Sunday, May 06, 2007

I Sense Some Hypocrisy: Tall Here, Not Tall There

Mayor Menino isn't in favor of a new proposed 29-story building, abutting China Town. How's this for logic? First, he says he would support the project if it were an 18-20 story building. Well, what the hell is the difference between 20 and 28? Both are fracking tall. Does he really think that 8 stories is going to appease residents of the area - afraid that a tall building will ruin Chinatown's character? Meanwhile, there's a 37 story building across the street from the proposed site.

However, the hypocrisy really comes into play when one factors in one of Menino's pet projects, Boston's first 1,000 foot tower. While Menino's tower is in a different part of the city, 1,000 feet into the sky is so much taller than the surrounding buildings that anyone could make the same complaint.

Boston is at a cross roads. There isn't any room to develop horizontally; we're just out of that kind of space. However, development is key to maintaining a city's success. The city's colleges and hospitals can't keep their edge if they have to keep scaling back all their projects. To maintain interest in businesses growing and moving in the city, new and redeveloped areas are key.

Certainly, there are instances where you don't want tall buildings. Also, some people just don't like "tall" and think Boston is fine as it is. However, to those people, YOU LIVE IN A MAJOR CITY. One would think you'd expect skyscrapers when you moved in there. It's not as if they're a recent development; all of our city's most important skyscrapers are downright old now. If there were a neighborhood that had no tall buildings, that would be one thing, but a lot of these projects that the mayor keeps interfering on are in tall areas anyway - and he doesn't mind them tall, as long as he scrapes off a few meaningless floors to keep the neighborhood folks happy, but perhaps the businesses away.

Critics of Deval Patrick say that ending corporate loopholes could tick off businesses and drive them away. Maybe, but I think it's this kind of crap that Menino pulls that's far more unnerving. We've already seen entire major projects, ones that would bring money and resources to neighborhoods in the city that could use them, go poof because of frustration with Menino. A 18 story building may not be worth the cost for a developer, whereas a 29 story one would. There are costs with both projects that would remain the same, making a 28 story building likely a more efficient option.

Furthermore, within reason, it shouldn't be the amount of floors that's the problem. Ulgy buildings come in all shapes and sizes; there are a few new two story houses in my neighborhood that are as ugly as the buttocks of a rhinoceros taking a dump. A neighborhood has every right to prevent some ugly-ass skyscraper from being erected next to their house; it should be a tasteful, elegant, state-of-the-art building that will add some architectural integrity to the area. To the developer's credit, he's preserving some of the building that's already there - which could make for an interesting contrast between the old and the new. Developers should work with the neighborhood to make sure they have designs that are beautiful, well thought out and offensive to as few as possible.

However, the city of Boston - and Mayor Menino especially - would do well to remember that any of these developers can and will take their business elsewhere. And make no mistake: the construction of a 29 story building will contribute to the economy, both in its construction and into the future. Where that contribution takes place is another story; personally, I hope Boston Benefits. Beantown can only remain great so long as it moves feet first into this new century.

PS: Instead of arguing against the height of this project, Menino ought to be arguing for it's importance for the city. Boston is a terribly expensive place to live - something that has all but destroyed any middle class. Wouldn't it be nice if he were arguing that 15-20% of the units be affordable housing? I'm sure these new condos are going to be super expensive, which isn't contributing to affordability in the city. However, Menino could probably make sure that at least 20-30 more middle class families could afford to live in Boston - if he wanted. Instead, he's playing Mr. Politician and obsessing over the height of the matter.

UPDATE: The project is already including a high number of affordable units. Menino could be trying to get even more, but it's just too darn tall (even though, given the graphic below, it's certainly not out of scale).

PPS: The Globe was nice enough to include a graphic of the proposed building; if I'm not mistaken, it's the taller of the two darker, proposed buildings. I happen to like them both and don't find either offensive at all. Let's get some better pictures! Lastly, here's a perspective from Chinatown and here's what a real-estate broker thinks.

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