archBOSTON.org

Go Back   archBOSTON.org > Boston's Built Environment > Boston Architecture & Urbanism

Boston Architecture & Urbanism Discussions and photos regarding Boston area architecture and urbanism.

Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old 04-17-2019, 09:21 PM   #1
jpdivola
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2014
Posts: 118
How does Boston's urbanism compare?

From an urban perspective, how would you say Boston compares to other US cities?

I would say:
1) NYC- clearly in a league of its own.
massive drop
2) Chicago- the other grand urban city. Other cities may have similar or higher densities. But, know where can compare to Chicago's scale.
big drop in scale
3/4) SF, Philly- these can go either way depending on what attributes you prioritize. SF has the denser, more vibrant urban core. But, Philly has more of the classic big city feel.
5) Boston- Boston is basically on par with SF/Philly. But, it dosen't really have a case to be first among equals. SF has a more vibrant core (although it is close), and Philly holds its density over a larger scale (even when you adjust for differences in municipal boundaries.
6) DC- DC is relatively close to the others. It is objectively less dense from a residential prospective and lacks the peaked density with a mixed use downtown. But, in some ways Boston/Cambridge matches up better with DC's nodal development pattern than Philly's peaked Center City feel. Plus, DC has been rapdily growing and it has a large daytime population between workers, tourism, random events that closes the effective "density gap"
big
-drop-
7) Seattle- far less urban than the 3-6 cities. It lacks the density of a legacy city, its really more of a street car suburb that is concentrating density is high(ish) density urban villages. It is sort of a proto-urban city at this point. But, the city is undergoing a massive transformation and its downtown may some day feel bigger than Boston's as it adds more and more high rises.
-drop-
everybody else

Wildcard- LA. It is massive and has relativity high densities over a sustained areas, but it is too nodal and auto-centric to really function as a traditional urban city.

At one point, I would have said Baltimore belongs on the list. But, the relatively small CBD and continued population losses have probably left it below Seattle.
jpdivola is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-17-2019, 09:46 PM   #2
Shepard
Senior Member
 
Shepard's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2009
Posts: 3,455
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

Adding to the mix, Iím fascinated by Canadian cities. Not sure why. Iíve been to Montreal, Toronto, Halifax and Saint John. They share a unique character that you donít get south of the border, but I canít exactly put my finger on it.
Shepard is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-17-2019, 10:01 PM   #3
BeeLine
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 9,168
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

^^^ Totally agree. To me it's a European kind of Vibe.
BeeLine is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 10:02 AM   #4
lexicon506
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Berlin, Germany
Posts: 485
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

I was just in Seattle a couple of weeks ago and made my way down to Portland for the first time on a day trip. Really surprised by that city. It felt much more urban than Seattle, despite obviously being smaller. More compact, more historic fabric, more transit, more walkable, just more (for lack of a better word) interesting. Northwest Portland felt like a slice of Cambridge in terms of feel, scale, and density.

Seattle, despite its growth, is pretty boring from an urban perspective. It's a bunch a little villages that are farther flung, less accessible versions of Coolidge Corner or Davis Square (Capitol Hill and maybe the U District being the more urban exceptions). Downtown Seattle, save the few blocks around Pioneer Square, is a rather soulless collection of glass towers and new construction. I really want to love Seattle, but always come away feeling underwhelmed..
lexicon506 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 10:48 AM   #5
kmp1284
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 1,814
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

If youíre going to look at each city as a whole, Iíd rank San Francisco as number two followed by Chicago, Philadelphia, DC and Boston. Philadelphia seems to offer a similar building density to San Francisco but with its population being down nearly a quarter from the 1950s, I would imagine many of those dense rowhouse neighborhoods can probably feel somewhat like ghost towns whereas San Francisco is at its peak population and combined with an abundance of disposable income, even in outlying areas thereís greater population density and higher levels of street/sidewalk activity and neighborhood commerce. Chicago obviously has its dense and active areas but it also has some heavily blighted areas where buildings and even partial blocks have been leveled and left vacant so what I assume is felt in Philadelphia is also being experienced in Chicago to a degree. DC and Boston donít seem to have anywhere near as much blight as Chicago or Philadelphia but obviously both are much smaller cities. Iíd give DC the edge over Boston because it seems to do a better job of carrying its perceived density further out from the core of the city where some of Bostonís outer neighborhoods are almost indistinguishable from the burbs.
kmp1284 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 10:59 AM   #6
fattony
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: Davis/Ball Sq.
Posts: 1,855
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

In the interest of defining "urbanism" before launching into comparisons based on it - I personally think of urban as meaning "accessible without a car." Not everyone will agree with me on that, but I want to put that forward to put my remarks in context. If I can get around to lots of interesting things by comfortably walking and taking transit, I'm having a great urban experience. If I can live without a car, I'm having a phenomenal urban experience.

I obviously have to agree with how you placed New York and Chicago.

I have a hard time putting Boston behind SF and Philly. You say you can't put it first among peers, but I'll make a case for that. First of all, our transit ridership outstripes either SF or Philly. Adding Heavy Rail + Light Rail systems and excluding suburban commuter rail:

Boston: 167k + 67k = 234k (this is about equal to the Chicago L ridership)
San Fran: 129k + 51k = 180k (arguably BART is an HRT/CR hybrid, so that 129k should be discounted as a measure of urbanism)
Philly: 92k + 24k = 116k

We can include bus ridership, but it doesn't change the order.

In a list of cities with the highest walking mode share, Boston and Cambridge hit really high:

1. Cambridge, Massachusetts 25.76%
2. Ann Arbor, Michigan 16.52%
3. Berkeley, California 15.99%
4. New Haven, Connecticut 14.0%
5. Columbia, South Carolina 13.78%
6. Provo, Utah 13.39%
7. Boston, Massachusetts 13.36%
8. Providence, Rhode Island 12.56%
9. Washington, D.C. 12.27%
10. Madison, Wisconsin 10.99%
11. New York City, New York 10.72%
12. Syracuse, New York 10.31%
13. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 10.02%
14. San Francisco, California 9.82%
15. Wichita Falls, Texas 9.29%
16. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 9.22%

These are just a few objective metrics to support my subjective view that Boston doesn't feel like the back of this pack. I will grant that Philly should get a lot of credit for the sheer density of Center City and SF is geometrically compact and sort of feels more accessible than it objectively is.
fattony is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 11:04 AM   #7
Lrfox
Senior Member
 
Lrfox's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 2,410
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Shepard View Post
Adding to the mix, Iím fascinated by Canadian cities. Not sure why. Iíve been to Montreal, Toronto, Halifax and Saint John. They share a unique character that you donít get south of the border, but I canít exactly put my finger on it.
Agreed. I think the most comparable city to St. John (assuming we're talking about St. John, NB - not St. John's Newfoundland) that I've experienced is Portland, ME. To me, the look, feel, and character are very similar.

Montreal, Toronto, and Halifax have no peers in the U.S. You can compare aspects of each, but not in the same way you can compare DC, Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco. I'd add Quebec City to that list which is different for obvious reasons, but still has an urban character that's not similar to anything in the U.S.
Lrfox is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 12:26 PM   #8
odurandina
Senior Member
 
odurandina's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2015
Posts: 4,533
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

Seattle's towers are massive and there's considerably more of 'em than Boston....
they're also clustered better on a grid to create the Big City feel like SF and Philly,
but Boston's supporting urbanity, infill and transit is far more intense and extensive than Seattle.
odurandina is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 12:27 PM   #9
KentXie
Senior Member
 
KentXie's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Brighton
Posts: 3,817
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

You can probably add all the major cities in Canada. There's a definite focus on activating pedestrian activities in these cities which is amazing considering how pedestrian unfriendly it is in the winter. Same thing for other former British Empire cities such as Melbourne, Sydney and Hong Kong. Maybe it's a British thing.
KentXie is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 12:31 PM   #10
fattony
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: Davis/Ball Sq.
Posts: 1,855
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

Quote:
Originally Posted by KentXie View Post
Maybe it's a British thing.
Its an "everybody except American baby boomer" thing
fattony is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 01:19 PM   #11
Lrfox
Senior Member
 
Lrfox's Avatar
 
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 2,410
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

Quote:
Originally Posted by KentXie View Post
You can probably add all the major cities in Canada. There's a definite focus on activating pedestrian activities in these cities which is amazing considering how pedestrian unfriendly it is in the winter. Same thing for other former British Empire cities such as Melbourne, Sydney and Hong Kong. Maybe it's a British thing.
Anytime someone points to Boston's weather and hills to show how it can't possibly ever be a good biking city, I reference Montreal. It's colder, and it's hillier. It's also a lot closer and than Amsterdam or Copenhagen which people are quick to write off as "too European so it'll never happen here." Montreal has hundreds of miles of protected paths and nearly 1,000,000 people ride to work at least once per week. That's not to say Montreal is perfect, but if they can do it, so can we.

Frankly, beyond biking, almost every "cold" city I've been to in Canada or across the ocean tends to do a much better job of encouraging any activity year-round than Boston does (or any American city). I really wish we did a better job at outdoor activities. The winter market at City Hall and the skating rink were nice concepts, but they were executed poorly. I'd love to see laws on patio seating relaxed for the winter months as well. We're not the arctic and with some heat lamps, wind screens, etc. it can be nice outside in the winter. I had drinks outside in Quebec City in December when it was 4 degrees outside. We can do it here.
Lrfox is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 03:38 PM   #12
tysmith95
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2016
Location: North Shore
Posts: 2,464
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

Quote:
Originally Posted by odurandina View Post
Seattle's towers are massive and there's considerably more of 'em than Boston....
they're also clustered better on a grid to create the Big City feel like SF and Philly,
but Boston's supporting urbanity, infill and transit is far more intense and extensive than Seattle.
Boston feels like the most European major American city. It's just a different type of urbanism, dense but without a lot of skyscrapers.
tysmith95 is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 04:19 PM   #13
KentXie
Senior Member
 
KentXie's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Brighton
Posts: 3,817
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lrfox View Post
We're not the arctic and with some heat lamps, wind screens, etc. it can be nice outside in the winter. I had drinks outside in Quebec City in December when it was 4 degrees outside. We can do it here.
Yeah I'm not understanding why there's a lack of heat lamps in Boston. Every restaurant I went in Vancouver had outdoor patios that is warmed by heat lamps. They have it on top of the Envoy on the Seaport. Why haven't restaurants thought of having them on the streets?
KentXie is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 04:23 PM   #14
fattony
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: Davis/Ball Sq.
Posts: 1,855
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

Quote:
Originally Posted by KentXie View Post
Yeah I'm not understanding why there's a lack of heat lamps in Boston. Every restaurant I went in Vancouver had outdoor patios that is warmed by heat lamps. They have it on top of the Envoy on the Seaport. Why haven't restaurants thought of having them on the streets?
There are few examples. Eastern Standard comes to mind. Certainly we could be stronger in the outdoor seating during all seasons.
fattony is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 04:24 PM   #15
JeffDowntown
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 2007
Location: South Cove
Posts: 2,739
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

Quote:
Originally Posted by tysmith95 View Post
Boston feels like the most European major American city. It's just a different type of urbanism, dense but without a lot of skyscrapers.
Agreed!
__________________
Jeff H.
Downtown, South Cove
JeffDowntown is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 04:48 PM   #16
JumboBuc
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: The Fenway
Posts: 1,931
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

Quote:
Originally Posted by tysmith95 View Post
Boston feels like the most European major American city. It's just a different type of urbanism, dense but without a lot of skyscrapers.
Also New Orleans
JumboBuc is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 06:59 PM   #17
stick n move
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Dorchester
Posts: 5,554
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

Sometimes I wonder if instead of NYC, Boston had become the major city of the new world. If it had become the new London. If they had annexed many more surrounding towns and it had a massive population with a stunted skyline it would have been enormously dense much farther out in every direction. With our unique street layout and as a US city it would have been like nothing else really anywhere. Maybe London idk.

Nearly every city in the US is some type of grid we really have something unique here. Actually it is every city, until you start going down to small cities like Worcester, but 99% of those are too. Worcester is the only one I can think of for a city of 200k, but Im sure theres more. It really is pretty cool being the only one, the only US city of this caliber with an old world street system. Sometimes we forget about this because we live here, but its really one of a kind for a US city.
stick n move is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 06:59 PM   #18
jpdivola
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2014
Posts: 118
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

Quote:
Originally Posted by tysmith95 View Post
Boston feels like the most European major American city. It's just a different type of urbanism, dense but without a lot of skyscrapers.
I see that. I see Boston being on a spectrum somewhere between SF/Philly and DC. Not as "downtown peaked" as Philly/SF but not as "European" as DC. Closer to Philly/SF than DC. But, Philly and SF feel more "big city" than Boston.
jpdivola is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 07:03 PM   #19
jpdivola
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2014
Posts: 118
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

Quote:
Originally Posted by lexicon506 View Post
I was just in Seattle a couple of weeks ago and made my way down to Portland for the first time on a day trip. Really surprised by that city. It felt much more urban than Seattle, despite obviously being smaller. More compact, more historic fabric, more transit, more walkable, just more (for lack of a better word) interesting. Northwest Portland felt like a slice of Cambridge in terms of feel, scale, and density.
Yeah, I see Portland as being in line with Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Baltimore. All have elements of very high quality urbanism, but aren't big or dense enough to really be considered a top tier US urban city.
jpdivola is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 04-18-2019, 07:50 PM   #20
shawn
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Tokyo
Posts: 182
Re: How does Boston's urbanism compare?

Great discussion, guys.

Anyone else been to Australia or New Zealand? Melbourne is an official sister city of Boston (along with Kyoto, Barcelona, and Strausbourg - some excellent company), and it's a fantastic mirror of our city. Right down to the North End / Carlton comparison and the Eds & Meds economies. Australian cities have a fascinating built environment which sits somewhere between the dense, centralized Canadian model and the denser big American metros (basically, the ones that have already been discussed above).

Here's my take:

NYC
.
.
.
.
Chicago
.
.
San Francisco
Toronto
Boston / Montreal / Melbourne / Sydney
Philadelphia / Vancouver
.
.
DC / Brisbane - GC
Calgary
Baltimore
.
.
Los Angeles (will continue to move up as their light and heavy rail expansion ramps up)
Edmonton / Adelaide / Auckland
.
.
.
.
.
Pittsburgh
Seattle / Portland / New Orleans

LA is a tough one because central LA (think Koreatown) is about as urban as it can get in the US and over a larger area than some cities ranking above it, but then it also has the entire Valley and other swaths of admittedly high-density sprawl. Lots of cities out west have that: high density sprawl. Tiny single family lots packed in without any public transit support. It's certainly dense, but it's also certainly not urban.
shawn is offline   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump

Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Future of Boston Metro - Urbanism, Econ, Public Policy BussesAin'tTrains Boston Architecture & Urbanism 70 07-13-2017 12:13 PM
Boston Urbanism June 2017 EdMc Boston Architecture & Urbanism 12 07-04-2017 09:14 AM
Books about Boston development, architecture, and urbanism FK4 Boston Architecture & Urbanism 16 01-13-2016 09:25 AM
Boston's Best Modern Urbanism ablarc Boston Architecture & Urbanism 60 03-07-2013 05:53 PM


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 03:55 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.7.3
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.