A Boston Urban Planner’s Manifesto

So you want to oversee great new public spaces in Boston? No problem! Here’s a handy checklist to guide you to the right decision every time.

FIRST, don’t screw up the old stuff people already come to see. (see: the Freedom Trail, Fenway Park)

When in doubt, make it green, throw your hands up, and say “Hey, it’s a park! It’s what you wanted!” (see: the Rose Kennedy Greenway)

Don’t worry about how human beings actually use public space. People can be programmed once the space is there.

Worry a lot about where to park all those cars. More parking is always better - it’s an American right to be able to drive directly into the city!

Speaking of parking, above-ground garage parking is the best by far. (see: the Theatre District, etc.)

Don’t worry about civic programming or long-term space planning, just make new stuff look like it does in the architect’s rendering.

If you’re going to get creative in a public place, do it way out of the way of everything else. And please, don’t make it that interesting. (see: the ICA Boston)

If you’re going to get creative with private funds, err on the side of starchitecture so everybody knows you “get it”. (see: MIT, Harvard, etc.)

Bricks are gauche - unless they’re in an eighty-plus-year-old building, or they’re engraved fundraising pavers.

Save facades every so often to make conservationists feel better. But tear down good old building stock whenever you can if the right deal is there. (see: Filene’s, the Dainty Dot)

Make sure new buildings are bland glass-and-prefab walls, right down to the street level.

Make sure new buildings include cheap-looking unfinished concrete slab surfaces; refer to them as “textured finishes”. (see: Silver Line BRT stations)

Make first-floor retail available (that’s quite in vogue, isn’t it?), but make it as featureless as possible. Glass and drywall, no masonry, nothing of character. Make sure everything is ready for an Eddie Bauer to move in at any time. (see: Downtown Crossing)

Remember, bank branches make the best tenants because they’re neat and rich, and don’t attract riff-raff! Encourage them in street-level retail space whenever possible.

Make sure new neighborhoods feel sterile - imagine a mall without a roof, and then bring it to life! (see: the Seaport, Kendall Square)

Don’t make any new place intimate; make it wide and bland. But plant some trees to make sure people know you mean well.

Promote older, sadder, established neighborhoods as “destinations” - and make posters! (see: Downtown Crossing)

Don’t think about what makes people subconsciously attracted to a civic place.

Don’t admit mistakes, and don’t fix mistakes.

Make sure public transportation is underfunded and the least attractive public transportation option is always the one that happens.

Old buildings are so cute! Make sure you tell people that all the time! Tolerate them if they’re not in the way. (see: Old City Hall)

People love living in tall, modern buildings if you name the building something that sounds luxurious. (see: Fenway Trilogy, Archstone Northpoint, the Residences at W, etc.)

Make the process for creating anything monumentally good within the metro area impossible. Tools at your disposal include riling up neighborhood groups, paperwork, endless approval processes, graft, impact studies, kickbacks, tiered permits, inertia, lawsuits, union requirements, zoning laws and fear.

Make sure vehicle traffic is accounted for and planned for before considering foot traffic.

“Average” is better than “bad”, so don’t do anything risky. Shoot for “average” every time.

Tell people “average” is “great” so planners look good. Regular people aren’t experts; they won’t know the difference.

Constantly take credit for not destroying the interesting, classic things that pre-date all of us.

On the other hand, if something new that’s a bit too interesting or too classic sneaks through and succeeds with the public, take as much credit as you can for it without making it sound like you intend for something like it to happen again.

Don’t worry about charm.

Don’t worry about warmth.

Thinking about a conceptual public art installation? Try a bronze statue of an old and/or dead guy instead!

People love benches!

People love bushes!

People love fountains!

People love freshly mowed grass!

Great spaces aren’t emergent. Great spaces aren’t based on human behavior. Great spaces aren’t created by the ebb and flow of human needs and human quirks and opportunity and cleverness and the passage of time.

Great spaces are created by political appointees, redevelopment boards, patronage, and teams of architecture PhDs.

You cut ribbons to open great public spaces.

Great spaces include plenty of parking.

Don’t get too sentimental. Remember, it wasn’t always that sad to see an old building knocked down, because you knew another good one would replace it; you trusted that the urban dignity of the space would endure. That aching feeling you get now when you see an old building, half-torn down is something uniquely modern. You ache because you know whatever happens once it’s gone, we’ve lost the ability to bring the same amount of dignity to that space any more.

But, that’s ok. People usually forget old buildings.

People like to do civic things, and then get back into cars. Encourage development that helps them do just that.

Cities should be like suburbs, but with more stuff to do.

Keep telling everybody how much better Boston has it than other cities.

Cringe a little - go ahead, get it out of your system - because it’s true.

LASTLY, don’t screw up the old stuff people already come to see.