The dawn of a new decade offers an opportunity for plenty of blue-sky thinking. So ... what would you like to see change re: the Boston area’s built environment during the 2020s? Here’s a few things to perhaps pine for.
Ban cars in downtowns. Greater Boston has some of the world’s worst traffic. It only appears to have worsened during the 2010s due to the addition of app-hail services such as Uber and to the general crumminess of the area’s mass transit system.
Perhaps one way to just shove all of that vehicular nonsense to the margins—and to fight climate change as well as safety for pedestrians and bikers—is to do just that: Ban cars from certain areas, most prominently from the region’s commercial cores such as downtown Boston. Knowing it might be that much more of a hassle to do so might further disincentivize people from driving.
Or at least enact some form of congestion pricing (and pour the revenue into mass transit). The idea of charging motorists who drive into the region’s core areas at certain peak times appears to have gathered some steam in the waning days of the 2010s. New York’s move to do just that for much of Manhattan certainly had something to do with this momentum.
More than anything, though, support for congestion pricing reflects the exasperation Boston-area residents feel re: traffic and its very real financial costs.
And put in a whole network of protected bike lanes. The region has made stellar, stunning progress this decade in its biking infrastructure. Just look at the number of bike-share systems and Cambridge’s first-in-the-nation plans for a protected bike-lane network. But there’s so much more that can be done. Why isn’t there a region-wide, connected network of protected lanes for both bikers and e-bikers? Basta with the paint alone.
Transit-oriented development. It’s embarrassing how much development the region’s mass transit stops could support, at least in theory (and assuming mass transit improves sufficiently to support it). A recent study conservatively guesstimated that land around the stops—particularly around commuter-rail stations—could support at least 253,000 new housing units.
It’s one of those solutions to Greater Boston’s notorious housing crunch that’s kind of staring developers and officials in the face, though it’s often easier said than done. Why? Zoning regs from municipality to municipality and skittishness over the density.
But the region needs denser development in general. This is especially true of areas where taller, bulkier buildings are already common. The Boston region has long under-built, for lack of a better term, prioritizing single-, two-, and three-family properties across vast swathes at the expense of bigger multifamily buildings.
And don’t get us started about height. Tall buildings, even along Boston’s famous high spine and in areas already used to tall shadows, are exceedingly rare in the region. The 742-foot One Dalton, which opened in 2019, was the tallest new building in the region since 1976—and it’s full of luxury condos most residents will never be able to afford.
Now, your turn: What’s on your built-environment wishlist for the 2020s? Sound off.