• doober

    yes there are cranks, however before the crash the proposals from developers eagerly visualized by their unwitting lap dogs tended to be pretty onerous – we didn’t need more oversized commercial space rented out to chain stores, nor do we need this continual march of 2-bedroom, 40-bathroom apartments for incontinent boomers looking to downsize… we need bigger affordable multi-bedroom units for families, small and redundant (and cheap) storefront space – things that actually turn a much smaller profit margin (if any at all). something that most developers won’t do. I do agree that we need more high-rise, though.

    I’m also not sure if moving the comment process online (to something YOU developed, DEAN Thrush – why are you hiding this?) would be helpful, because then people who actually know a thing or two about design could comment anonymously, raising much greater rancor within the already rather political “public” process, and making it even more risky for architects to associate themselves with potentially politically charged projects.

  • Edward

    Oh, Please…

    This is nothing new and opening up the process to a wider public via the web only encourages the pro- and anti- forces to hire/engage/program more of their own shills, human or cyber, to further ‘game’ the system.

    Welcome to America’s 21st Century, where the 1% strategy of minority interests to frustrate the political process has us in stasis while China and India race past us all….

  • shirley_kressel

    To the Editor:

    Professor Thrush’s purpose in writing this article is unclear. One year ago, as he hosted his conference on Boston’s public process, he described it favorably in an interview (http://www.northeastern.edu/news/stories/2011/04/architecture_public_review.html): “…there has evolved a formal process to allow neighbors to be involved in the process that grants approvals to developers for their projects. Cities like Boston form public review panels composed of representative constituent groups before even considering a project for approval. Including the public in the process from the start serves to inoculate the city from excessive public disapproval down the road, and it is much more flexible than zoning.” At the same time, he pointed out the downside of replacing comprehensive, long-term planning and predictable, equitable zoning with project-by-project adversarial engagement: “We tend to respond to private developer proposals, rather than to produce a plan and invest in a desired outcome.”

    As Thrush knows, the response to developer proposals is politically orchestrated. Zoning is kept restrictive to force big developers to do what is necessary to get mayoral blessing. The mayor selects “public review panels” so as to assure approval. The City convenes community meetings; hundreds of community residents (not a few “lonely cranks”) attend, to protest unlawful projects that threaten their quality of life. But whether they protest based on on blind self-interest or informed criteria matters little; lawsuit-proof approval is assured by the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s loophole-riddled zoning code, written, as the permitting department officials put it, to let the BRA “make everything that’s illegal, legal.” Thrush himself has recently benefited from this system, as the mayorally appointed co-chair of the public review panel for the massive new development, approved with just such a zoning finagle, for the Christian Science Center, his employer’s landlord.

    In this article, he chooses to criticize not the City but the citizens, who are abused by this phony “public process.” In this about-turn from his interview opinion, the public process is a handful of purposeless obstructionists who go around the city derailing important projects as a hobby. In fact, as he surely knows, stopping a major project is nearly impossible; three well-known victorious struggles were the Inner Belt Highway, Boston Properties’ proposed five towers next to the Public Garden and Common, and the demolition of historic Fenway Park, all “obstructions” now widely praised. (Columbus Center was not stopped by the thousands of person-hours of public criticism. It was approved for construction; seehttp://www.epsilonassociates.com/site/index.php/view/projects/item/889/category/project/parent/873. It fell apart as its concealed schemes for massive public subsidy collapsed, culminating in a corruption scandal.)

    By defining the problem as “who gets to participate” and “how to teach them what’s good,” he promotes his technological inventions, iPad apps to disseminate models of proposed projects and their impacts and to allow anyone to post a comment. He is not alone in seeking these holy grails; see http://www.theatlanticcities.com/technology/2012/04/see-buildings-impact-3d-its-built/1742/) and http://www.theatlanticcities.com/technology/2012/04/making-game-out-town-hall-meetings/1772/)

    But collecting more, and more informed, opinions won’t solve the underlying problem in Boston and other cities where real estate is the currency of wealth and power, because, as Thrush knows, those making the decisions are not really interested in public input, nor in excellent city and regional development. Professor Thrush’s article evidently intends to justify his academic project of technological democratization of decision-making, but this is a political problem, far more difficult and intractable, and requires a different kind of solution. When we have honest, responsible government, we can have intelligent, impact-based planning and effective, dependable regulation. Then citizens can stop wasting their time at false public meetings, and we can get the wise development we need for a sustainable future.

    Shirley Kressel. MLA, MPH

  • Elizabeth Corkery

    Is there any sort of update regarding the development of the proposed streetscape visualization app from Northeastern?