Boston reaches back to its roots to experiment with pop-up plazas

City Planning, Interesting Read, Placemaking Globally, Tactical Urbanism, What We're Reading


“It’s a good example of ways in which places can become not just a place you go by every day, but where you want to end up and want to be,”

– Chris Osgood, Boston’s Chief of Streets 


Currently, the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) is putting the finishing touches on its first citywide plan in 50 years, Go Boston 2030. As its spring 2017 target date rapidly approaches, city planners are experimenting with ways to put a greater emphasis on public space for pedestrians. One such experiment draws upon the 1793 street design of Charles Bulfinch, believed by many to be America’s first native-born professional architect.


Today, the intersection of Arch and Franklin Streets is a curiously wide thoroughfare west of Boston’s Financial District. However, over 220 years ago, it was the site of Franklin Place, one of America’s first planned communities, a “range of sixteen well built and handsome dwelling houses,” with a crescent of park space in between.


The grand Neoclassical homes of Franklin Place were acquired by Boston in 1858 and razed to construct commercial buildings and warehouses which were, in turn, destroyed by the Great Boston Fire of 1872. Today, all that remains of Bulfinch’s plans for Tontine Crescent is the gentle curve and seemingly random widening of Franklin Street.

(Mayor's Office Photo by Jeremiah Robinson)

Now, the BTD is attempting to restore the public space that Bulfinch had originally planned for Franklin Place. Officials are using easily movable planters and fencing to experiment with the placement of the pop-up plaza and observe its effects upon vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic, allowing them to make necessary alterations in real time. BTD officials hope to use public feedback from pop-up projects such like Franklin Place to incorporate more permanent pedestrian plazas for the final incarnation of the Go Boston 2030 plan.

Photo credits and sources: Main photo – Jeremiah Robinson, Office Marty Walsh, Mayor of Boston, Google Maps, Open Source. Experimental Pop-up Plaza Springs Up In Downtown CrossingSee: City Plans ‘Popup Plaza’ at Downtown CrossingFranklin Place

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