Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Looking to the Skies: Boston's Future

If people want big success, they need to think big. 1,000 feet high and 80 stories is pretty big. A new signature skyscraper is being proposed for Downtown Boston. Yes, why do we need another giant behemoth? What purpose could it possibly serve, other than stifling wind and casting giant shadows across the city? Mayor Mumbles Menino had a few, strong words on the project...

In his speech at the annual meeting of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, Menino said the city's immediate priorities are addressing increasing crime, meeting the challenges of rising costs, and staying competitive in a world economy where Boston is less insulated than ever from global challenges.

But a new signature tower would show confidence about overcoming those obstacles, Menino said, serving as ''a stunning statement of our belief in Boston's bright future."

He's absolutely right. Screw the wind and the shadow, right now what Greater Boston needs is to think big. What Boston needs is a little hope. Hope often comes in the form of symbols - such as two prongs sticking 1,000 feet into the sky.

Massachusetts has been through more than five years of stagnation: costs have risen, but the average person's salary hasn't kept apace. While Kerry Healey and Deval Patrick have sparred over jobs and housing costs, the enthymeme of their discourse has been the lack of serious development in the Boston market. People are being driven out of the state because there just aren't enough jobs - and one of the main reasons is the lack of real estate being created.

If there is any surefire way of depressing what little positive growth Boston and Massachusetts has seen, it's this quote from the aforementioned Globe article:

The office market is improving in Boston and the surrounding area after a difficult few years, and suddenly there is talk in the Boston real estate community of a new office tower, or even two. Two buildings already permitted and in design are located at Russia Wharf and on Fan Pier. But those are in the range of 30 floors or smaller, like most of Boston's recent buildings.

It's hard to attract jobs to Greater Boston if there just aren't enough cubicles. While there's no way I could ever find the link at this point, I remember reading an interesting Globe article some months ago about the real estate market. One of the major reasons why the real estate market has been poised for a collapse is the lack of development in Massachusetts, especially Greater Boston. While common sense would indicate that prices should rise if there's less development, the opposite is actually true: if there isn't enough development to keep up with the housing demand, prices may rise initially, but people get discouraged and in large spurts leave the area altogether - then the market collapses. What if businesses get scared off too? However, it may not even matter if there aren't enough cubicles to begin with.

There are other, less pragmatic reasons to favor a new signature skyscraper in Boston. Mainly, a well-built skyscraper is an architectural and engineering achievement. Skyscrapers can be, in and of themselves, artistic achievements. Like Mumbles Mayor Menino has already alluded to, a new skyscraper in Boston would be a stunning symbol of pride for the city. While some say such symbolism is more sententious than realistic, what could be more important to Boston than a powerful symbol? Boston's greatness stems largely from symbolism - from our symbol as being the "Athens of America," and from our historical significance. Our economic might success has relied on being able to change with the times and bolster several new industries in the city, but without Boston's important symbolism would any of that happened? Need answers? Just look at other big cities, like Pittsburgh or Detroit.

Now, Greater Boston's largest companies are getting scooped up. Gillette's gone. Bank of America is gone. Heck, Dunkin Donuts was bought out and John Hancock has ceased to be a Boston company. What's next? The New York Red Sox? The fact is Boston needs something to provide a little hope - we need something to show us that we're going in the right direction. In today's economy, there isn't any better direction than up. It's time we joined the ranks of Dubai, Shanghia, Shenzhen and Pyongyang - among other cities in third world countries - in having a skyscraper that's at least 1,000 feet in the air.

Plus, skyscrapers are cool - and big!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i think they should put the tower up. i think boston needs more 24 hour restaurants and transportation. this city is as expensive to live in as new york but you get none of the return. housing costs should come down and that would be possible if more people were employed and not working the system. up with as many giant buildings as possible! mike south end resident who cant afford to live in the neigborhood he serves (a public health worker)

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