Boston Air Rights
by James McCown
Creating urban land where none existed before seems to be a Boston tradition. Dredging of the Charles River and leveling of hills in the 1800s transformed a shallow backwater into the stylish Back Bay neighborhood. Now developable "plots" are being created by leasing of "air rights" over the portion of the Massachusetts Turnpike that traverses downtown.
The massive construction project popularly known as the "Big Dig" is submerging the short stretch of Interstate 93 that passes through the financial district, leaving parkland and open pedestrian space at ground level. In contrast, the "air rights" approach for the turnpike, Interstate 90, leaves the highway intact, above ground, but builds over it.
Massive platforms will be built strong enough to support highrise buildings, townhouses, and verdant public spaces over the turnpike.
There's a lot at stake. Success in this project will reunite neighborhoods that were separated when "the Pike" was built in the 1950s and 1960s. New construction could mean as much as $500 million in lease income to the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA), which is facing multibillion dollar cost overruns on the Big Dig. And the political fortunes of Mayor Thomas Menino remain in the balance between the demands of powerful community groups and the economic need for development and tax revenue in newly lean times for his city.
Conscious of how towers along the three-mile (five-kilometer) turnpike corridor could transform the character of downtown, Menino commissioned a master plan in 1998 entitled "A Civic Vision for Turnpike Air Rights in Boston," with the local firm Goody, Clancy & Associates leading the planning team. >>>
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The Cassin/Winn project would place a public park over the turnpike. This view looks west toward one of the two proposed highrises.
Image: CBT/Childs Bertman Tseckares Architects
The Cassin/Winn site over the Massachusetts Turnpike, looking east toward downtown Boston.
Photo: James McCown
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