Thursday, September 1, 2011

Case Study 4.4: Conclusion

Time to finish up Boston. Long a powerhouse of the country, Boston is still a vibrant city with a host of businesses large and small forming the heart of a strong economy. One often reads about the high-tech startups in the Boston area, particularly in biotech, and many of the best and brightest choose to live in urban Boston. The large host of universities in Boston gives the city a young energy, not something it was once known for. Of greatest interest to me, however, is that all that money sloshing around often ends up in real estate. Charming historical neighborhoods like the ones I've featured in my case studies are among the finest in the country, well-maintained and treasured as historic assets. Many a fine home can be found in Boston.

Often described as the gateway to New England, Boston played a key role in the American Revolution, was a hub for the Civil War, and today continues has lost none of its importance. It's a shame, perhaps, that unlike Manhattan or San Francisco, the city's population hasn't concentrated on the peninsula but instead spread outward into the suburbs. Like most cities in the US, Boston is generally disposed towards suburbs, but neighborhoods like Beacon Hill show American urban living at its finest. 

In this conclusion are a few images of the North End and South End. I had hoped to make full case studies of both, but after a short while in the North End I realized it isn't really what I had expected. It's not residential enough for me, not affluent enough, with too many rough patches and not enough care given to preserve the historic fabric. It's the oldest part of Boston, site of the original British settlement, but that isn't really evident, apart from the dense and sporadic street pattern. I wish more old buildings like Paul Revere's home had survived. I have to say, I have a feeling the North End has served as a basis for cartoon urban neighborhoods. On the tv channel Nickelodeon, for example. The red bricks, density, etc. just reminds me of the shows from my youth. So here it is:

The South End also certainly deserves its own case study, but I had to bypass that for technical reasons, the fault of which lies with Microsoft. It would seem that except for a few main roads, they didn't see the South End worthy for Bing's Streetside images, so I had to make do with Google Streetview, which frankly doesn't meet standards. You can easily see the difference below. If anyone has contacts within Google, please ask them why Streetview blurs the top part of the image, and why don't they use cameras with a higher contrast ratio? The South End is another of those areas which has experienced a good deal of gentrification in recent years. The many multimillion dollar townhouses would have been unimaginable not long ago. There are several large garden squares, based on but larger than Louisburg Square in Beacon Hill. Another interesting street pattern divides the street by a very narrow park, of which a few examples can be seen below. South End is known as the largest urban Victorian neighborhood in the country, and is popular for its many bars, restaurants, and galleries.

The South End is undeniably a great area with many beautiful streetscapes and equally impressive homes. The most expensive home currently for sale in the South End is listed at $3.9 million! I think one of the challenges facing all cities right now is how to balance the quality of neighborhoods without completely giving way to gentrification. I won't argue that with gentrification usually comes an increased level of care for homes, streets, and parks, but this shouldn't be at the expense of less well-off residents. How then to ensure that landlords maintain their properties, so that the contrast between multimillion dollar homes and multifamily buildings is less disturbing? Especially considering that many landlords nowadays are large property management companies which may or may not be based in the area, let alone the same country? I had considered enforcing mandatory architectural reviews, but that would add a huge level of bureaucracy, which no one wants to deal with or fund. I think the only solution is an increased awareness of civic pride, an automatic sense of obligation. But really, that's about as likely as people caring about the beauty of their car or clothes. Not likely. Maybe it'll be different in twenty years.

I think I'll be heading south for the next case study, Washington DC perhaps. It's been on my list for a while.