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This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

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Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

Character Supersedes Density in Kenmore Square Project

July 10th, 2014  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

The Rat


We often hear that what the city needs is more density.  Bigger and taller are better, density brings more residential units and that’s what we need.  While these things can be true, they aren’t always. Bigger, taller, and denser without more thoughtful planning about the context and the use of these new structures only gets us so far.  What about the character not just of these new buildings themselves, but the character of their surroundings – how they affect their immediately adjacent neighborhoods and the broader city they impact with increasing demands on city services, with their potentially huge shadows and wind impacts and on the character of the city, and the way in which they alter neighborhoods – for the better? for the worse? And, a growing question – do they support the diversity (social and economic diversity) we all want in Boston? I’m fine with change — some change. Evolution is what keeps our city alive, and high end housing is one component, but we always need to examine the calculus of the pros and cons of change.  Each project has positive and negative aspects, and we need to be honest with ourselves as we examine both.

What made me think of these issues?  First was an article in the Boston Globe the other day by Shirley Leung   about the old Howard Johnson’s near Fenway Park.

There Stephen Samuels re-thought his gut reaction to demolish and go as big and dense as possible and realized that the character of the neighborhood really needed something else. And what a brilliant idea he had with homage to the Kenmore Square of my younger days, a place where Punk and New Wave music got its grounding in clubs like the Rat and fine dining establishments like the Pizza Pad.  Who else remembers that Kenmore Square of days past?

“All along, it was supposed to be another cookie-cutter hotel/apartment complex, on the site of the Howard Johnson in the Fenway. Raze the squat and outdated motel, and then build as high as possible to make the most money.”

“Samuels had a vision for how they could take advantage of the memories connected to the HoJo. His thinking: Amid a sea of new towers, including some he built, preserving the old 94-room motel would add character to one of Boston’s hottest new neighborhoods.”

So… Change and evolution of the city?  Yes, of course!  I keep saying some of the most exciting places in the city are where old and new come together. Knee-jerk change for the sake of change? Knee-jerk height and density as a simplistic solution to challenges such as housing? No!  Take a look at “Older, Smaller, Better,” a National Trust Preservation Green Lab Study:

And see how many older neighborhoods meet many of our goals and challenges.


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One Response

  1. Launa says:

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    good, thats why i have read it entirely

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