Commentaries Real Estate

Downtown View: Pots and Kettles

Opposition to Don Chiofaro’s Harbor Garage Project has heated up. But some of it is the pot calling the kettle black. Or people in glass houses throwing stones.

Hypocrisy is addressed in the New Testament. “why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” Apparently humans have exhibited this behavior for a long time.

First it was Harbor Towers. Some residents of the tallest structures currently on the harbor objected to the height of Chiofaro’s buildings. (The rest of us were hoping the proposal’s greater height would draw attention away from those unattractive Pei stacks, making them less prominent.)

Then they complained the proposed project did not have enough open space, that it would block people from the harbor.

Yet Harbor Towers itself has little open space, blocking the public on all sides with solid fences or an iron picket fence barring people from sitting on the grass. The residents of barrier buildings so unwelcoming and so antithetical to the public’s enjoyment of the harbor should reflect upon their own failures before falsely accusing another project of the same.

Aquarium officials are now modeling Harbor Towers’ behavior. Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said the Aquarium is not against the garage’s redevelopment—it just doesn’t favor THIS development.

But that position is hard to square with the Aquarium’s objections. An Aquarium petition asks the public to support “safe and affordable access and where visitors and residents can enjoy open spaces and walk along the water.”

Yet the Aquarium and its IMAX theatre present their own substantial barrier to the harbor. They take little advantage of their waterside location. The main building abuts an unfortunate part of the Harbor Walk, a dreary plaza edged with plastic sheeting, with some seating, tables, utility equipment and unrelenting sun.

An even worse side contains a walkway shrouded by the grim concrete of the Aquarium’s north wall. The least the poorly sited Aquarium could do would be to refrain from criticizing a new development that meets the harbor in a better way.

And that is what Chiofaro’s proposal does. His buildings are only two of three original designs being built or proposed in Boston. (The third is Caesar Pelli’s design for the Government Center Garage.) Boston’s other new buildings are mostly a tired cliché, the flat-topped glass box. The Harbor Garage architects, Kohn Pederson Fox, have proposed a beautiful terra cotta-clad pointy structure that visually slides into its sparkly, pointy-topped lower sibling.

Moreover, at pedestrian level those buildings provide the most imaginative public harbor access of any building in Boston. Chiofaro has proposed a lively walking street with a retractable cover between the two buildings. It is the “Walk to the Sea” that planners have dreamed about for years. Dramatic and beautiful—just what this city needs.

If I were the Aquarium, I’d be anticipating the hordes drawn to Chiofaro’s street and planning how to direct them only a few feet away to the seals and the fishes.

But Aquarium officials don’t see it that way. They say the project’s construction would bother their animals—as would any new project. So how could they support anything that would get rid of the garage?

Both Harbor Towers and the Aquarium have another refrain—they want to pull up the gangplank, rejecting new residents and office workers who will need what they have themselves—room for cars.

The Aquarium spokesman did not like new residents and workers competing with the Aquarium’s visitors, 40 percent of whom come by car. He was critical of the Aquarium’s own Blue Line station, saying the escalators don’t work.

In their opposition, Aquarium officials seem stymied at helping visitors find other ways to get to their door. In a recent analysis, the Aquarium proposed several parking strategies that could serve as points for negotiation.

But that institution should not hold the entire city hostage to its parking needs. Aquarium officials show a lack of imagination and little confidence in solving problems.

Besides, this is a distraction. It’s not only Atlantic Avenue that will see more traffic and compromised parking. Every area around the city’s new development will face the same situation.

Yet we know how to solve traffic and parking problems. We just need the will to bring about solutions.

Copy London’s congestion pricing, vast Underground and plentiful double decker buses arriving within minutes of one another. London is still congested, but all cities are congested. It’s part of the zest. Visit a city that has no congestion, and you’ll be where no one wants to go.

The Aquarium must not know that if the Dukakis-Weld North South Rail Link is achieved, a Central Station would lie within a short walk, bringing suburbanites to the Aquarium’s doorstep.

Boston is not going to stop construction, and that construction will bring more cars, and perhaps some solutions. Instead of bellyaching about a new development that causes fewer problems than their own buildings do, these opponents would do better to find the imagination and will to work with the city to get rid of the blighted garage and address matters that involve no hypocrisy.

Their lives will be better. In the long run, we will all benefit.

Downtown View is a column by newspaperwoman Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times 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. Karen now works from her home in downtown Boston and blogs at Please feel free to leave responses in the comments section below.

19 Replies to “Downtown View: Pots and Kettles

  1. What a fantastic write up. Right on the money. The hypocrisy shown by most of the harbor towers residents and the aquarium management towards this project is absolutely asinine. The city cannot be held hostage by a bunch of residents with a suburbanite mindset who live downtown and refuse to use the available public transport means, and moreover, place a barrier to the harbor in form of their absurd fence. Also, city cannot also be held hostage by aquarium management that have not foresight and display a lack of imaginative and strategic thought process.

  2. Karen, it’s easy for someone who lives in the safe, secure and peaceful 02108 Zip Code to support Chiofaro’s monstrous project which would overwhelm the waterfront with more traffic than it can possibly handle. Have you tried driving down Seaport Boulevard when a convention is in town? The last thing the North End/Waterfront needs is hundreds more cars, buses and trucks clogging our streets.
    This is another one of those mega real estate projects that look great in the architects renderings with flags waving and happy little pedestrians strolling through tree lined mini parks. The reality, however, is; this is a beautiful project in the wrong place.
    Your ideas about congestion pricing and double decker buses are nice but you know they will never happen. I would bet on the Braves returning to Boston before we charge residents for driving in the city.

  3. Nick, you, like the Harbor Tower Association and Aquarium critique but provide no solution to the problem. You say, this is a beautiful project in the wrong place, so where else can it go. Considering that this side of the waterfront is visible to everyone coming from the harbor, this seems like the perfect place to maximize exposure for a beautiful project, which helps to offset the ugly Harbor Towers and the Aquarium. You worry about congestion but these can be remedy in several ways. Did you happen to notice that there are exactly 0 buses that run along the entire length of Atlantic Ave? If traffic is a concern, a bus route running from major points like South Station, along the Greenway connecting Aquarium station and terminating at North Station, would help connect suburbanites from North and South of the city as well as those from East Boston, provide a cheap alternative to the North-South link, and reduce the needs to drive to the Aquarium. Something as simple as that can immensely mitigate any traffic concerns. If people were actually genuine in their effort to work with the developers instead of making flimsy complaints, everything can be easily resolve and the entire neighborhood would reap the benefit.

    1. Kent, thank you for your response but I would like to make two points.

      First, my solution would be to build that project in a part of the city that needs and can accommodate a project of that size. East Boston might be a good place for it, nice water views and right on the Blue line. If that doesn’t work I would suggest Wellesley.

      Second, it’s shameful that a North/South link wasn’t included in the CAT project. Dumping more buses on Atlantic Ave. doesn’t sound like good transportation planning, they would just add to the congestion and generate more pollution.
      Boston has become a playground for suburbanites who come in, use all our resources, pay little or nothing to help maintain the city and run back to their leafy suburbs leaving their trash behind.

      1. Thanks for the response. In response to your post:

        1) These solutions are not possible and would only exacerbate the problem. East Boston has a strict height limit due to the proximity to Logan Airport and building a skyscraper out in Wellesley, where it can’t take advantage of the amenities of it being situated in downtown such as public transportation, restaurants, hotels for clients, etc. As a result, workers and their clients would have to travel to and from the building in Wellesley to for example their hotels in downtown as well as to the airport (for clients) or their home in the city instead of using the T (for workers), thus worsening the traffic problem. The waterfront makes more sense because it’s in the Financial District, where most skyscrapers are located.

        2) It is unfortunate that it wasn’t included in the CAT project but suggesting that dumping more buses on Atlantic Ave will add more congestion isn’t entirely correct. Buses, compared to cars, take less space per rider and by making them more readily accessible in areas of high traffic (i.e. at South Station and North Station), it would reduce the amount of car use and thus reduce congestion.

        Boston has become a playground suburbanites. That’s why it’s imperative that the city continue to densify by building large residential projects and office projects in the city so there’s less distance to travel (and thus less incentive to buy and drive a car) and so more of the people that actually live within the city can take advantage of the amenities than the suburbanites.

  4. Towers on the waterfront, really? Didn’t we learn anything from Harbor Towers? It just doesn’t work.

    Just like International Place, the public space pavilion will be a marble encased atrium where only the ‘right’ people will be allowed to invade the corporate veil of security to protect building occupants.

    And, please don’t put our precious Aquarium at risk. Thank you to their leadership for stepping forward. We all need to protect our Boston landmarks from the greed of developers.

    1. Henrietta. Thanks for mentioning the Aquarium. The aquatic lives are at risk. The noise, the vibrations that these beings will feel will hurt, if not, kill them. This has been brought to the fore time and time again.

  5. This is a note to Nick to clear up where I live. I live in a tenement building on the back of Beacon Hill in 02114. My favorite traffic jam is Cambridge Street. I try never to drive. I’m glad there is a good discussion going.


    1. Nick may have the wrong zip code but he has the right idea. No one is more protective of the quality of life in their neighborhood than the residents of Beacon Hill – and I don’t blame them one bit. However, it is rather disconcerting to hear someone who has benefitted from that vigilance criticizing other neighborhoods which have similar concerns – even if that person lives in a “tenement building” (it would be interesting to see the tax assessment on that one).

      1. Mary. Your comment is uncalled for. Karen brings to light many issues that many are not aware of, and it is unkind to write to her in that tone of voice.

        1. Nick: Mary may be right in her assessment of Beacon Hill’s quality of life, however you missed my point, which is…… why people feel the need for pejorative comments, i.e., sarcasm about Karen’s dwelling place.
          It would be refreshing to read constructive ‘disagreements’ without personal attacks’. Can we avoid siding with people….. Mary is right, John is right, Tonto is right. Are we in grade school?

          1. Jamison, your “uncalled for” is, obviously, not pejorative in your own mind?

            Karen brings a specific zip code and term “tenement building”. Somehow that should make her qualified to discuss the hypocrisy of others, I assume. Or discuss London, for example. How much does Karen know about London and its problems, exactly? More or less than those of North End? Did Karen not write a piece about Cuba a few years ago? That piece has shown the same clear and deep understanding of people’s lives as seen through the window of a tourist bus.

            Please keep your “tone of voice” comments to yourself. Last I checked, we are still in a society where first amendment means something and we are still allowed to call a cattle black as she so eloquently put it. Especially, if we’ve seen more than one cattle and can actually compare.

            1. BTW, to be perfectly clear: I do agree with Karen’s points on the “PEI stacks”, I see them from my windows every day and walk by almost every day. I also agree that the “open spaces” around Aquarium leave a lot to be desired, especially when the East side gets closed for tent events.

              But building towers to resolve this situation? Has karen try to drive down Surface Road or Atlantic Avenue in the afternoon? How would adding 500 or so offices that let their people out all at once at 5PM enhance that situation? Oh, wait, but the towers would look so pretty on the postcards from Boston. As long as they are “not in my neighborhood”?

  6. I agree with Mary. Buildings like what Mr. Chiofaro is proposing would never be allowed on Cambridge or Charles Streets.
    Why is it always the North End that bears the brunt of megalomaniacal, my tower is bigger than your tower, developers?
    On the other hand it’s nice seeing BRA staffers writing in to this web site. Things must be quiet up on the eleventh floor.

  7. I think the major objection that the residents at Harbor Towers have is, after having to endure the seeming endless Big Dig project, here comes another huge project. This is bit a green field project, but will be conducted in the middle of what is now a residential neighborhood. The Big Dig came with a major impact to the neighboring residents and businesses. I can’t blame them for feeling that this is another impact to their lives. And less face it, let’s just say that the time frames are optimistic (who sees a Boston construction project come in on time?). It’s a big project and it will have an impact on its neighbors. Who can predict how bad it will be, before it will be better. The designs show finished project, doesn’t show the stages in between.

  8. Nick Dello Russo understands the issues of the current density of the 24/7/365 life on Atlantic Ave/Milk St./India St./ Commercial St./ Surface Rd. Sadly, few that brave the morning drive time commute, to surface out of the O’Neill Tunnels and find refuge for their day, must then dread the mass escape that begins at 3:00PM the may last well past seven at night as stall and crawl traffic. Add to the craziness the Beantown Trollies, Duckboats, Two-deckers buses with tourists, and the Segway tours of ten in a row. Oh yes, and the hospital route for the countless ambulances on Atlantic Ave. and their countless maneuvering in this “gridlock” is currently a great hazard to life. Add in the Summer/Fall weekend craft fairs on the Greenway, the Chinese tour groups to the Harbor Cruises and their Tour buses double parked by the dozens, that all make sidewalks unbearable. Fortunately, our city’s penguins and seals can find a little refuge in their little pools.

  9. It appears that Karen Cord Taylor has gone rogue again. Her shilling for the Olympics was bad enough. But now she thinks she’s going to win her argument by pitting Mr. Chiofaro’s project vs the Aquarium? I’d love to see a city-wide referendum on that one. And the people at Harbor Towers have done no wrong. They merely live there. They didn’t build it. The City encouraged the towers be built there in the late ’60’s because the waterfront was dead and it felt, correctly, that lots of people living there would create a renaissance. The Aquarium was built there around the same time for a similar reason.

    And speaking of “sitting on grass” there happens to be a little green spot in front of the proposed towers called the Greenway. Taxpayers have paid millions of dollars to create it and the Greenway Conservancy is doing a good job in getting people to use it. These huge proposed towers would create shadow wind and cold even in the few months that Bostonians have to use the park. The Dukakis-Weld proposal is a red herring. Taxpayers will not be undertaking another 10 figure project that ends up costing 11 figures. The garage doesn’t look blighted to me. But if it is, then Mr. Chiofaro should rehab it considering what he charges to park there. And perhaps he can re-site the towers to Beacon Hill, where the only park to blight would be the veddy private Louisburg Square. And Karen could get a much closer view of those pointy beauties.

    1. ********Freedom of Speech does NOT mean that a person can say whatever they want to say. Freedom of Speech means that someone’s right to say something is protected within certain limits. A person may have to suffer consequences for saying some things, but they still have the right to say them. How does a person suffer consequences for saying some things?
      By being viewed as insensitive…..harsh. Sensitivity is from the heart and soul and serves as a backdrop to our expressing our opinions.

      1. Jamison, I think you need to reread Ms. Cord Taylor’s piece, particularly the second paragraph with its biblical admonition to all of us hypocrites who do not support Mr. Chiofaro’s proposal. (I guess we did not realize that he is doing the Lord’s work.) Pretty strong stuff – kind of like yelling “fire” on a crowded Atlantic Avenue (to continue in a First Amendment vein). It is not surprising that it provoked an intense reaction. And, as has been noted, it is not the first time that the author has preached down to us North End/Waterfront naifs when we have reacted with little enthusiasm to yet another overblown proposal. So, who is actually being harsh and insensitive here?

Comments are closed.