In a recent twitter chat with Boston’s Mayor Martin J Walsh, a citizen brought up the idea of closing popular retail streets to vehicular traffic in the summer, allowing multiple areas of the city to function like Downtown Crossing, even if just for an afternoon. According to the City of Boston’s twitter account, they were actively looking into several locations to use for a test run, and will do so on Newbury Street this Sunday, August 7 from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., allowing pedestrians to move freely through the street.
According to WalkScore.com, Boston ranks as the 3rd most walkable city with 81 points, just behind New York (89 points) and San Francisco (86 points). The “walkability” points were awarded to each city based on the number of walking routes, distance between amenities, Intersection density, and block length.
While those are good starting points, what truly makes walking enjoyable, other than a short walk to a lot of shops?
These scores haven’t considered the multiple ways streets can be engaging. Convenience is important, of course, but so is what’s outside. Some of my favorite streets aren’t my favorite because of the stores, but because they have unique characteristics that set them apart from each other. Commonwealth Ave, for instance, has its green space and statues, while any number of South End streets are lined with impressive row houses, gardens, and canopy-like trees. That isn’t to say there shouldn’t be streets with a high density of retail spaces, but the key is to find a balance between no-car zones and streets that are functional for vehicular traffic while remaining engaging to those who choose to walk.
RODE is currently designing scenic areas like these with the recently-approved DOT Block mixed-use development, which will balance 350 housing units with 40,000 square feet of retail, the latter of which will be engaged with pedestrian-oriented public spaces. These public spaces won't just be shop fronts, but a space for the community to engage with each other and their surroundings in an environment that is designed to foster activity and interaction, applying what it truly means to be “walkable” to the new neighborhood.