Negative Reaction to North Square Redesign Concept

Preliminary North Square Concept Redesign by Boston Public Works.

Preliminary North Square Concept Redesign by Boston Public Works.

At a recent public meeting, North End residents and stakeholders harshly criticized a preliminary design for the reconstruction of North Square.

Boston Public Works has budgeted $2 million to make site improvements for historic North Square. Centrally located in Boston’s North End, it is one of the country’s oldest public squares and the founding spot for Boston’s longest occupied neighborhood. According to DPW, “the purpose of the project will be to improve the ability for people to enjoy the square, continuing its historical identity and make it accessible to all.” After a brief review of the existing conditions and project guidelines, meeting attendees were asked to react to a handout design image created by consultant Beta Inc.

With near uniformity, meeting attendees spoke against the proposed design as being too contemporary and lacking the historical sensibility that would be desired as part of any reconstruction. DPW’s consultant defended the image as preliminary and geared to elicit community feedback. The redesign itself was also questioned. Public Works reiterated the work was necessary to improve the accessibility of the square to handicap and disabled persons.

Specific issues discussed: Chains and bollards – The maritime design chains in North Square are from the USS Constitution and were placed around the time of the 1976 Bicentennial. The consultant said the chains were removed from the preliminary redesign because they restrict access to the center of the square. At the meeting, many people spoke in favor of keeping the chains, while allowing for access openings.

Cobblestones – Most attendees wanted to keep the cobblestones while recognizing the need for substantial repair to allow for more accessible walking and driving conditions.

Widening sidewalks – There are parts of the square, particularly near the Paul Revere House where the sidewalks are not passable with wheelchairs. There was general consensus that the sidewalks and curbside areas need extensive repair.

Benches / tables – A volunteer effort by abutter Sandro Carella to place benches and tables in the square was commended. It was suggested that the redesign include similar features.

Vehicle access – There were varying opinions of whether all parts of North Square should be accessible to cars versus more of a pedestrian plaza. Most attendees spoke in favor of keeping the existing roadways.

Boston Public Works is expected to schedule more meetings as the design evolves. A tentative schedule is to start construction in early 2016.

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