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Who will stop the waterfront behemoths?

The waterfront in Vancouver, whose redevelopment culture supports quality planning and quality design.STEPHANIE LAMY/AFP/Getty Images

IT IS obvious from Shirley Leung’s column (“This developer’s prospects may be looking up,” Page A1, April 18) that Leung, developer Don Chiofaro, and Mayor Marty Walsh are each campaigning for construction of a high-rise building between the Rose Kennedy Greenway and the Aquarium and waterfront in Boston. The location is the site of the existing Harbor Garage. In addition, it would not surprise me if a tower proposal by some other developer for 255 State Street, across from Long Wharf, comes next. This plan would use the high-rise on the garage site as the new standard for height.

Such invasive and disruptive development would be a major mistake on either site, where lower-scale, pedestrian-oriented uses that respect that particular waterfront and greenspace environment are much more appropriate. Yes, the garage is a formidable “hulking eyesore,” but it can, if necessary, be made more attractive and continue to function with improved street-level retail uses. New barriers at that location in the form of hulking towers, even with pass-through “public space” lobbies, are not preferable.


In his conversation with Leung, Chiofaro seems to be using the city of Vancouver as a model for Boston. Vancouver is the best high-rise waterfront city in North America, particularly in its careful aggregation of multiple, well-designed towers. That is because its redevelopment culture has supported both quality planning and quality design. Judging by the results here so far, Boston has not supported anywhere near the same level of quality in its new development. Witness, for example, the disappointing profile of the new Seaport district, which had the best potential in the city for Vancouver-type development.

Chiofaro’s own record provides no comfort. He is noted primarily for the over-scaled, banal International Place across the Greenway, designed with a wallpaper-effect facade by Philip Johnson when he was past his prime. Lastly, for the city, Walsh’s team has recently talked about pedestrian improvements around the water’s edge in this Wharf District but subtly implies that we ought to get something going at the Harbor Garage, too.


The voices that should be sounding a cautionary note, even at this early date, are sadly absent. Where are the public voices of those who are expected to anticipate and raise these issues in Boston, professionals like those at the Boston Society of Architects, Boston Architectural College, Conservation Law Foundation, and WalkBoston? And where are the voices on the Globe that might help balance the views of its gung ho pro-development columnists? The gadfly legacy of the late architect and Globe columnist Jane Holtz Kay is sorely missed. Its occasional architectural critic Robert Campbell focuses now on completed individual buildings. Regular columnist Paul McMorrow, who often makes excellent sense in encouraging more intense development in key areas around Boston, pays too little attention to the problem of excessive development in more sensitive areas.

If this pattern of unbalanced conversation and unbalanced development continues unabated, I believe Boston will become an increasingly less special and much more conventional city.

Nathan Green