PLAN Downtown

Downtown/Financial District
Actively Engaged

42.3581206, -71.057873

The City of Boston is conducting a comprehensive study of the Downtown area, called PLAN: Downtown. The goal is stated as, “Building on past studies, the primary goal of the study will be to develop a new framework for the preservation, enhancement, and growth of the Downtown area of the City of Boston, while balancing the importance of livability, daylight, walkability, climate change, access to open space, affordability, and a dynamic mix of uses, among others.” The City released a Request For Proposals in 2018 for teams to conduct the study and after reviewing nine responses, selected NBBJ who is partnering with Arup, Nitsch, Boston Conservation Associates, and others to complete the study. A map of the study area has been presented and is attached below. An Advisory Committee of residents and members of the public was formed and had a series of meetings before the process stalled in early 2020 due to the pandemic. Though other City initiatives resumed meetings virtually, the PLAN: Downtown process did not resume until late 2022, at which time the BPDA presented concepts at public meetings that did not align with previous discussions by the Advisory Group.


Our Position

Planning for the downtown area is a result of mitigation efforts for the Winthrop Square tower project, which itself has significant impacts on this diverse neighborhood. The Alliance strongly urged the City to undertake a comprehensive planning process during the Winthrop Square mitigation discussion. We then joined our partners at Friends of the Public Garden and Downtown Boston BID to form the Downtown Plan Advocacy Coalition and cooperatively we provided guidance to the City about the boundary of the study, what should be considered, and the priorities of those represented by each of our advocacy organizations. The Alliance is pleased that this planning initiative is moving forward and we will provide feedback throughout the process. 


Highlights from our Activity Log: 


•    November 9, 2023

An article in the Boston Business Journal covers changes to the planning process and quotes Alliance Executive Director Alison Frazee. The text of the article is attached below. 


•    November 8, 2023

Alliance Executive Director Alison Frazee attends a public meeting about the changes to PLAN: Downtown and advocates for stronger language in the plan regarding historic character, fabric, viewsheds, and context. 


•    November 7, 2023

Alliance Executive Director Alison Frazee joins other advocates at a meeting with BPDA leadership to discuss next steps for PLAN: Downtown. The zoning recommendations, including height limits, will continue to be reviewed with a separate public process and will not be included in the draft plan that is expected to receive a vote at the December BPDA Board meeting. Other components, such as design guidelines and the proposed density bonus model, will also be removed at this time for further review. The Alliance feels that taking the time to careful analyze these decisions is prudent, especially as other processes, such as the Article 80 and city-wide zoning changes are still pending. 


•    September 18, 2023

The Alliance submits a comment letter, attached below, to the BPDA in response to the release of the draft plan. After attending several public and Advisory Group meetings, the Alliance remains opposed to the draft plan and the process, which has lacked transparency and is not responsive to public input. The plan is missing critical information about zoning changes and details of the proposed density bonus model, both crucial to how the plan will impact downtown’s growth and preservation. It is not prudent to advance the draft plan without a complete scope of the changes proposed. 



•    April 4, 2023

The Alliance led a tour, in partnership with Boston By Foot, hosted by the BPDA. The tour started on Summer Street, progressed up Washington Street to Readers’ Park, around Province Street to Tremont, and throughout the Ladder Blocks district. Attendees learned about the important history of the Ladder Blocks, the critical 18th century resources downtown like Old South Meeting House, and some of the projects currently proposed in the neighborhood. Many on the tour expressed a desire to preserve the height and character of the Ladder Blocks in the Plan, and all were encouraged to send comments to the BPDA via their survey



•    January 27, 2023

The Alliance submits a comment letter to the BPDA regarding the proposal for 11-21 Bromfield, attached below, stating that the PLAN: Downtown process should be completed and a community-supported plan approved before any project within the study area should advance. The letter points to the City’s stated commitment to planning before permitting, a transparent development process, and community-led decision making. The Alliance continues to engage in the PLAN: Downtown process through public meetings, discussions with BPDA staff, and ongoing dialogue with downtown residents, stewards, and stakeholders. 



•    December 14, 2022

The first public meeting about PLAN: Downtown is held since the process stalled due to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. 



•    March 7, 2019

Alliance staff attends the first Advisory Group (AG) meeting. Information is presented by planning staff at the BPDA about the timeline of the study and expectations of the group. Members of the AG expresses concerns about the final product (guidelines or zoning for downtown) having enough “teeth” to be worthwhile. The Alliance is helping the study team determine which aspects of the boundary area are historically significant. 



•    February 19, 2019

Staff attends a Preservation Round Table discussion with NBBJ (project managers) and other preservation professionals. The discussion revolves largely around the diverse nature of historic resources in the study area and how to best identify and plan for the preservation of those resources, which include buildings, streetscapes, viewsheds, open space, monuments and markers, paving and materials, etc. The group discusses ways to bring attention to these resources such as signage, public art, or technology. A need is expressed to connect the “character corridors” or sub-districts through hardscape, signage, lighting, etc. It was made clear that protecting the historic character of downtown is about more than protecting just the “historic” buildings but the sense of place throughout the district as defined by a collection of influences including businesses and cultural activities. Alliance staff agreed to help identify the unique qualities that create the sense of place in the study area. 



•    December 13, 2018

The Boston Guardian publishes an article about the planning initiative.  In the article, long-time Alliance Board member Beatrice Nessen is quoted, “I think development is exciting and necessary but what makes Boston special is its historic character and quality walking experience… all of that can be lost with development on a case by case basis. Unless you have a regulatory way to implement what’s coming out of here, it won’t amount to much.” Beatrice also said that she wants to see Washington Street retain its historic properties and to protect the Common, and that new rules need to have teeth to prevent individual projects from affecting the area. The full article is attached below. 



•    December 3, 2018

The first Open House and Information Session is hosted by planning and urban design staff at the Boston Planning and Development Agency. Alliance staff attends and provides feedback on the public boards and displays. Materials from that meeting can be found here

Downtown-Washington St. (from Above)
Downtown-Washington St. (Street Level)
Thank you to all our corporate members, including: