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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Boston Beat: Southie City Hall...

Another one of the serials I hope to expand over time is the Boston beat. For those of you who do not know, I am a college student in Boston. I had always figured that being in Boston is great because I am able to keep a closer on the political machinations of the legislature, who in recent years have held the fate of our fair city in the balance.

Today, I am here to talk about Boston, namely its City Hall. For those of you who have never been to Government Center, you should know that architecturally, the structure is nothing special. I'll not throw out the barbs that the professionals stick to it, but arguably it is nowhere near as colorful as the Scollay Square that was leveled for its construction. Mayor Tom Menino, never a fan of the building has proposed an audacious and foolish plot to build a grand new City Hall...in South Boston, not downtown.

While I do not seek to minimize South Boston, as about a billion members of Boston's famous Irish population live there, a place for City Hall it is not. Menino's plan seeks to build a bold new structure on the South Boston waterfront to "connect its past and future" acoording to the
Boston Globe. However important the Southie waterfront (as Bostonians call the district) was to the city's maritime past and however important its redevelopment is to its future, it is no place for the city's main municipal edifice. City Halls belong in cities' downtowns, no matter what their failings are. Boston is lucky. Unlike many other unfortunate cities, its downtown area is not a crime-ridden district nor an economic embarrassment. The City Government belongs in the city core, not some off the beaten path, trendy, up & coming neighborhood. New York, for example, while having offices spread throughout the city, still maintains its 1812 City Hall for Council meetings and official Mayoral business.

Thankfully, this plan, outside of the South Boston political establishment, is finding lukewarm support...and with good reason. The Silver Line, or the Silver Lie, as loving called by its detractors, is the only form of transportation to the South Boston waterfront. Parking facilities built there would either be intrusive or lacking. The upshot is that citizens and employees, 1200 in number, again according to the Globe, will have a much more painful trip to the new City Hall. Menino dismisses citizens' concerns as more business will be done online. However, what about City Council meetings? You want to depress voter input, make the meeting spot more inaccessible. The current City Hall is served by practically all of the city's mass transit lines. Even if the Silver Line were all its cracked up to be, it would still be a woeful substitute for the accessibility the other four lines have.

Finally, if Menino wants to have his name put into Boston posterity, which it already is, he should consider a site downtown, possibly on the grounds of the current city hall. Development WILL be hindered by the transit lines underneath and JFK Federal Building's security, making the sale of the property, following a new City Hall, not what its cracked up to be. Given the size, any development there will also create a glut of whatever is built there and depress the entire Downtown area. Again, the answer may be a new City Hall in Government Center, something that makes better use of the obnoxious waste of space. It could be a soaring modern structure, or take a cue from the past and revive dead architectural forms from the first half of the 20th Century. The Globe's architecture critic, while slamming the current hall's Brutalist style, suggests that the mayor could put the building through a massive renovation and make it more appealing.

Ultimately, I turn back to the issue of Downtowns, the historic starting points of cities, as being the only rightful spot for City Hall. I could care less about the current structure, but its replacement should be in Downtown Boston. It would be like Springfield building a new City Hall next to the Hall of Fame, because the Riverfront is "in." Downtown Boston has held on better than other New England cities, but it, too, is faltering. If Menino wants to make his mark, save Downtown, keep City Hall in the neighborhood.

2 comments:

Heather B said...

What do you think of Jon Keller's suggestion to put City Hall at Dudley Square?

I agree with you about the need to keep it at a central location easily accessed by mass transit. From my vantage point, the problem isn't so much the building as the plaza around it.

Matt S. said...

Well, I might be more inclined to support it because it is more central in the city, however Dudley Square still has transportation issues.

I agree the plaza is very bland and empty. I would support the New York Times' critic's idea supporting a renovation first. However they could just as easily rebuild city hall making better use of the plaza. They could also build a new architecturally appealing City Hall annex on the plaza to house the other offices not located at city hall.