Downtown View:More Ideas

By Karen Cord Taylor

Last week this column offered ideas for improving life in Boston. Several brave souls suggested transportation improvements that would reduce traffic on Boston’s streets. They were happy to be identified.

Other suggestions came from people who did not want to be identified or who did not make it clear I could name them. So the sources of these suggestions will remain anonymous. I asked for serious or nutty suggestions, the stuff people dream about. Sometimes it is tough to get things done in this city, but there certainly is no shortage of ideas. Here are some interesting ones.

  • Here’s the first. It’s a picture. The rest of the ideas follow in no particular order.

  • The city should lease at no-cost or a low cost underutilized and underdeveloped city-owned properties to be turned into affordable housing, said one observer. Such sites might include existing police, fire and library sites. The lease would require developers to incorporate the old uses and upgrade them. An example is the 1980s office building at 125 High Street. A firehouse occupies its ground floor.

  • A mother-daughter team saw a need for subsidized housing for young people working for high-tech startups. “Young people’s careers are likely to be in small companies much more than earlier generations,” observed the mother. Those small companies often offer low base salaries, with the chance of a more substantial payoff if the company is successful. So the micro-apartments supposedly built to house this generation are unaffordable until (and if) they hit the jackpot.

The daughter thought that such housing would spur creativity and energize the inhabitants.

  • A man who works downtown would like to see more Boston streets become pedestrian zones that attract shoppers and strollers—at least for some days of the week throughout the summer. “Why not close down Newbury Street to traffic?” he asked. He would put out chairs and tables to make it even more appealing. He’d like to see merchants holding sidewalk sales on those days. He’d like live music. He clearly wants energy and activity.

  • A pedestrian advocate wants to create slow-zone neighborhoods with a top speed limit of 20 miles per hour throughout the city, much as New York City has done. She too would like to see streets closed, especially on either side of the Greenway on Sundays from April through November. She points to the closing of Memorial Drive, which hosts some events on Sundays, but also simply opens the street to playing, walking and biking.

She suggests that all Boston residents get the same pair of bright green or gold sneakers and wear them to signal how much we walk.

  • A North End resident’s pipe dreams are many: A systematic and extensive public transportation network, rather like that of the streetcar suburb days, and a downtown school, perhaps in “one of those mysterious public buildings like City Hall or the Lindemann Center.”

“My vote is the Lindemann, just because it has a pool,” she said. She’d also like a decrease in class size in Boston’s public schools, with a later start in the day for high schoolers, unless they choose an early morning elective.

She suggests imposing rent control in certain business districts to “give smaller merchants a chance.”

Finally, she wants the old Filene’s Basement to return.

  • One man who once lived in Portland, Oregon, believed Boston could profit from adapting some of that city’s practices.

He suggested that the city designate “village centers,” consisting of several block-square areas where residents can congregate, hang out and satisfy such basic needs as access to fresh, healthy food. To the extent possible, centers should be located so all Boston residents would be within a ten-to-fifteen minute walk. The anchor tenant for each center should be a branch public library consisting of ample seating, computers, free WiFi, a coffee shop, sandwich shop, child-care/play area, and books and magazines. The city should make sure there are sidewalks for easy pedestrian access to centers, and parking and vehicular traffic should be planned to maximize convenience for pedestrians and cyclists. “Part of the cost of the plan,” he said, “could be financed by substantially increased parking fees, including a charge for resident parking permits ranging from $200/year downtown to $20/year in outlying neighborhoods, and smart parking meters that charge fees based on time of day and location, ranging from $10 an hour in prime-time downtown locations, to $1 an hour elsewhere.”

There you have it, folks. Lots of ideas. If you want to send in yours, I’ll be happy to accept them.

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