What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.
Crosstown expressBy Alan Lupo, Globe Staff, 07/04/1999
Even as hard hats have been laboring above and below the surface to create the depressed Central Artery, other interested parties have been meeting to discuss what the surface over the Big Dig will look like when the project is completed sometime in the next millennium.
It is still unclear, for example, how the ramps will be covered or how many trees will finally be planted along the new greensward. What will Charlestown, the North End, East Boston, the Charles River crossing, Fort Point Channel, the South Bay area, and downtown look like when Governor Paul Cellucci's great grandchild, or whoever, dedicates the thing?
Here is one example of the sort of nitty-gritty issues folks must address, according to the Central Artery Environmental Oversight Committee.
Who handles developing air rights parcels in Charlestown, and will the community be able to enforce the maintenance of landscaping by private developers?
By agreement with the City of Boston, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority is charged with developing the parcels. Developers must provide open space plans to the community. The authority will lease the parcels, which the developers must maintain as a condition of occupancy, and the authority wants developers to also maintain some of the adjacent landscaped areas.
Another issue is how many trees are planned for the central corridor portion? About 875, from Causeway Street to Kneeland Street. From Kneeland south to the Massachusetts Avenue Connector, there could be another 1,060 trees plus some shrubs.
Such issues may not top the list of concerns from commuters who must negotiate the forever changing and challenging street patterns occasioned by the construction, but they are crucial to those who live and work along the route.
Smaller is better
That commuter confusion is not made easier by the nature of downtown Boston, which is as small as a big-city downtown can get. That's 1.5 square miles, according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
The BRA's definition of downtown also includes the North End, Beacon Hill, Waterfront, South Station, Fort Point Channel, Chinatown, Harbor Towers, and Charles River Park.
Packed into downtown are 50 million square feet of office space, 6 million square feet of retail space, the workplaces for 240,000 employees, and the homes of more than 27,000 residents.
That still leaves room for 140 acres of open space. The good news is that this space includes Boston Common and the Public Garden. The bad news is it also includes the vapid City Hall Plaza.
Downtown's curse is to drive. Its charm is to walk or take the subways. The 15 rapid transit stations downtown serve about 137,700 riders a day. The BRA estimates 75 percent of all trips made within downtown are on foot.
This figure is especially relevant when you consider that the city's total population, expected to top 600,000 in 2000, doubles each day during the workweek to about 1.17 million. That includes workers, shoppers, students, hospital patients, and visitors, hotel guests, daytime visitors, sports fans, and those attending conventions and trade shows.
Given the season, there will be days when the daily city population will lose numbers to the beaches, where people eat mushy plums and dry peanut butter sandwiches and get the sand, plum drippings, and bread crumbs with attached gooey crud all over the newspaper.
So, wipe all that stuff off the page and then ask one another if you are as confused as I by the following: