SHIFTboston + The Greenway Dilemma


The Boston Society of Architects has announced a new design/ideas competition – entitled SHIFTboston – calling on participants to answer a deceivingly simple question: What if this could happen in Boston [‘this’ being your submission]. SHIFT is looking for the most radical ideas that could change Boston for the better, and create a more dynamic city. The winner will receive $1,000.00 – and, along with honored runners-up, will be exhibited across the city and as part of the SHIFTboston forum [which I believe has something to do with an exhibit at Boston’s ICA, which would be cool if true].

Long story short – here’s your chance to put your money design where your mouth is and propose your vision for a better Beantown. Personally, I’m feeling some pressure from my ego to enter – as I talk so much shit around here…

Overview of the Competition Brief

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA


The SHIFTboston Ideas Competition 2009 is calling on all innovators to submit the most provocative ideas for the City of Boston. SHIFT would like competitors to think: WHAT IF this could happen in Boston?

SHIFT seeks to collect visions that aim to enhance and electrify the urban experience in Boston. Innovative, radical ideas for new city elements such as public art, landscape, architecture, urban intervention and transportation. Competitors could explore topics such as the future city, energy efficiency and ecological urbanism.

Submissions are due on December 11th, and require a $35 entry fee [pretty cheap, if you ask me].

Now, to piggy-back on to this topic of improving the Hub – why isn’t the Rose Kennedy Greenway a runaway success? The Boston Globe raises the question today, to which I’d like to respond with another question: why should it be?

Diagrammatically, the Greenway is little more than a green roof over the now subterranean expressway [as the Globe points out] – and in reality, the park does little to shake this fact. For those of you not familiar with the project, the Greenway is a narrow band of green surrounded by traffic [I’d estimate that if you combined the roads on either side of the Greenway, then they would be wider than the park itself]. There is little protection from the elements, and nearly no ‘privacy’ from passing traffic. Having lunch on many parts [not all] of the Greenway is like eating on a traffic island.

Now, all of this criticism is incredibly unfair. Local firms are still in the process of designing structures for the Greenway, and the trees and other vegetation haven’t had adequate time to fill in and create a sense of ‘place’ and ‘park’. I’m sure in another 5 years or so it will be a much different, and more successful, place.

BUT, with that said – does Boston need another un-programmed park? The Boston Common is less than a 10 minute walk away, with the Public Gardens just past that. Within the Common and Gardens you nearly have the sense of leaving the city amongst the towering trees and hilled landscape – like a mini Central Park. If you’d prefer something along the water, try the Esplanade – where there is a continuous park along the Charles River, reached by pedestrian bridges to avoid getting run-down by a Masshole. If you need more than that, there’s Commonwealth Ave down to the Fens, into Jamaica Pond and eventually the Arboretum – Boston’s ‘Emerald Necklace‘. Then drop on top of all that the unique neighborhood parks – Pope John Paul park is less than a 10 minute walk from my apartment, and provides a number of beautiful spaces along the Neponset River.

Basically, we’ve got parks and open space – ‘more’ isn’t better. Other than providing a place for workers to eat outside on nice days and a brief patch of green for tourists to walk through on their way from the Aquarium to Faneuil Hall, what is the function of the greenway? Who is it meant to attract? What happens there?

For any of you interested in the SHIFTboston competition, I’d suggest looking at the Greenway as a way to transform the city. Open space in Downtown Boston is a rare thing, and the Greenway could be put to better / more interesting + dynamic use.

Posted: October 2nd, 2009
at 10:41am by orangemenace

Tagged with , , , , ,

Categories: architecture,urban/master planning,competitions

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