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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Cars aren't the solution

The Boston Globe focuses on two failed downtowns today (when did Hartford become part of the Globe's Metro area?) I'm not well-versed enough in Hartford's problems to comment, but to answer the other question "Would car traffic bring back the crowds?" to Downtown Crossing the answer is NO.

Jordan Marsh. Filene's. Barnes & Noble. Or for older timers -- Gilchrist's and other names I only heard about. Retail. That's what would bring the area back.

That and taking back bad decisions such as building an urban fortress on Washington Street that housed the uninviting and ill-fated Lafayatte Mall and is now home to an Eddie Bauer outlet and taco shop and heaven knows what else.

It also has a hole in the ground where Filene's used to be, an empty building that housed a major bookstore. One of its principal attraction is a "record store," not exactly a growth business.

Discount clothes and shoe outlets are interesting. But let's be blunt. They don't draw the same clientele as the upscale shops that now populate the Prudential and Copley Square malls where retailers have gravitated.

Downtown Crossing is served by three MBTA lines and has a distinct lack of parking. Add in the narrow sidewalks and Bostonians penchant to think traffic laws apply to the other guy and gal and there's no reason to think cars will make a difference.

Retail options will.

The future of Downtown Crossing should be a prime issue in the 2009 mayoral election -- presuming of course that Tom Menino emerges from his bunker to face off against challengers Michael Flaherty, Sam Yoon and Kevin McCrea.

The area has deteriorated under Menino's watch. Not all of it can be attributed to him, certainly not Macy's gobbling up both Jordan Marsh and Filene's. But other decisions made -- and not made at City Hall -- are clearly in play.

Bringing cars back to Downtown Crossing makes as much sense to revitalizing downtown and moving City Hall to the Seaport.

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Blogger Chris Rich said...

Aah, but the bigger looming problem is that uptown glitzware is even more vulnerable to a watershed shift away from debt fueled consumption.

There is gathering data in Consummer Confidence numbers and savings increases to suggest that the grim period where the citizens were stuck with driving 2 thirds of the economy may be gone for a real long time.

The part of Boston that makes it through may well be the part that has practical necessary things at the best price point.

The newer uptown zones look like they were injection molded into the area without much regard to pedestrian flow.

There is a strange bewildering segment of Huntington Ave between the Pru T station and Mass Ave that forgot to factor in Pedestrians and everything like a sidewalk abruptly vanishes into a traffic accommodation mess before resuming a pedestrian scale further west.

The scale of that stuff is oppressive. And the ambitious corporate boosterism that made it rise really exacerbates the problems caused by luring the burbs in to shop at the expense of those who actually live here.

Why was so much effort allocated to pinching customers from more efficient malls in Framingham, Burlington and Peabody?

Why drag those people and their congesting cars here when the system provides all that stuff closer to their doorsteps with 'acres of free parking'?

Boston opted to court the burbs and punished the residents in a burst of costly folly.

The most distressing thing about this gentrification has been the banishment of practical things to favor impulse purchase whimsy and status toys.

All that bloat stuff will be out of business by mid 2010 and it will be interesting to see what is done with all those big box monstrosities.

March 01, 2009 11:11 AM  
Blogger thecappy03 said...

Saying that shop owners are willing to try just about anything to make their businesses more successful during a recession and opening up the area to traffic is just another thing to try, without even making one point in your article how this would create more business is rediculous. Bromfield is open to traffic all day and it doesn't create more business. Temple, West, Franklin Streets are all open to cars and after working in Downtown Crossing for 20 years I can tell you does NOT create more sales for anyone. It does create more car exaust(pollution), more traffic accidents, more illegal parking, danger for pedestrians and general problems created by the inability to cross the street, clean the streets and help the area. Downtown Crossing is in the state it's in because all of the people involved are on different pages. An UPSCALE outdoor pedestrian mall worked for many many years. I know I was part of it. The city needs to completely block the street so no trucks, ambulances, UPS, garbage trucks can drive through or park. They need to buy nice, stationary kiosks with electricity to be put out on the street and a festive atmosphere must be created and maintained. It must be safe which means the BPD must have zero tolereance for any riff raff which is clearly not the case now. Anyone who thinks these pedestrian landscapes don't work should visit, Fremont St in Vegas, South Beach, Miami, or remember BaySide Market or South Street Seaport? Our own Faneuil Hall would still be a huge destination if not for the economy and poor management. The city spent $250,000 to come up with a branding strategy for the downtown and I all I see to show for it is a picture of lots of people on the side of the empty Filene's building. Come on Mr. Mayor what about the rest of the plan? Outdoor cafe's, constant music, and fixing the broken down pushcart marketplace? Why not spend money on what will make people stop and spend? I understand there is a giant hole in the ground and many empty, vacant stores but until the landlords like Mr. Druker lower rents so unique and interesting retailers can afford to take a risk down there and until the city invests in the people who work there like they invested in the Big Dig, the Charlie Card and other things, nothing will change in downtown. They supposedly spent 100,000 dollars on the Christmas promotions in DTX. I don't see how that much was spent personally but everyone knows the Christmas season lasts two weeks at best for a retailer. What about the other 50 weeks we are open? Until the city of Boston takes a serious interest in fixing Downtown with everyone involved, vendors, store owners, developers, property owners, residents and consumers, NOTHING will change. And opening it up to cars will just make it worse. Much worse.

March 02, 2009 1:41 PM  

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