Boston Trip – Reflection Paper

Boston Reflection Paper
April 14, 2011
Reflection on the Boston trip

I had never been to Boston before this trip. I can now say I have had the honor of seeing a
great deal of Boston in just a few days.
The MRED program is built on some basic core design and place making principles. Part
of these core ideas is collecting places. To understand the diversity, scope and scale of
various places; you have to go there and see them. You have to go and experience them.
Boston was not only a trip about collecting a city and experiencing a new place but
exploring many of the core ideals on which the program is built.
The Boston trip is our third trip of the program. It comes on the heels of Philadelphia and
Washington. Each of which were unique experiences with Washington primarily dealing
with the ULI conference. With no conference scheduled for this trip I assumed the
itinerary would be organized and would mimic the Philadelphia trip. From an itinerary
perspective the Boston trip did just that. The experiences were vastly different and so
were the takeaways. As is Philadelphia, we had meetings with local developers from a
diversity of project types and scales, meetings with city authorities, local designers on
hand leading tours and providing insights, along with walking tours and group
experiences of the unique culture of Boston. Unlike Philadelphia, we were ready this
time. We had a set of experiences to draw on and to provide us a foundation to build new
experiences on. Armed with what we knew from our previous trip we were able to take
that perspective to Boston and discuss topics and points with another level of
sophistication. Having time in the program helped this perspective along also. We have
spent a greater degree of time discussing place making and development, learning about
financial models and relationships that build partnerships and businesses. This
accumulation of experience and knowledge provided us with a different perspective for
this trip.
The trip to Boston was to a greater degree a trip about place. Philadelphia introduced us
to partnerships, sustainability, and developers of varying scales and degree. Boston took
those factors and showed us what we may not have seen before, connecting place and
place making.
The trip began at Fan Pier with an introduction to a local architect/ developer who would
be our tour guide for our first day. We started with a large 20-acre development that was
in the process of bucking trends of the past 30 years of development by moving a
specialized industry out of their historic place and creating a new campus. Not just a new
campus, but also a new PLACE for innovation in Boston that currently does not exist.
The developers had found a deal to acquire 20 acres of land, which was already
permitted. They had found a tenant through long established relationships and were
capitalizing on the tenant’s needs and the current expansion in the market. The
partnership was forged on long standing relationships, desired by the current city politics
and built around the day to day experiences the tenant wanted to see occur. The tenant
was very savvy, speaking of the company’s desire for place. Places for their employees,
to live, work and play. Places that were diverse and engaging and provided them
amenities and options that were not to be found across the river. Both the tenant and
developer talked about place and its meaning to business. Twenty acres in Boston is not
cheap real estate, it is and has the potential to be a highly desirable place. The developer
walked us through historic context for developing in Boston and established many of the
basic lessons we would hear from other developers. We had a reference point and
understanding as we moved the tour to other places. One aspect the developer mentioned,
that I found very interesting was their take on retail as the amenity. Not just a cash
source, but as a means to develop place and create a place people would want to be in and
invest. Retail was their amenity in which they invested. The amenity they established,
helped to start and if done right collected profit from. But it was an amenity first, a cash
flow second.
The idea of creating place, investing in what makes a place and letting the market
develop was a theme we would hear and experience during the trip. Each developer we
met echoed many of the same sentiments. We explored developments new and old, large
and small and at each stop talked about place.
From Fan Pier, we experienced Kendall Square and Life Science Development. We
walked parts of MIT and saw spaces that engaged designers of Frank Ghery and I.M. Pei,
whose buildings formed courtyards and places people wanted to be. We learned about the
nature and the development patterns of the area and how the market was influenced by
the availability of the connections that were unique to that place such as the intellectual
capital of MIT and Harvard. There are also the burgeoning industries which have
transformed their market foot prints to command world positions in Bio-Tech and Bio-
Medical fields didn’t happen by chance but because there was an opportunity for them to
occur. Where Cambridge soared forward, Boston at Fan Pier was looking to create
similar opportunities and places.
Another great moment for me was the walking tour we took of MIT around the
University park, lead by Peter Calkins of Forest City. We were able to discuss their
development from its inception to its realization to date and hear how close the final
product mirrored their initial plans and where the differences were. More importantly
why those differences happened and how it was all-successful. One great moment was
touring one of the smaller side courtyards, were we learned that once spring finally broke,
tables and chairs would be filling the space as daily retail spilled out of the building for
the employees and local residents to use. As we walked the area, I walked up to admire a
piece of focal art in the main plaza and was told by Mr. Calkins that the artist and the art
piece were chosen because they wanted to explore the idea and felling of corridor. They
wanted to let people experience the entire place through the art piece, which extend
throughout the plaza. Mr. Calkins spoke fondly of the artist and the piece. You could hear
how he choose his words with care and pride at what they done here in this place they
had created.
Our trip lead us through many of the topics we had touched in the course of the last few
semesters and many of the projects we had been discussing. It was wonderful to see and
touch them in person. It was wonderful to be walk and tour a city I had not visited before.
Places I could now say I had experienced, places I have now collected.

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