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Thread: Boston: Downtown Crossing plans to revise its look

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    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Boston: Downtown Crossing plans to revise its look

    Enjoy the article below and the plentiful racist and classist comments in the discussion board at:

    http://boards.boston.com/n/pfx/forum...webtag=bc-news

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    Downtown Crossing plans to revise its look
    By Jenn Abelson, Globe Staff | July 11, 2005

    Downtown Crossing is at a crossroads.

    Over the next year, the shopping district might lose a department store after the parent companies of Macy's and Filene's merge. This would create a vacancy that could doom the area. Or, if officials and other merchants get their way, Downtown Crossing would be the newest home to Target Corp., the chic discounter; this could mark a turning point.

    After years of sparse dollars and failed initiatives, no one is taking any chances this time. The city and retailers are planning to spend more than $1 million over the next year to improve the outdoor part of the grimy retail district, in the largest investment made in more than two decades. The idea is to add everything from hanging plants to free wireless Internet to new benches.

    Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who once pushed a street-cleaning machine to show his commitment to the area, said the time to fix Downtown Crossing is now.

    ''It's not where I want it to be," Menino said in a recent interview.

    Once Boston's top shopping destination, Downtown Crossing has lost some of its luster. The area now has a retail vacancy rate of about 7 percent, compared with about 5 percent for tony Newbury Street, according to a Downtown Crossing Association study and the real estate firm Finard & Co.

    Businesses, meanwhile, have abandoned the area for more pristine pastures in the Back Bay and the suburbs. Stoddard's, the cutlery retailer, closed its Temple Place building last year after a half-century in Downtown Crossing, but it kept stores in Copley Place and Chestnut Hill, and it opened a warehouse in Newton.

    These days, a craggy mix of discount chains, fast-food spots, and vacant storefronts line Washington Street and surrounding blocks in Downtown Crossing, where more than 100,000 people pass through daily. Banners and signs -- some of which violate ordinances -- hang from businesses; sandwich boards and pushcarts, hawking everything from peanuts to ties, clutter sidewalks.

    ''It's tired, it's dirty, and it can be a real downer," said David Levin, chief executive of Casual Male Retail Group Inc., which opened a store recently in Downtown Crossing. ''It has a real identity crisis."

    The reality of Downtown Crossing is increasingly at odds with the higher-end image that some residents, retailers, and city officials want the neighborhood to have. Stylish boutiques, swank restaurants, and simple conveniences -- perhaps a supermarket -- are in growing demand.

    In recent years, the arrival of luxury hotel Nine Zero and million-dollar condominiums at the Ritz-Carlton Towers have brought an upscale vibe, along with new residents, to the outskirts of Downtown Crossing. The Opera House has just received a makeover, and the nearby Paramount Theater is next on the list.

    Still, the heart of the district -- along Washington, Summer, and Winter streets -- has remained largely immune to this gentrification. Vacancies persist, and new ones are opening up. And for the most part, Downtown Crossing, next to the Financial District, empties after the workday.

    In its heyday, Downtown Crossing had a half-dozen department stores, including Jordan Marsh and R. H. Stearns, but the area began to fade when the landscape of retail changed and merchants moved to the suburbs.

    The challenges have escalated since the area was closed off to most traffic in 1978 as part of a national movement to create outdoor malls in shopping areas. The retail district does not have alleys, forcing delivery vehicles and garbage trucks to share walkways with pedestrians. New bus stops have exacerbated congestion and have made it almost impossible for some businesses to expect ordinary services, such as receiving packages.

    ''There was a movement decades ago toward pedestrianizing, but ultimately, the consensus is that these outdoor shopping malls do not always work," said Jerold Kayden, a professor of urban planning and design at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design. ''The tension now is figuring out what Downtown Crossing should be."

    Menino is banking on a public-private partnership to improve Downtown Crossing; he has moved on from the years he spent fighting the Legislature to approve a business improvement district. The initiative would have allowed merchants to tax themselves, and to use millions to beef up safety and sanitation. To this day, Boston remains the only major city without a business improvement district. New York City has more than 50.

    ''We need to help reinvent the area," said Randi Lathrop, the Boston Redevelopment Authority's deputy director for community planning.

    Initial plans laid out by city officials call for about $167,000 in sidewalk repairs; $160,000 for plantings; $60,000 for wireless Internet hardware; and $25,000 for trash receptacles, among other improvements. Another $200,000 is earmarked to hire a consultant to help market Downtown Crossing and attract new retailers. In total, Boston has approved spending of about $700,000 and is seeking about $400,000 from retailers.

    Meanwhile, Boston officials have stepped up enforcement of code violations -- issuing at least 30 citations this spring for such offenses as sign and health code violations. And the Downtown Crossing Association, which represents about 100 retailers, is launching a campaign to double its membership so it can be a more powerful force and pay for upgrades that the city can't guarantee.

    ''Downtown Crossing is not what it was like in the '50s," said association president Anne Meyers. ''But it certainly never died."

    Despite these efforts, some say there is still no coordinated plan to remake Boston's pedestrian mall into similar outdoor retail successes found in Boston's Faneuil Hall, Minneapolis, and Santa Monica, Calif.

    ''There has never been a coherent vision for Downtown Crossing," said David Marks, Stoddard's owner. ''Putting in some plants isn't going to be enough."

    Some critics fear that the efforts will turn the district into another Newbury Street or homogenized Faneuil Hall. They cherish Downtown Crossing for its urban flair, its bargain shopping, and a diverse crowd. ''The atmosphere is cool, and it's a pretty good area," said 21-year-old Kate Wood, sitting outside Borders bookstore on her lunch break.

    Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    I'm afraid this will be a case of too little, too late. They're not spending enough money.

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    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    I'm afraid this will be a case of too little, too late. They're not spending enough money.
    I find DTC healthy and exciting. It just needs a few things:

    -More benches and places to sit and read the paper or eat lunch
    -A supermarket for workers who want to pick up needed things before jumping on the train
    -Enforcement of existing regulations forbidding all vehicles between 11:00am and 6:00pm
    -Trees and flower pots/beds
    -More outdoor dining/cafes
    -Powerwashing of walls and sidewalks every evening

  4. #4
    Cyburbian statler's avatar
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    A supermarket would be great idea. Maybe the Target they want at Macy's will include one. I think the biggest improvement they can make to the area is to tear up all the old, broken bricks and pavers and put down new replacements that are of a better quality.
    "So, if a city has a personality, maybe it also has a soul. Maybe it dreams." -Gaiman
    ArchBoston

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Quote from the Boston.com board:
    I wish these trashy people stay in the "hood" where they belong.


    Downtown Crossing is great. I've never seen "gangs of thugs blocking entrances to stores." Boston doesn't need another area of upscale shops. The lack of quaint New England-y signage and trendy boutiques is refreshing. The area needs to get better at being the part of the city where all types of people are jammed together everyday looking for convenience shopping. Downtown isn't just for yuppies and commuters from Hingham.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Yikes.. man, a lot of those posts on that board do nothing to help refute Boston's reputation as a city with racial issues. \

  7. #7
    Cyburbian andreplanner's avatar
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    Well I did go through Downtown Crossing when I visited Boston in 2003. I was going for a walk and noticed the blight and bleakness of the area. A few bums and it just wasn't safe. I don't know what made her take me through the area but after reaching the Common I felt a lil safe.

    Sounds like something does need to be done to make the area a lil more vibrant and away from the vagrants.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 13 Jul 2005 at 12:36 PM.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jmello
    Enjoy the article below and the plentiful racist and classist comments in the discussion board at:

    http://boards.boston.com/n/pfx/forum...webtag=bc-news
    *scratches head*

    Where is the racism? Most of the comments speak of general trash of all sorts. One or two bring up "ghetto" but then also speak of white trash a sentence later. I don't see any racial tendencies in the comments at all.

    Further, most of the comments seem motivated by a sense that the kids should be in school - and one can hardly argue with that.

    Granted, I read page one of twenty plus.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    jmello, I couldn't agree with you more about the powerwashing of streets and sidewalks in DTC. As much as I love Boston I'm always struck by how dirty its streets are compared to other cities I've been to. Does the city not do any street cleaning at all?

  10. #10
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    *scratches head* Where is the racism? Most of the comments speak of general trash of all sorts. One or two bring up "ghetto" but then also speak of white trash a sentence later.
    Don't know about BC, but in these parts "ghetto" is simply a code word for "black." And you should read the rest of the pages, as it only gets more vicious.

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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller
    jmello, I couldn't agree with you more about the powerwashing of streets and sidewalks in DTC. As much as I love Boston I'm always struck by how dirty its streets are compared to other cities I've been to. Does the city not do any street cleaning at all?
    It can't be as bad as San Francisco. Absolutely filthy. Do people have no shame? Litter everywhere. Along with....other...things because of the huge floating population of Lost Souls.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Amazing to me how clean Manhattan has become; I can take a whole photo thread without any litter on the sidewalk. These days, after the street sweepers get through, the shopkeepers come out and scrub the sidewalks, and even clean the gutters in the roadway. Amazing what getting a place spiffed up will do for morale and civic pride. And I remember when New York was the filthiest place I'd ever seen.

    So a place can get clean...even San Francisco!

    Actually, though they both have places that could do with improvement, my perception is that neither Boston nor San Francisco is especially dirty.
    Last edited by ablarc; 13 Jul 2005 at 11:31 AM.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    Yeah San Francisco seemed absolutely filthy to me.

    Tenants/homeowners sweep or spray the debris into the streets, then the city cleans the streets. 'tis not that difficult...

  14. #14
    Cyburbian RandomPlanner's avatar
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    I like Downtown Crossing

    Although it's been several years since I've been there, I always liked Downtown Crossing and was not particularly aware of any 'filth' that has been described.

    But that's really beside the point. What struck me was the idea of empty downtown retail space with prospects of Target going in. The article described this possiblity as a turning point, but quite frankly I was confused at which direction the neighborhood was turning. The mayor and city officials are supporting Target coming in, but later in the article, the author describes "...a craggy mix of discount chains..." that currently line the streets. [Does the author not realize that Target is also a discount type chain store?]
    First, I'm not sure what the word "craggy" means . Second, is it just me or is the author all over the place without a concrete point/position to the article?

    EDIT: OK, looked up the word 'craggy' to mean rugged or uneven. Funny, that's exactly how I would describe this article.
    How do I know you are who you think you are?

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    Quote Originally posted by ablarc
    Amazing to me how clean Manhattan has become; I can take a whole photo thread without any litter on the sidewalk. These days, after the street sweepers get through, the shopkeepers come out and scrub the sidewalks, and even clean the gutters in the roadway. Amazing what getting a place spiffed up will do for morale and civic pride. And I remember when New York was the filthiest place I'd ever seen.

    So a place can get clean...even San Francisco!

    Actually, though they both have places that could do with improvement, my perception is that neither Boston nor San Francisco is especially dirty.
    Well, one difference between Boston and SF and most American "cities" is that there are actually pedestrians about. Add in the higher population densities, the preference for dogs over children , and the large homeless population, an incompetent city government-and SF gets dirty.

    You'll not see much visible dirt in a "city" where the population exists only trapped in 3,000 pound capsules of steel and plastic, never touching the (often non-existent) sidewalks.

    Plus: this may be controversial-but do standards of "cleanliness" vary among ethnic groups? Americans (European descent) have a reputation as being excessively clean. Is this true across ethnic groups?

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    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jmello
    Don't know about BC, but in these parts "ghetto" is simply a code word for "black." And you should read the rest of the pages, as it only gets more vicious.
    And I guess "white trash" is a mystical code word for white? The comments I read certainly weren't exclusive in that regard.

    But this is all moot as I only bothered to read the first page.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Rumpy Tunanator's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by andreplanner
    Well I did go through Downtown Crossing when I visited Boston in 2003. I was going for a walk and noticed the blight and bleakness of the area. A few bums and it just wasn't safe. I don't know what made her take me through the area but after reaching the Common I felt a lil safe.

    Sounds like something does need to be done to make the area a lil more vibrant and away from the vagrants.
    So what should be done with the vagrants? Buy them a bus ticket to Reno?

    Jeese, you people what to clean and disinfect cities until they loose their character.
    A guy once told me, "Do not have any attachments, do not have anything in your life you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner."


    Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro): Heat 1995

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    Quote Originally posted by Rumpy Tunanator
    So what should be done with the vagrants? Buy them a bus ticket to Reno?

    Jeese, you people what to clean and disinfect cities until they loose their character.
    Yep. Only upscale chain stores are allowed. The working class can just take the bus to Lynn or a "power center" on Route 1.

    Note, however, that if a street needs to be "disinfected" (like some South of Market alleys in San Francisco), there is indeed a problem

  19. #19
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Yep. Only upscale chain stores are allowed.
    Here comes one now:

    http://architecturalboston.com/Forum...opic.php?t=167

    Here comes something else:

    http://architecturalboston.com/Forum...light=crossing

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Greenescapist's avatar
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    I think a Target might be a good idea down there. It would attract other shoppers and I've always found Target stores to be clean, well-organized and about as attractive as any of those big box stores get. Target might encourge other retailers to improve their stores, offerings. And whoever said a grocery store might be onto something. I know some of those Targets also sell groceries, which would be great to service the additional housing that's going up in the area.

    Ablarc is probably right, though, Downtown Crossing is still scruffy and seems dirty at times. The City of Boston will probably need to spend more money overall to improve the area. However, I think the area is far from depressed or nasty... it just needs a face lift. If they could configure the store to have more windows and doors onto the street, that would be terrific. I hate how the Filene's stands there like a grim bomb shelter.

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    Target would be fine. It would probably be more "useful" than the obsolete Department Store that was in the place before.

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    Please lord do not build a Target in Downtown Crossing! Targets belong in the suburbs and in big box commercial areas of cities. If they wanted to build one in the South Bay Plaza that is fine, but not in a dense, pedestrian oriented, historical, locale which most importantly has some character. Boston is quickly becoming the soulless city of the Eastern Seaboard. Harvard and Central across the river have pretty much been ruined, Kenmore had an enormous block taken over by a luxury hotel, and the foot of Mission Hill had an enormous building completely out of character with the community plopped on Tremont St.

    As to the district being dirty, I don't really agree with that either. That area has gotten so much better over the past 10-15 years it is not even funny. It could still use some scrubbing, and sprucing but not much more than that. Boston really is not that big of a city, and it has few areas that still have a good old Boston feel. If projects like this keep going on for the next 10 years, we will all wake up surrounded by crate and barrels, targets, and home depots, and bland yuppie outdoor coffeshops. Slow down BRA, and think about what your doing. It's not 1975, and Downtown Crossing is NOT A DUMP!

  23. #23
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by muhuh
    Please lord do not build a Target in Downtown Crossing! Targets belong in the suburbs...
    Yeah, because city dwellers without cars should NOT have the option to patronize popular American stores. They should only shop at small mom-and-pop clothing and furniture stores and corner bodegas. They don't need supermarkets either, those are so suburban.

    Quote Originally posted by muhuh
    ...and in big box commercial areas of cities.
    There should not be any "big box commercial areas of cities." Large popular stores belong downtown, in highly accessible and active areas of the city.

    Quote Originally posted by muhuh
    It's not 1975...
    Clearly, in 1975 residents of Boston had to drive to the suburbs to find a grocery store.

    Quote Originally posted by muhuh
    ...and Downtown Crossing is NOT A DUMP!
    Agreed. But those who live and work here would really like to be able to pick up a few of life's necessities before hopping on the train home.

    *One question, do you live or work in or near Downtown Crossing or the Financial District? I do.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Target could fit in well there. 50 years ago there were successful department stores in every downtown. As long as there isn't a sea of parking, ugly blank walls, or displacement of other structures, it should be a succesfull addition to the area and yet another example to national chains of how they can adapt to urban surroundings. The big Filene's building is there anyway. Shouldn't stores like this be locating in downtowns more (with appropriate design) instead of out in the suburbs. I think the Barnes and Noble there fits in well there too with the plaza out front that is always full. Should the city have denied them because they're a chain?

  25. #25
    Cyburbian statler's avatar
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    OK, I'll be the curmudgeonly old fart here.
    The problem with stores like Target taking over places like Marshal Fields and Filene's is that shopping at the former were completely different experiences. They each had their own sense of place, there own unique style and merchandise. Whereas once you step into the Target in Boston you could very well be in the Target in Chicago of some suburban mall in California. The layout, decor and most of the merchandise are the same from coast to coast. I really feel Boston is going to lose a large part of its identity when Filene's closes their doors.
    I'll admit a bias. I work a few blocks away and I shop there all the time. I'm going to miss it something fierce.
    "So, if a city has a personality, maybe it also has a soul. Maybe it dreams." -Gaiman
    ArchBoston

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