The following SAND Comments were distributed and discussed at a presentation by the BRA of its South Boston Seaport Master Plan, held at the Children's Museum on January 20, 1998. This was the first public meeting held by the BRA to introduce its plan to the Fort Point Channel community. The meeting's sponsor, The Fort Point Channel Artists Cooperative (FPAC), invited SAND to present its viewpoint on the BRA proposal.
The South Boston Seaport Master Plan overview was introduced by BRA Director Thomas N. O'Brien. Approximately 200 members of the Fort Point community and greater Boston were in attendance.
[NOTE for year 2000 readers: This presentation occured two months after the BRA's publication of a "DRAFT South Boston Seaport Master Plan" in November 1997. Between November 1997 and March 1999, this DRAFT plan evolved into the document known today as the "South Boston Seaport Public Realm Plan". In the comments below, references to "Master Plan" are referring to the original DRAFT report, not the South Boston Seaport Public Realm Plan.]
Seaport Alliance for a Neighborhood Design (SAND)
Comments on the BRA Boston Seaport Master Plan
SAND represents local residents, business owners, artists and architects, members of the Fort Point Arts Community, cultural institutions, community groups, and concerned individuals with a mandate to positively modify the Boston Redevelopment Authority's proposed South Boston Seaport Master Plan, incorporating a vision of the seaport neighborhood as a vibrant diverse community with a distinctive character and sense of place.
After careful review of the South Boston Seaport Master Plan, we find that it is fundamentally flawed - failing to fulfill its task as an unprecedented opportunity to design one of the most important remaining undeveloped districts in the country, Boston's historic seaport. We agree with Robert Campbell's statement in the Boston Globe that "Although the city supposedly has been working on a plan for this area for almost a decade, the results show every sign of having been rushed out under pressure." We expect this Seaport Master Plan to be much more than a collection of large scale development projects.
These are our major concerns with the plan:
1. Lack of vision: the BRA plan presents a vision of an anonymous city foreign to the character of Boston and this historic district.
2. The plan must embrace urban design principles, such as:
- a coherent system of open spaces
- landmarks, which assist orientation
- complete paths system to connect neighborhoods and activities
- intersections or nodes, organically derived from the community
- distinctive centers within each district
- unique area with a maritime character
3. The BRA plan places an emphasis on the immediate waterfront edge, whereas a seaport master plan should identify and promote an awareness of the entire neighborhood as a historic seaport.
4. The BRA plan misses the opportunity to contribute positively to the skyline of the city. A seaport plan should create a coherent mix of compelling architecture and open views to the horizon. Building heights should be appropriately scaled to the area, and reflect the seaport character.
5. The plan's transportation infrastructure is driven by development. The seaport master plan must first plan its infrastructure and transportation network.
6. The plan does not include a volumetric analysis. There is no discussion of floor area ratios (FAR) or zoning for planned development areas (PDA). PDA designations are provided arbitrarily in exchange for unknown benefits. PDA designations should be part of the comprehensive plan, with stated allowances for height and other parameters. Benefits and linkages to outlying neighborhoods should be explicitly stated before development rights are granted.
7. The land/water relationship between Boston Harbor and the proposed seaport district is inadequate and fails to ensure an active waterfront. The proposed harborwalk may be shaded from sunlight due to its northern orientation, and will require extensive setbacks.
8. A healthy mix of uses must be a primary goal of the plan, allowing for organic development of the seaport neighborhood as a key to its success.
9. The BRA plan lacks significant residential community development, essential for the creation of a safe and active neighborhood.
10. The plan lacks accomodation for mixed income artist live/work spaces, a proven engine for urban revitalization of neighborhoods in cities like Providence, San Francisco, and Chicago. The Fort Point Arts Community (FPAC), the largest community of visual artists in New England, must be consulted in the effort to create a distinctive district with enormous cultural potential.
11. The plan, in addition to generating short term construction jobs, must create a spectrum of permanent initiatives, including high wage and skilled jobs, job training, educational and social services, which will directly benefit the economy and labor force of South Boston.
12. A comprehensive parking plan must include a high proportion of on-street residential parking. The district must be able to contend with the existing downtown parking demands and the load anticipated from new development.
13. The proposed "Open Space System" is not a system - it completely ignores South Boston's existing open spaces, from Castle Island to the Flaherty Playground, and makes no attempt to incorporate them in the plan.
14. The plan does not distinguish between "open space," sidewalks, greenspace, parks, and parking lots. Open space must be recreational space. The plan uses the color green indiscriminately and deceptively.
15. Sunlight and wind studies are absent from the seaport plan. These should be considered in all development proposals in regard to streetscapes and open spaces.
16. A significant percentage of of the Boston Seaport district should be set aside as a signature green space, adjacent and complementary to the Harborwalk.
17. The Harborwalk must be continuous and accessible. Development along the Harborwalk must conform to all Chapter 91 regulations.
18. The plan should include a park for the Fort Point Channel neighborhood, integrated into a comprehensive green space system linking this historic district to the seaport.
19. The plan's single attempt to create a landmark space is the plaza at the intersection of Northern Avenue and the West Service Road. This incongruous form exemplifies a lack of placemaking throughout the remainder of the district. We expect that the the central gathering place for the seaport community should be more than a half-rotary for vehicles with a fountain in the middle. Summer Street and the Convention Center
20. The pedestrian potential of Summer Street has been grossly miscalculated. Summer Street is a major connecting link from the heart of Boston to the shores of South Boston. It has the potential to be a key part of an open space system, linking several residential, historic and commercial neighborhoods. With the Boston Convention Center as its midpoint, Summer Street could function as a processional way similar to Commonwealth Avenue.
21. The plan presents its back to South Boston, with the convention center acting as a barrier between this community and its waterfront.
22. The proposed design for the Boston Convention Center repeats forseeable problems evident in the design of similar convention centers and disrupts the urban fabric. The structure's isolation, size, mass, disregard for pedestrians and accomodations for truck traffic are incompletely conceived in relation to its surroundings. Personal safety around such centers can be ensured only by incorporation of vibrant street-level activities.
23. The BRA has argued that it has limited rights to govern private parcels, ceding these rights to private interests with limited regard for public involvement. Local and state government must empower the BRA to exert management control over development. All development plans - including those of Pritzker, McCourt, Boston Wharf, MASSPORT, GSA and the United States Post Office - must conform to the Boston Seaport Master Plan. The BRA must insist on the primacy of the public realm over private interests.
24. Although the plan is titled the "South Boston Seaport," it focuses primarily on the needs of a planned hotel and office tower zone within the inner harbor district while ignoring the abutting neighborhoods of South Boston. (See streetscape on page 24 of Master Plan).
25. The final BRA seaport plan should be the result of a community driven process.
To engage the community as full participants in all ongoing activities, we preliminarily request that the BRA provide SAND the following:
- A regular newsletter with the status of the plan.
- A schedule of future events, including upcoming approval dates for development plans.
- An opportunity for the community to review these development plans.
- A rotating public exhibition of the Boston Seaport working model and related plans. Exhibition sites should include the FPAC gallery at 300 Summer St. and the South Boston Public Library.
- Access to all studies and reports used to prepare the BRA interim report and future plans, such as transportation studies, environmental impact report, etc.
- A timely written response to SAND's concerns, itemized in this document.
SAND is in the process of preparing an in-depth response to the BRA's Boston Seaport Master Plan which will include concrete proposals of items and ideas we would like to see included in the plan.