what an entire city holds near and dear to them. I recall Mayor Menino referring to Faneuil Hall as his Faneuil Hall in an article years ago, probably because his office overlooked this landmark. Is Mayor Walsh so much for the developer that history and local businesses are not important to him? It will be interesting to see if and when he gets involved in matters of the preservation of these local businesses. I hope the Landmarks Commission does their job and preserves those beautiful buildings and protects the local operators. There are plenty of malls in and around Boston and the country for that matter, but only one Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

  8. What I could NEVER figure out. Boston is a very historic city. The city and some of the surrounding building, area’s, cities and towns are very historic. But the city gave up a beautiful old building ( Old City Hall ) and then built that garage they call City Hall. This is Boston, we’re proud of being old and keeping our old building and parks. It’s been a sore piece the day they built it. And it does not reflect Boston.

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