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The Boston Globe

Opinion

PAUL MCMORROW

Scared of heights

Boston calls itself a world-class city, but it’s afraid to act like one

The company that is redeveloping the Government Center Garage is shaving 72 feet — a half-dozen stories — off what was supposed to be the most high-profile building in a neighborhood-defining construction project. The development isn’t getting a haircut for any good reason. It’s just that, most times, the cost of building in Boston is paid with lowered ambition.

The proposal to replace the Government Center Garage with residences, offices, hotel rooms, and retail space clamps its arms around the third rails of Boston development — parking and height — which helps explain why the project is on its second developer and fourth redevelopment plan. It’s an extraordinarily difficult undertaking. It shouldn’t be this difficult, though. The shrinking of the proposed complex is a symptom of the dysfunction that defines the way Bostonians engage new development. The city has a reflexive antipathy toward building height, whether in residential neighborhoods or the heart of the downtown. A downsized building is often the toll developers have to pay to earn neighborhood support for their projects.

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