The two photos below were taken by me on Friday afternoon as I wandered the streets of historic and Boston, Massachusetts. The first one shows the beauty and fertile vitality of the Boston Common. Meanwhile, the second, just mere blocks away shows City Hall Plaza, which appears stark, cold, and largely devoid of ambiance unless you are a brick or concrete salesperson. One webpage referred to its architectural style as brutalist – a blunt description that is very accurate.
Personally, I felt City Hall Plaza was severely unwelcoming and sterile, while nearby Boston Common to be enchanting and inviting. Like Central Park in New York City and Millennium Park/Grant Park in Chicago, and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, the Boston Common is a source of fresh air and peaceful respite amidst the chaotic urban realm, breathing renewed life into an otherwise barren (or brutal) brick and mortar setting.
We must cherish such idyllic icons as they not only bring the human scale back to the city, but also serve to re-energize our collective batteries. Most major cities have such fertile places. Sadly, most cities also have their share of sterile spaces. The trick for planners, architects, and landscape planners alike, is creating more of the former and less of the latter. It is essential what placemaking is all about. To me, “true placemaking” is impossible without the element of humanity. Otherwise, there is no perception or “sense” of place.
Perhaps, with the guiding hand of a landscape architect, Boston’s City Hall Plaza can be transformed into the kind of great public space it ought to be. Let’s all hope this can occur in the near future so that fervent life can be brought back into this brutal quadrant of Boston’s largely humane urban soul.