Downtown View:Pots and Kettles

Opposition to Don Chiofaro’s Harbor Garage Project has heated up. But some of it is the pot calling the kettle black. Or people in glass houses throwing stones.

 Hypocrisy is addressed in the New Testament. “why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” Apparently humans have exhibited this behavior for a long time.

First it was Harbor Towers. Some residents of the tallest structures currently on the harbor objected to the height of Chiofaro’s buildings. (The rest of us were hoping the proposal’s greater height would draw attention away from those unattractive Pei stacks, making them less prominent.)

Then they complained the proposed project did not have enough open space, that it would block people from the harbor.

 Yet Harbor Towers itself has little open space, blocking the public on all sides with solid fences or an iron picket fence barring people from sitting on the grass. The residents of barrier buildings so unwelcoming and so antithetical to the public’s enjoyment of the harbor should reflect upon their own failures before falsely accusing another project of the same.

Aquarium officials are now modeling Harbor Towers’ behavior. Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said the Aquarium is not against the garage’s redevelopment—it just doesn’t favor THIS development.

But that position is hard to square with the Aquarium’s objections.  An Aquarium petition asks the public to support “safe and affordable access and where visitors and residents can enjoy open spaces and walk along the water.”

Yet the Aquarium and its IMAX theatre present their own substantial barrier to the harbor. They take little advantage of their waterside location. The main building abuts an unfortunate part of the Harbor Walk, a dreary plaza edged with plastic sheeting, with some seating, tables, utility equipment and unrelenting sun.

An even worse side contains a walkway shrouded by the grim concrete of the Aquarium’s north wall. The least the poorly sited Aquarium could do would be to refrain from criticizing a new development that meets the harbor in a better way.

And that is what Chiofaro’s proposal does. His buildings are only two of three original designs being built or proposed in Boston. (The third is Caesar Pelli’s design for the Government Center Garage.) Boston’s other new buildings are mostly a tired cliché, the flat-topped glass box. The Harbor Garage architects, Kohn Pederson Fox, have proposed a beautiful terra cotta-clad pointy structure that visually slides into its sparkly, pointy-topped lower sibling.

Moreover, at pedestrian level those buildings provide the most imaginative public harbor access of any building in Boston. Chiofaro has proposed a lively walking street with a retractable cover between the two buildings. It is the “Walk to the Sea” that planners have dreamed about for years. Dramatic and beautiful—just what this city needs.

If I were the Aquarium, I’d be anticipating the hordes drawn to Chiofaro’s street and planning how to direct them only a few feet away to the seals and the fishes.

But Aquarium officials don’t see it that way. They say the project’s construction would bother their animals—as would any new project. So how could they support anything that would get rid of the garage?

Both Harbor Towers and the Aquarium have another refrain—they want to pull up the gangplank, rejecting new residents and office workers who will need what they have themselves—room for cars.

The Aquarium spokesman did not like new residents and workers competing with the Aquarium’s visitors, 40 percent of whom come by car. He was critical of the Aquarium’s own Blue Line station, saying the escalators don’t work.

In their opposition, Aquarium officials seem stymied at helping visitors find other ways to get to their door. In a recent analysis, the Aquarium proposed several parking strategies that could serve as points for negotiation.

But that institution should not hold the entire city hostage to its parking needs. Aquarium officials show a lack of imagination and little confidence in solving problems.

Besides, this is a distraction. It’s not only Atlantic Avenue that will see more traffic and compromised parking. Every area around the city’s new development will face the same situation.

Yet we know how to solve traffic and parking problems. We just need the will to bring about solutions.

Copy London’s congestion pricing, vast Underground and plentiful double decker buses arriving within minutes of one another. London is still congested, but all cities are congested. It’s part of the zest. Visit a city that has no congestion, and you’ll be where no one wants to go.

The Aquarium must not know that if the Dukakis-Weld North South Rail Link is achieved, a Central Station would lie within a short walk, bringing suburbanites to the Aquarium’s doorstep.

Boston is not going to stop construction, and that construction will bring more cars, and perhaps some solutions. Instead of bellyaching about a new development that causes fewer problems than their own buildings do, these opponents would do better to find the imagination and will to work with the city to get rid of the blighted garage and address matters that involve no hypocrisy.

            Their lives will be better. In the long run, we will all benefit.

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