Opinion

DANTE RAMOS

‘Pop-up plaza’ is a harbinger of streets to come (I hope)

A stretch of Franklin Street near Downtown Crossing is transformed to an outdoor cafe as part of a city experiment Tuesday.
David L Ryan/Globe Staff

When I stopped by the “pop-up plaza” along Franklin Street near Downtown Crossing around 10:15 a.m. Tuesday, two guys in business clothes were walking past. One was explaining to the other why the city had temporarily closed off part of the roadway to cars: “They don’t need the whole street anymore,” he said.

Yes, exactly. So from 8 to 11 Tuesday morning, the City of Boston used temporary fencing, plus tables, chairs, and umbrellas, to repurpose a strip of Franklin Street near Arch and Hawley streets. People sat down to drink coffee or work on their laptops.

This stretch of Franklin is unusually wide but leads only to narrow side streets and (at the moment) a construction sign. It’s perfect test of an insurgent proposition: Not every square inch of Boston that was paved 25 or 50 years ago still needs to be paved now.

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The Walsh administration, to its credit, has been experimenting with so-called “tactical urbanism” — temporary reshapings of the urban landscape. This summer, a one-day closure of Newbury Street to vehicles drew new visitors to a retail strip, at other times, that can be too stuffy for its own good.

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On Franklin, Tuesday’s pop-up plaza foreshadows a permanent transformation. The Globe’s Nicole Dungca explained the goal this way:

The "pop-up plaza" is a prelude to what the city wants there eventually: a permanent plaza that would invite more people to sit down in a busy area outside Millennium Tower, one of the highest-profile new luxury condominium complexes in Boston. Millennium Partners, the company that developed the tower, worked with the city, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Public Works Department, and the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District to set up the pilot.

As proof of concept, the pop-up seating area worked. When such a location manages to attract visitors during a one-time, three-hour trial on a Tuesday morning — without a lot of advance fanfare — imagine how popular a permanent plaza would be at lunchtime on a sunny Friday afternoon.

The Globe’s David L. Ryan took some great photos, one of which is above. (See Dungca’s story for more.) Meanwhile, here’s a little more of what I observed:

The foundational texts of modern urbanism were helpfully arranged on a table. #latergram

A photo posted by Dante Ramos (@danteramos) on

Dante Ramos can be reached at dante.ramos@globe.com. Follow him on Facebook: facebook.com/danteramos or on Twitter: @danteramos.