Corporate Competent Residences Approved on the Greenway

Welcome to 110 Broad Street, where Boston's race toward Anytown USA continues unabated.

Let’s talk about architecture for a minute—specifically, the new apartment building approved by the BRA to go up on the Greenway at 110 Broad Street. First, how wonderful is it that developers are finally building along the edge of this much-vaunted “green spine” (however broken and segmented that spine is)? Yes, people want to live there, and they should—ocean breezes, sunshine, the heart of the city just a few blocks away.

Developing along the Greenway is a brand-new endeavor, though it shouldn’t be. As the elevated highway was being dismantled more than a decade ago, our erstwhile planners should have laid out a plan for the entire area, complete with clear building heights and highly detailed zoning, including specific uses that would unite the Greenway experience. Here was an opportunity to imagine a new Boston in a heretofore dead-zone, one that draws the kinds of people Boston needs—middle-income families whose kids go to public schools, fresh-out-of-college single workers, and those empty-nest exiles from the ‘burbs.

As was typical, the BRA outsourced this vision to various planners including Utile. Now after at least a half-million dollars in BRA planning contracts, we can safely call Utile the official planning arm of the city. It’s still wonder why the city doesn’t have its own planning department equipped to do this kind of work, but that’s a story for another day.

In any case, architects and planners did think long and hard about how the properties along the Greenway could be designed to jumpstart life there. I’m not certain where the vision ended, but I do know what’s not happening.

The plan should have been imagined from the ground up, but specifically, the ground, incorporating plenty of retail and restaurant space. In fact, that entire street-level zone should have been considered one continuous shopping and dining experience, much like the North End, so that people can actually “stroll” along the grand boulevards, ducking in from one small shop to the next. While we’re at it, let’s vary the sizes of those retail ventures—so there’s room for a CVS, but also smaller dry cleaners, bodegas, indie coffee shops and boutiques, and larger ventures. Limiting the size of spaces, and limiting chains a la Nantucket, would transform the Greenway experience from anywhere to somewhere, and provide leasing opportunities for those purveyors who have been priced out of Newbury Street. Heck, let’s even zone outdoor/sidewalk cafe and retail spaces so we can enjoy the summer in style.

Alas, what we have is nothing of the sort. 110 Broad, which takes up two blocks of Greenway frontage, provides 40+ residential units, but has a piddling 3,500 square feet of “commercial” space. I’m not sure what’s going to fit in there—perhaps a Starbucks? Nearly all of the new residents can bring their cars with them, and park them in the 35-car underground garage, so that gets us a lot of residents, plenty more traffic, and no reason for the public to stroll at all.

As for the architecture, it’s what one would expect, the usual glass, brick, and what looks like some stone, maybe metal panels, in what’s appears to be a very tight, flat facade, without much visual interest.

The architecture firm responsible for this—Finegold Alexander—is corporate competent. But they sure do know how to put together sexy renderings. Look at all the people hanging out on the Greenway! Of course, no matter how sexy the renderings, one can’t help but notice that the only food offering in sight is a Panera. I guess corporate bread is a real draw in Boston.

Come winter, there won’t be any reason for people to be outside at all, which is why these rather blank buildings look so buttoned down.

In sum, my kingdom for a real balcony!


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