Walk the talk

By DAVID EISEN  |  January 17, 2007

But Love also has a vision for the future, one in which streets are built like the accessible floors and ceilings in an office building. With such a system, tiles could be lifted right off when new pipes or cables need to be installed. “Now that technology changes happen much more often, a new street concept should be invented,” he says.

GREEN MONSTER: New solar-powered trash cans are useful — but too ugly to ensure they’ll be used.
Even far-from-grandiose approaches to infrastructure require leadership, though, and Dennis Royer, the new chief of Boston Public Works and Transportation, insists that incremental changes can make a difference. Boston’s narrow 300-year-old streets clogged with traffic and parked cars are much harder to deal with than those at his old job in Denver. Planning ahead, working together, and setting goals that everyone can buy into, he says, can make accommodating changes more efficient. Like Mayor Menino, he emphasizes that this is “our city,” where everyone has a role to play.

One prominent new public-works initiative is a good start, but not necessarily good enough. The city recently installed 50 solar-powered “big belly” garbage cans around the city to compact the trash so it has to be picked up only once a day, rather than the usual three that an ordinary downtown barrel requires. But these obese green boxes are about as ugly as the trash they hold. Where is the ingenuity that can give these things, however useful, the kind of design appeal that will insure they are actually used?

There is too little on Boston’s streets to stir the imagination and rouse us from our cell-phone- and iPod-induced torpor. So instead of looking the other way, we — along with city officials, businesses, and institutions — should look at our great city with fresh eyes and address its problems in inventive ways. A few more trees and more brick paving are certainly worthwhile goals, but our streets should provide a compelling vision of our dreams and inspirations as well.

David Eisen is the architecture critic of the Boston Phoenix and a principal of Abacus Architects. He can be reached atdeisen@abacusarchitects.com.




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