10 October 2009

Gritty, Glistening, & Bustling

With Filene's and more significantly, Filene's Basement, shuttered and a giant crater occupying much of the former store site (the Historic and best bits remain) Bostonian's might note that Downtown Crossing seems to have seen better days. In fact a great deal of other area properties are either vacant or under construction. Yet, Downtown Crossing on any given day (week or weekend) is a bustle. There are streetcar vendors, random street performers and people of just about every walk of life imaginable.Though much-maligned, there are also a great deal of (re-)development projects planned and underway.

Despite the current and recent conditions both economic and development related, Downtown Crossing remains true to its namesake. It also remains one of the most successful nearly all-pedestrian environments in urban America. The reason? Good bones. It really is that simple.

In the case of geography and placemaking, good bones can be seen as transit, roads, and other elements of the built environment. Downtown Crossing has the best of all of this. All five of the MBTA urban transit lines converge on/around the Downtown Crossing area. South Station and the emerging South Boston waterfront area; next door. Boston Common and the Public Garden is but a block away. The Financial District is; well right there. Emerson College and Suffolk University are right in the neighborhood. Tufts New England Medical Center is next door. Beacon Hill; across the way. Government Center; next door. The Theater District (and the 19 screen Boston Common Cinemas); right in the neighborhood. That doesn't include any of the data and such of course...

The neighborhood just plain has good bones (you can see some data here); density, parks, transit, wide-range of uses that brings activity to every hour of the day. So, current conditions may feel a bit dower, but one thing seems completely certain to Urban Mechanic. Downtown Crossing will remain vibrant, hopefully always a bit gritty, definitively urban and uniquely; Boston.


  1. All your plusses can be summarized by saying that Downtown Crossing is in the middle of downtown. The virtues of the site itself is another matter entirely. A cart with tee-shirts for sale isn't exactly something to rave about, is it? Since traffic was blocked from the streets, the only people who have made Downtown Crossing a destination is schoolkids - not exactly what was planned. In fact, the location has been a failure from Day 1. A pedestrian mall would have worked somewhere like Newbury street. At Washington street, the concept was and is out of place. The only ones who love DC now are kids with too much time on their hands and the anti-car kooks. The kids have no power, but the anti-car loonies can never admit they were wrong, so poor Washington street remains a permenant failure.

  2. I don't like the idea of coming off as a naysayer to contributions here, but I also want to engage ideas when I feel it worth it...

    First, Downtown Crossing is NOT anything like Detroit. HAVE YOU (Not Whitey Bulger) BEEN TO DETROIT? I been to Detroit dozens of times. Years ago, as an upperclassman planning student, I would ritualistically take the first year students to Detroit. My thinking is that anyone who wanted to be a "planner" should the see the Hell that has been created in that city.

    There is no part of downtown Detroit that has the infrastructure or vitality of Downtown Crossing. The comparison might be one of metaphor, but its a poor and wildly inaccurate choice to say the least. One so much so that I will be sure to make an exhaustive comparison of in the future to set the record straight.

    Finally, my post wasn't trying to gloss over the problems with downtown crossing. They are there aplenty, but the place thrives. AND YES< it is gritty, it does actually light-up quite well at night, and it is almost always bustling. Reality to me says that all things don't just come together or come back together over night. Either way, the point of the post is that Downtown Crossing, will survive whether it takes another couple years or a decade; and with or without the naysayers.