February 28, 2011

Boston group to invigorate the Common

Great news in today's Boston Globe about a plan to rejuvenate a portion of Boston Common.

In addition to important cosmetic changes such as repairing concrete and planting trees, there are plans for patio tables & chairs; a piano keyboard for lunchtime music; "reading room" with magazines, newspapers and books; chessboard & checkerboard rental and, in a nod to the 21st century, free Wi-fi.

"It's going to be like a Parisian park," Elizabeth Vizza with Friends of the Public Garden told the Globe.

It is heartening to see some serious attention being paid to upgrade a public space, especially in a time when spending on public anything is being slashed. Public spaces such as the Common and Public Garden are the heart and soul of a city. Attracting people to use them brings not only life, but a feeling of safety, to urban spaces. It improves the quality of life for people living and working nearby, as well as the overall appeal of a place. If you think about the neighborhoods that people most want to visit in Boston - Back Bay, Beacon Hill, the North End -- they tend to be not only attractive, but pedestrian-friendly with highly inviting streetscapes.

I'm just back from a trip to Raleigh, North Carolina. In downtown Raleigh, one main street leading to the capitol building, Fayetteville Street, was walker-friendly, with outdoor tables & chairs, lights on the trees, a reasonable streetscape, and restaurants. The ambiance clearly said "we expect people to be walking here." And they did. However, nearby streets radiated all the things that make a walker naturally uncomfortable: streets that were too wide with buildings that were either set back too far or had no windows looking out, depriving pedestrians of the "sense of enclosure" we naturally crave. Not surprisingly, most of them were nearly deserted of foot traffic, even on a sunny, 74-degree March day. I'd guess the retail rents were higher on Fayetteville Street than nearby.

In any case, I'm looking forward to the new Boston Common, giving the city another appealing outdoor destination to enjoy when the weather gets nice.

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