A rendering of the future of Boston Landing from NB Development Group

A rendering of the future of Boston Landing from NB Development Group

Anyone who drives the Pike has seen the New Balance building that now fills the landscape. Clearly the rebuilding of that area of Brighton is vastly different from what is happening in the Newton villages, especially around Austin Street. The scale, scope and need for development are hardly comparable. But there are some lessons for us.

In today’s architectural review by the Globe’s Robert Campbell, he calls out several factors that make the New Balance building (and subsequent, in process construction) a success. I was struck by how much this mimics what can qualify as success factors when considering local development.

About the building he notes:

  • It’s part of the larger city. It’s not an attempt at a private nirvana, as are so many office parks and residential enclaves. Jim Davis, the owner of New Balance, emphasizes that he didn’t want anything you could call a “campus,” a green escape from the busy world. Instead, old streets are being reopened to connect with the Brighton surroundings.
  • Lots of different things happen close together. People will be able to live, work, and play in the same neighborhood. That kind of diversity of uses is the essence of city life. I’d like to see much more housing, but at least there’s some.
  • There’s diversity, too, in the size and height of buildings and in their colors and materials. All have been designed by architect Manfredi, whose firm is the largest in town. He’s created an apparent diversity, but I’d rather have seen some of the work shared with talented younger architects, of whom Boston has a plethora.
  • There’s an appreciation of streets. Streets are more than traffic sewers, they’re the heart of public life. Guest Street, which is now little more than a service alley that runs the length of the site, is conceived to become a village Main Street over time. It’s rumored, too, that New Balance may seek to buy up more of the adjacent properties.
  • Finally, there’s the commuter line, an essential ingredient.

Translated to Newtonville, right now we have a parking lot that effectively separates the village from the bank and other homes on the others side of it. A park would do the same thing. It also makes the walk from the “village” to the Star Market feel longer than it should. While other proposals focused on a single use, this current proposal has multiple uses, which adds life to the street. The village already has diversity in its heights, though much of the main village is a single height. The current proposal helps. It also pays attention to the street through the retail frontage and outdoor seating area, all bringing life to Austin Street.

And, of course, Newtonville is on the same commuter line. Improving that would be a big help.

Two side notes. I believe that Jim Davis is a Newton resident. Also, Robert Campbell knows his stuff, he’s one of the leading architecture critics in the nation. I’ve always loved his “Cityscapes” columns (also in book form) which compare new images of Boston with older images taken at the same location. They all contain lessons in what makes for great, livable cities.

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