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Old 11-01-2016, 09:38 AM   #1
jpdivola
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Benchmarking Boston: how does the urban environment stake up to its peers?

How do people think Boston is doing with reguard to urbanism/new construction relative to its peer cities.

I generally consider Boston's peer cities to be:
1) SF- a little denser/big than Boston, but another high priced skill-focused costal city with NIMBYism/fears of Manhattanization.
2) Philly- a bigger, more blue collar version of Boston. But, similar sized urban cores with historic east coast feel. Long run down, the city has seen a dramatic revitilization of its center city district over the past 15 years.
3) DC- roughly similar sized population. Arguably the city that is closes to Boston in urban scale. A little less dense than Boston (11,000 vs 13,400) in population. But, DC has more office/hotel traffic. Boston has historically been urban than DC, but DC has been closing the gap. The economic mix is differant, but both are high priced knowedlege centers. COL is similar with each being cheaper than SF/NYC, but more expensive than pretty much anywhere else.
4) Seattle- less dense than Boston, but seeing rapid infill. Much like Boston it has a tech centric economy that is perhaps a little less flashy than the Bay Area. Historically too small to be a competitor to Boston, the city has been rising in rankings over the past generation.
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Old 11-01-2016, 10:15 AM   #2
FitchburgLine
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Re: Benchmarking Boston: how does the urban environment stake up to its peers?

I'd think, certainly in terms of the "cities to look at to avoid screwing up in a similar way" SF has to be #1. Large increase in desirability combined with strong incentives for existing residents to protect their housing cartel resulting in an extremely unaffordable city with joke levels of development. I think Boston is in a better position, both because of the better regulatory environment and less fanatic NIMBYism, but it never hurts to be cautious and look at the worst case scenario.
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Old 11-01-2016, 10:23 AM   #3
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Re: Benchmarking Boston: how does the urban environment stake up to its peers?

I think San Francisco is mostly ahead of the curve, but I still put Boston ahead of the rest (though I'm not so familiar with Seattle).

DC is probably seeing the most dramatic change, but I still feel it has a big gap to close. Central DC is chalk full of superblocks and inactive spaces. Height restrictions have lead to decades of monolithic superblocks (picture everything we malign the Seaport for on steroids), and far more inactive spaces than you'll find in central Boston. While Boston has the central Boston Common and the Emerald Necklace, DC's mall dwarfs the Common, and there's a lot more land designated as green space along the Potomac, Anacostia, and Rock Creek. To me, outside of Central DC it feels less dense and more spread out even though the numbers don't really illustrate much of a gap. While it's an excellent city, I don't know that it'll ever match Boston at the urban core.
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Old 11-01-2016, 10:26 AM   #4
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Re: Benchmarking Boston: how does the urban environment stake up to its peers?

Not in America but i'd add Montreal to that list. Similar in size and both have sort of an old world feel despite being in North America.

Otherwise great list. I'd say that Philly today is basically Boston 25-30 years ago. Boston has gentrified much more quickly compared to Philly.
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Old 11-01-2016, 10:47 AM   #5
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Re: Benchmarking Boston: how does the urban environment stake up to its peers?

DC's core is actually significantly smaller and less cohesive as well as being less dense than Boston's. Philly or SF actually seem to have the most similar sized urban cores to Boston. Philly's might be a tiny bit bigger though and SF is more cohesive in the city, but to match Boston's Oakland/Berkeley have to be included and they are less connected physically.

Some density maps below illustrate this I set the density to 14,000 because it seems to prevent any areas that are largely made up of freestanding single family homes from being included in the urban core.

Boston VS DC


Boston VS Philly


Boston VS San Francisco
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Old 11-01-2016, 10:54 AM   #6
tysmith95
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Re: Benchmarking Boston: how does the urban environment stake up to its peers?

Look at that blob of very dense housing in Lynn. Why does that still not have rapid transit!! The BLX should have been a priority for the state, even ahead of the GLX. However Lynn is poor and money talks in this state.

North Shore transit is so undeserved for an area so dense and poorly served by roads.
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Old 11-01-2016, 11:43 AM   #7
dshoost88
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Re: Benchmarking Boston: how does the urban environment stake up to its peers?

Quote:
Originally Posted by citylover94 View Post
DC's core is actually significantly smaller and less cohesive as well as being less dense than Boston's. Philly or SF actually seem to have the most similar sized urban cores to Boston. Philly's might be a tiny bit bigger though and SF is more cohesive in the city, but to match Boston's Oakland/Berkeley have to be included and they are less connected physically.

Some density maps below illustrate this I set the density to 14,000 because it seems to prevent any areas that are largely made up of freestanding single family homes from being included in the urban core.

Boston VS San Francisco
Something I find remarkable about these images of density by census tract is that they are based on ACS 2014 5-year estimates. This means that the data reflects the average of surveyed persons (2.5% of population I believe) every year from 2010 through 2014.

So these maps are remarkable because they do not yet reflect the population density filling in the gaps this decade. The census tracts for Seaport, Downtown, South Boston (Broadway/Andrew), Kendall Square, NorthPoint, Assembly Row, Charlestown (along Mystic), and Lower Allston will have seen so much development between 2010 and 2020 that they could very likely eclipse the 14,000/sq. mile number citylover94 looked at here. When that happens, the density similarities with San Francisco will be undeniable.
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Old 11-01-2016, 12:34 PM   #8
Jouhou
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Re: Benchmarking Boston: how does the urban environment stake up to its peers?

San Francisco always shows up just ahead or just below Boston in various rankings, I would say they are most comparable. Seattle has the second most similarities, I feel maybe one of the things that may be holding them back is not having enough public transportation.
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Old 11-01-2016, 12:41 PM   #9
tysmith95
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Re: Benchmarking Boston: how does the urban environment stake up to its peers?

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Originally Posted by Jouhou View Post
I feel maybe one of the things that may be holding them back is not having enough public transportation.
The same could be said for every American city (New York being the notable exception).
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Old 11-01-2016, 12:45 PM   #10
jpdivola
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Re: Benchmarking Boston: how does the urban environment stake up to its peers?

Comparing Boston to its east coast peers DC and Philly, it is pretty interesting to me how Philly and Boston have such similar development patterns, with Philly usually being roughly 30% bigger than Boston regardless of measure used. DC is sort of its own thing, not suprising given it developed later than Boston and Philly. Its MSA is about the same size as Philly (and bigger than Boston), but its urban core smaller than the other 2.

MSA pops
philly - 6,051,170
DC - 6,033,737
boston - 4,732,161
Philly comes out 27.9% bigger than Boston

UA pops
philly - 5,441,567
DC - 4,586,770
boston - 4,181,019
Philly comes out 30.1% bigger than Boston

People living in neighborhoods with walkscores of 90 or aboves
Philly 249,181
Boston/Cam/Brookline 202,547
DC/Arl 161,713
Philly comes out 23.0% bigger than Boston

People living in census tracts above 20k ppsm (UA area)
Philadelphia: 743,549
Boston: 559,756
Washington DC: 318,232
Philly comes out 32.8% bigger than Boston

People living in census tracts above 50k ppsm (UA area)
Boston: 56,569
Philadelphia: 29,908
Washington DC: 26,379

This is really the only measure where the relationship breaks down as Boston has higher peak densities. But, overall Philly has about 30% greater urban depth. It's 20-30k rowhouse neighbrhoods extend further out than Boston's similar density tripple deacker neighborhoods.

Now, stylistically, I think this effect is magnified somewhat more given that Philly has a more vertical downtown, and it's solid brick row house vernacular looks more urban than Boston/Cambridge's tripple deckers.
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