Boston has some of the most interesting architecture of any city in the U.S., and its historical allure can rival some of the greatest cities in the world. Much of the architecture in the Back Bay, for example, was based on buildings is in Paris-and the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) strives to figure out ways for the public to understand and appreciate such design and architecture. Because of the BSA’s efforts, the public now has access to over 300 podcasts giving historical descriptions of buildings around the city.
Eric White, executive director of the BSA, said that the organization focuses on three things-empowering architects to perform their jobs well, building a better Boston, and engaging the public in appreciating what design does in their daily lives.
The BSA tries to foster discussion among the public about different design issues facing the city through its quarterly publication ArchitectureBoston. Fiona Luis, deputy editor of ArchitectureBoston, said that the idea of creating social equity through improved design is vital to the work of the BSA.
“It’s so expensive to live in the city, how do we make things more affordable for the 99 percent?” she said. “Boston is a world-class city, but in terms of transportation-everyone has an opinion about it, but essentially we are growing, the numbers are spiking. We like to complain about traffic, but how do we solve our congestion problems?”
With the transition from former mayor Thomas M. Menino to Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, White said the idea of equity through design has not been lost. “Looking ahead, I think Mayor Walsh is really interested in equity and fairness,” he said. This idea of equity and fairness addresses issues such as affordability of housing as well as transportation. According to White many of the districts in Boston don’t have access to the subway system because of when it was built, and, as a result, they do not have a proper means of public transportation to the workplace or other locations. One issue faced by the city is how to make the T more available in those types of situations. “We want to look at it in a holistic way and develop a plan that puts it all together,” White said.
The latest issue of ArchitectureBoston, which was titled “Blueprint for a New Mayor,” addresses the issues facing Boston’s first new mayor in 20 years, including “housing, transportation, public space, and regionalization,” according to a BSA press release. According to Luis, good design can have a huge impact on individuals’ lives, including where they live, how they travel, and how they enjoy their time in public spaces. “The idea for Boston going forward is to create places where people actually want to be,” Luis said.
At its downtown office, the BSA has a transportation exhibit displaying many different urban systems from around the world that are used in cities of high congestion. “We have brought in a series of speakers from around the world that have models of urban transportation and mobility systems that we could learn from,” White said. The idea is to try to find a system, or combination of systems, that could be adapted for Boston’s lagging infrastructure development. “For example, the innovation district has grown very fast, but the subsequent infrastructure hasn’t responded to that,” White said.
White also touched on one of the other more pressing issues the BSA and the city government are collaborating to fix. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) is an urban planning committee responsible for much of the revising of the proposals for new buildings. Unfortunately, the process for having a proposal approved by the BRA is quite complicated, according to White. He likened the process to Charlie Brown and Lucy playing football in the famous comic strip Peanuts,in which Lucy repeatedly pulls the football away before Charlie Brown has a chance to kick it. “A developer might think they’ve gotten their plans approved, but they then get a call saying that the BRA needs to review it, and they just think, ‘But I’ve already done that,'” White said. As a result, the BSA hopes to assist in simplifying the process, and the latest issue of ArchitectureBostonfeatures a two-sided debate addressing BRA issues.
The BSA is seeking ways to improve the city’s design further and make Boston more connected and equal for everyone. “Good design has the answer to a lot of these questions,” Luis said. “[Figuring out] whether it is intelligent zoning, and then using two connectors that help solve our transit problems.”