Tag Archives: Boston

Boston’s Greenway

On a recent trip to Boston – a city I once called home – I visited a series of linear parks collectively known as the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. Left by the razing of a former raised highway, the public spaces thread through the downtown core, re-stitching together neighbourhoods and providing visual and pedestrian connections that had been severed over half a century ago.

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Each segment within the Greenway has its own spatial vocabulary and character. Primary emphasis was placed on the public realm; the spaces are complete with promenades, plazas, landscaped gardens, recreational fields, sculptures, information pavilions, splash fountains and a carousel.

The Greenway is the most visible result of the 16-year project dubbed the Big Dig, one of the most ambitious feats of construction and urban design ever undertaken in a US city. For 50 years, the I-93, a rusting elevated six-lane roadway, slashed through downtown Boston. It separated the waterfront from the rest of the city and isolated the North End, running right through the middle of the business district on a great sweeping curved viaduct. (From my seat on the Green Line train, I could look directly into people’s office windows.)

For 50 years, the Central Artery has sliced through the heart of downtown Boston. Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe.

For 50 years, the Central Artery has sliced through the heart of downtown Boston. Photo courtesy of The Boston Globe.

The colossal endeavour saw the dismantling of a stretch of the I-93 and its rerouting within a 3.5mile tunnel buried beneath the city. The project faced every sort of challenge, from political and financial difficulties to environmental and engineering obstacles. But no one is looking back. With the massive barrier removed, the resultant green space, though flanked on both sides by a ground- level roadway, reunites neighbourhoods and acts as a crossroads for people travelling between them.

Greenway District Planning Study, image courtesy of Greenberg Consultants Inc.

Greenway District Planning Study, image courtesy of Greenberg Consultants Inc.

The Greenway. Image courtesy of The Boston Globe.

The Greenway. Image courtesy of The Boston Globe.

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For Torontonians, the Greenway illustrates the social and environmental benefits of the open space network and serves as an interesting example of what this city might do were it to take down the Gardiner Expressway (shown below). Toronto: Look and Learn!

The Gardiner Expressway is downtown Toronto's main commuter artery, cutting an elevated swath through the core. Image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

The Gardiner Expressway is downtown Toronto’s main commuter artery, cutting an elevated swath through the core. Image courtesy of the City of Toronto.

On the other side of Boston’s Fort Point Channel, I checked out the Seaport District, a hotbed of construction and urban infill. The area has gone big with hotels, office buildings, and restaurants. Adjacent to it is the revitalized neighbourhood of Fort Point. New eateries have set up shop here but, you can still find artists’ studios and design firms holed up in its brick warehouses…

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The lightness of steel

I caught a great exhibit at Boston’s Mills Gallery on its last day: ‘Three Point Perspective’ by Richard Bertman, a local artist and a founding Principal of CBT Architects. (He’s the B).

Already familiar with his meticulously detailed pen and ink renderings of buildings and landscapes from back when I was a CBTer myself, I learned of my former boss’ extensive creative background: for decades he worked in the mediums of welded steel and carved wood. This particular exhibit focused on drawings, wire sculptures, and complex kinetic sculptures. The work is dynamic, playful, and quirky.

Assembled with an array of steel rods, pulleys, sprockets, chains, and sheet metal, some of the kinetic sculptures are activated by triggering the footswitch of the electrically powered motors. They begin to flex, shift, turn, and rotate, mapping out their place in space, the relationships between their parts constantly in change. Squeak squeak

Bertman’s steel wire sculptures of faces are “like drawings in the air.” He created a large scale one of his own head, a huge ‘sketch’ in three dimensions, which seems to come alive as you observe it from different angles. The various accompanying multimedia studies of his face were painstakingly undertaken – every line and fold charted out, traced, molded, shaped…

Richard Bertman’s artwork is rich with personality and humour. I’m reminded of the artist at the office, his happy smile, his manner of sketching with Sharpie pens on rolls of architectural tracing paper. It’s not such a far stretch from this…

The Big Move

Starting over in a new city on your own can be pretty daunting.

The move didn’t go as swimmingly well as I’d hoped. In the midst of clearing out of my apartment, dental surgery complications and their ensuing post-op treatment prevented me from leaving Boston. Switch to Plan B: I was forced to move my stuff into a local storage unit and, rendered homeless as I was, crashed with friends for 3 weeks. The flipside: I got to stay a little longer in my beloved city and perhaps it ultimately eased the transition a wee bit. Packing my belongings had been @#%?&^)!. The amount of stuff I’d accumulated over the last decade mortified me. 27 boxes of books alone… say no more!


I did it once before: eleven years ago I moved from my hometown of Ottawa, Canada to Boston, USA. I was eager to live in that city whose vibe I liked and, though I barely knew it, to which I felt an inexplicable connection. I didn’t have any long-term plans. I didn’t have any family or friends there. I just had my very first job’s letter of offer in hand. Equipped with a couple of large suitcases, I made an unforgiving +12-hr journey by bus to my new home. Perhaps it was not as bold as moving to a country with a foreign language and culture but it took some measure of guts.

Along with the initial transitional challenges, building a social network was a struggle, particularly for an ex-pat. My friendly co-workers were mostly older and settled, commuted out of the city after work, and had their own tight circle of friends. (Was there really a time before (gasp!) Facebook, Meet-Up groups, and all those social networking opportunities?) And as a young intern architect eager to get work experience and with a boyfriend back home, I was willing to put in many extra hours at the office. But little by little, over the years I found my way and created a thriving personal and professional network for myself. And, it must be noted, a comfort zone that would later be hard to leave.

Fast-forward eleven years and here I am, doing it again, on my own, but in reverse: Boston to Toronto this time around. I feel ok about it. Although I’ve truly loved living there, I’ve never really found my stride in Boston. Sadly, it was time to go. I’m ready for new adventures and I like the diversity that Toronto offers. This time, though, I do already know a handful of people here. Lots of unknowns ahead but having done this once before, I have an advantage – I’m better equipped all-round – so I’m jumping in whole hog.

And this time, I’ve done it in style. No longer ‘liquid’ as I once was, I loaded the entire contents of my life/compactly-furnished studio apartment into a rented 14-foot U-haul truck and made the 11-hr drive northwest. Armed with Google maps on my iPhone, I called the shots. Trucker-girl stops when she wants to and answers to no one! Despite some minor hurdles: truck-size discrepancies, flat tire on the highway followed by laggard roadside assistance, I cannot complain. Mine was a one-way vehicle with Arizona plates. Who knows who had borrowed the truck before me? Who knows where it’s been?!  That got me thinking of the countless others out there doing something similar at one time or another….

My two-person welcoming committee greeting me back in Canada could not have been greater: Mom and Dad. Gone are the aching tooth and the aching heart. Might have taken a long time to get to this point but I feel pretty good about the direction I’ve taken.

Land of the lobster

For reasons none other than dental ones, I spent the 4th of July in the U.S. And such a treat it turned out to be that I take all blame squarely off the godforsaken tooth. I did Independence Day, Gloucester-style.

Some Scandinavian friends of friends organized an evening barbecue at their lovely home in Gloucester, Massachusetts, just 40 miles north of Boston. Worming my way into their good graces, I got to go too. Located on Cape Ann, on the rugged, rocky coast of the Atlantic Ocean, it is America’s oldest seaport.

I’m told the entire day’s celebration is quite the Extravaganza, complete with a 4k Run/Walk, traditional picnic games (i.e. sack races/tug-of-war and a raffle), scavenger hunt, and a softball game. It typically culminates with the eccentric Lanesville ‘Horribles’ parade and a massive bonfire down by the picturesque Lanes Cove, but both were nixed this year because apparently things got wildly out of control last year (note: a raging enthusiasm, not raging inferno). As a result, there was a strong police presence this year – i.e. a couple of cops joining in on the fun. Even with the town’s annual festivities somewhat curbed, families, friends and neighbours were out in full force and good wholesome fun was had by all.

The other guests and I followed the crowds down to the waterfront landing at Lanes Cove, narrowly tripping over lobster traps and buoys galore. I watched as the small procession marched across the stone pier, bearing a giant inflatable lobster overhead. At the pier’s edge, the lobster, fashionably decorated with streamers in red, white and blue, was tossed to sea amid woos, yelps and applause. Then came the national anthem. The lobster was subsequently rescued. (I must admit the traditions here are entirely lost on me…)

Now, normally, I pride myself in not being a sunset-photo-taker but I’ve got to make an exception here. As the sun approached the horizon, the silhouetted figures standing atop the wall reminded me of Giacometti ‘Walking Man’ sculptures coming to life against the ever changing light. It was a sight to see.

As night fell, we were treated to fireworks. It was a good day.

“Hey batta batta…”

Sure, there’s the clam chowder, Ivy League schools, and a thick, distinct accent, but you can’t talk about Boston without acknowledging its huge sporting motif. It’s a big sports town: both professional and college leagues of baseball, basketball, football, and hockey coming out the wazoo.

And you can’t live as long as I have in Boston and not check out at least one Red Sox game. I’ve done just that and ironically, for 9 of the 11 years that I’ve been in Boston, I lived literally just a hop, skip and a jump away from the Fenway Park stadium. But last week I did something I didn’t imagine I’d ever do: I caved attended a baseball game. A good friend enticed me with tickets in the owner’s box – an offer I couldn’t refuse. It’s part of the local culture. And when in Boston, do as the locals…


I take issue with the sport itself, or rather, the game. I know the ground rules … yeah, I got ‘em … but I still don’t like it. Soccer has always been my sport of choice, and with the current World Cup fever running rampant, I’m in good company. I like its speed, the strategy, and the realistic duration of a match …whereas I find baseball drags needlessly… But I digress.

As opposed to a megaplex outside of the city, I do like the fact that this classic ballpark is located in an urban neighbourhood, though its constrained location creates parking nightmares and its renovations and additions over the years are limited in scope and quirky in form. It is the only one of the original standard ballparks that is still in use. (Actually, they say that about the subway here too, the ‘Green Line’, which, in my humble opinion, is nothing to brag about). The park has also been the site of some cultural events, concerts where outsiders like myself are camped outside, partaking in a little Springsteen, par example…


I’ve always dreaded all things baseball: walking past cheesy souvenir shops (Yankees suck! T-shirts: the rivalry is positively cutting) and hotdog/pretzel stands, profuse sports bars filled to the brim with ‘cap people’, inhaling the smell of beer-soaked pavements the morning after a game. Many a time I’ve been that one lone unfortunate soldier walking home against the current just moments after the crowds exited the stands – the most miserable person of the lot.

But to my surprise, I enjoyed the event more than I expected. Sitting in the A/C infused ‘fishbowl’, snacking on chicken tenders and Caesar salad, sure, the game was fun. All 4 hours of it. I participated in a couple of rounds of ‘the wave’; cheered and booed at the appropriate times; stood for the national anthem… Perhaps even more than the other sports’, baseball fans here are hard-core and their dedicated, steadfast support is admirable. Every Red Sox home game has sold out. It could be minutes leading up to start-time, with torrential rains, and still, the masses would be sweeping in, buses with hordes of out-of-towners descending upon the site, public parking attendants waving the cars in with their orange flags and $40/game signs…

I do have a beef with the term ‘World Series’ but I won’t get into that here, and risk alienating my readers!