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letters | Boston’s building boom

Boom needs to be informed by innovative design

Casey Ross’s overview of development in Boston (“A new age for an old town,” Page A1, March 1) makes one thing clear: Mayor Martin Walsh was spot-on when he expressed concern in December about the state of Boston’s building boom. Calling the results “merely functional,” Walsh recognized that our flurry of construction activity has not reflected the city’s wider “culture of imagination.”

Ross’s list of recent projects illustrates how development is an insider’s game, with more than a third of the 50 or so projects produced by just two architecture firms. No matter how capable these firms are, this reflects a system rooted in risk aversion that thwarts innovation. We are missing a major opportunity to transform Boston in ways that will improve our neighborhoods, combat skyrocketing housing costs, rescue an ailing transportation system, and provide worthy buildings to stand alongside some of the nation’s greatest.

If we want our architecture and public spaces to improve, the city needs to motivate developers to produce better buildings, in part by streamlining cumbersome processes in exchange for a higher quality of design. We don’t have to look far for progressive thinking. New development in Somerville’s Union Square put design innovation on the table before the rights to the project were awarded. Many other cities have instituted design excellence programs to great effect.


Boston has a deep talent pool from which to draw. With a few key policy changes, Walsh can raise the bar on new development and make Boston a more exciting and livable city for generations to come.

Michael Murphy
Mark Pasnik

Murphy is cofounder and CEO of MASS Design Group, and Pasnik is a principal at the design firm over,under.