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Autumn 1999
City Journal Autumn 1999.
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America’s Trillion-Dollar Housing Mistake: The Failure of American Housing Policy
by Howard Husock
America's Trillion-Dollar Housing Mistake.
 
  S oundings

A Model Park
Howard Husock
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One of the best new things that's happened in Boston in years is Post Office Square Park—a triumph not only of urban design but also of creative private financing that advances both private interests and the public interest in equal measure.

As landscape design, the park is the polar opposite of those uninviting, windswept brick and concrete plazas that architectual modernism presents as "open space" and that few people frequent. Its welcoming neotraditional design, courtesy of Boston architect Craig Halvorson, boasts a lovely fountain at one end and a bustling open-air restaurant at the other, with groomed paths, trellises, and a profusion of flora in between and around its perimeter. At just 2.3 acres, it's cozy, too, offering a human-scale flourish of nature in the heart of town.

What makes Post Office Square Park all the more delicious is that, for 40 years before its transformation in 1992, it was a concrete parking garage, an eyesore that detracted from the buildings that faced it and lessened their value as real estate.

Now, though, the park, surrounded by—but buffered from—the city's most congested streets and within a short walk of 250,000 financial-district office workers, has become an oasis—inch for inch the most frequently used open space in the city. Some call it the best dating spot in Boston; others deem it Boston's most successful urban development project this decade. It has sparked what planners call "mixed-use" development around its borders, including fine boutique hotels, whose guests help populate the park.At least as inspired as the park's design was its financing. Prominent Boston developer and philanthropist Norman Levanthal bankrolled the park by building an underground parking garage and selling the parking spaces to owners of neighboring buildings. The scheme brought in $29 million, enough to see the project through. Levanthal himself owns property on Post Office Square, so he has done well by doing good, boosting the value of his own real estate by creating an amenity for the entire city. And the neighboring landlords are happy that their investment has brought them not only needed parking space but an enhancement of their property values, too. No wonder that leftist anti-development advocates, baffled to see private investment advancing the public good so unequivocally, have protested the project, which affronts their most deeply held anti-capitalist beliefs.

Levanthal has now tackled an even more ambitious project: trying to turn the city's notoriously uninviting City Hall Plaza into something resembling a park. It's a good augury that the antibusiness activists are out in force protesting this project.

It's unfortunate that green pressure groups such as EDF continue to use junk science as a political tool to promote their anti-energy agenda.

 

 


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