July 10, 2005

Boston Places, Great & Horrid

It was a beautiful summer Sunday today here in New England, and Boston was swarming with both locals and tourists eager to enjoy the weather. Parks, streets and neighborhoods were packed with pedestrians - in fact, I overheard a tourist nearby comment, "Boston is a walker-friendly city." Indeed!

Yet this is what Boston's City Hall Plaza looked like at lunchtime today:

City Hall Plaza

I've written about this before, but here's proof that the large, sweeping concrete plaza is a poorly designed urban space. It's offputing to pedestrians, and naturally shunned by people even on a day when they crave being out and about.

Problems: not enough landscaping, no sense of enclosure, not human scaled, no so-called "outdoor rooms" carved out of the massive space, and on and on. These are critically important things to keep in mind when designing any space, whether a public plaza or a shopping area.

In contrast, here's what the scene looked like just across the street, in Quincy Market:

Quincy Market

and in nearby Columbus Park:

Columbus Park

I think that's enough bandwidth for one post (sorry, the original files are 2 megabytes; even after cropping and shrinking, the files are still big), but I hope you get the idea. These are spaces that naturally invite people on foot to come enjoy them. Boston Commons is especially such a space (sorry, no photos there today). Those winding paths through the park are more than pleasing to the eye - they and great landscaping help break the park up into many smaller "outdoor rooms," inviting people to share the larger space in smaller units for different purposes, everything from a softball and a playground to simply sitting.

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