Public spaces provide a sense of community and bring character to a neighborhood. For example, the empty lots on Harrison Ave in the South End of Boston provide space for the increasingly popular SoWa Market. The arts market, farmers’ market, and food trucks bring joy to an area that is otherwise underutilized. Other growing areas include the Greenway, a site with food trucks, green grass and outdoor seating created by Boston’s Big Dig. People flock to these areas to catch sun, enjoy food and explore what the city has to offer. However, a snowy city like Boston needs a public space with adaptability to the weather. Don Chiofara has proposed a four-season programmable public space with adjustable roof for the Boston Harbor Garage Project.
But why are there so few truly enjoyable public spaces? For many developers, this boils down to money. Why waste valuable space by allowing free public use instead of building on that space to accommodate tenants? However, what some developers fail to realize is that there are real opportunities that can lie within public space. Food trucks, art booths and farm stands serve as amenities to tenants and visitors.
A mixed-use building can stand as the main structure on the lot, providing revenue from retail, office and residential tenants, while the open space creates community and draws traffic to ground-floor retail. To play devil’s advocate, SoWa Market is only open from May to October, suspending operations during winter months. This makes sense, as the public space is outside and many people are not willing to risk frostbite while they wait in line for a food truck. (Although I personally may consider it for a Mexican torta.) Locals crave unique places that aren’t necessarily an obvious tourist destination. Stemming off of the “unique” category, locals crave inimitable places, meaning no chain restaurants or retailers. SoWa-goers are locals supporting locals. If a developer could combine the character of SoWa Market with the established development of Faneuil Hall, they will have struck a goldmine.