Boston’s Greenway Can Learn a Lesson from Norman B. Leventhal Park in P.O. Square

ThinkstockPhotos-96829783As warmer weather approaches and the snow melts away, Bostonians will be reminded of just how much we enjoy spending time in our beautiful green parks and public spaces, notable among them being the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

While the Greenway has emerged as a premier destination, our progressive city should think about what it could become – a widely recognized international urban playground comparable to Chicago’s Millennium Park or New York City’s Bryant Park. But, in order for its full potential to be reached, we need to take a few lessons from Mr. Norman Leventhal’s playbook who transformed Post Office Square into the thriving area it is today.

Before the Norman B. Leventhal Park in P.O. Square opened in 1992, the site was home to a three-story, above-ground cement parking garage – a real eye sore in the middle of a bustling Financial District. It took Mr. Leventhal’s great vision and tenacity to create what is now a beautiful 1.7-acre green oasis.

The success of the park is not limited to its beautiful landscape architecture and luscious green gardens, but also how it activated the entire neighborhood.

Boston Globe architecture critic Robert Campbell once wrote: “The business district used to be an unfathomable maze of streets and buildings without a center. The park provides that center, and all around it as if by magic and magnetism, the whole downtown suddenly seems gathered in an orderly array. It’s as if the buildings were pulling up to the park like campers around a bonfire.”

Before the park was created, the front entrances of the surrounding office towers faced opposite the park toward the “maze of streets” in the Financial District. For a section of Boston that serves as home for much of the city’s wealth and commerce, back then it seemed like a desolate neighborhood with no common ground or “center” for those living and working there to engage.

The Norman B. Leventhal Park created this “center.” As a result, the buildings whose backs once faced the square flipped their entrances toward it, and in turn, brought in restaurants, retail and a sense of identity for the district.

For the most part, the Greenway faces a similar branding problem. Now that we have this beautiful Greenway carved through the heart of downtown Boston, building owners, architects and developers should really be thinking about repositioning the front of their buildings toward the “center.”

If you walk down the 1.5-acre strip, you will notice that many of the buildings’ entrances are facing opposite the park toward the dark “maze of streets,” limiting options for retail, hospitality and ultimately commerce along this central corridor.

If we turned these buildings around, similar to what happened in P.O. Square and the projects we completed there, the 1 P.O. Square and 225 Franklin Street lobbies, the Greenway could serve as a grassy green extension of our workplace’s front porch. At CBT Architects, this is what we proposed for 200 State Street. The front entrance faced the harbor, but once the Greenway was developed, we proposed to flip the building around to face the park.

Atlantic Wharf and the Intercontinental Hotel have answered this call to action as well, and now the Greenway is just outside their front door, but more buildings need to follow suit to fully capture the influence this park can have in Boston.

Every building has a responsibility to engage with the parks and neighborhoods surrounding them. The Greenway has provided an opportunity to open the door for more restaurants, cafes and retail shops, all of which would dramatically enhance the experience for businesses, residents and visitors.

As more residential buildings come online, it is important that this park becomes one of the most activated corridors in the heart of Boston. At a time when every office building is competing to attract or retain tenants by adding new features and amenities, perhaps there is no better perk (and leasing opportunity) than for the buildings located along the Greenway to take advantage of their address and let this great park serve as their front yard.

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