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Boston Aims To Redesign City Hall Plaza Into 'Welcoming Front Yard For Civic Life'

An aerial view of the proposed renovations. (Courtesy City of Boston)
An aerial view of the proposed renovations. (Courtesy City of Boston)

Boston City Hall Plaza will soon undergo a $70 million facelift that promises to transform the plot from what's been described by some as a “barren wasteland” into what city officials call “a welcoming front yard for civic life.”

“We wanted it to also be a place that wasn't just a cut-through, you know, 'Meet me at City Hall Plaza, let's get a cup of coffee,’ ” Patrick Brophy, chief of operations for the city, told reporters inside City Hall on Monday.

Since it was built 50 years ago City Hall Plaza has been singled out for its architectural uniqueness — whether praised as a triumph of brutalism, or lambasted as "one of the most disappointing places in America,” according to the nonprofit Project for Public Spaces, which included the space on its Hall of Shame.

Mayor Marty Walsh announced early in his tenure that he wanted to transform City Hall Plaza into a more welcoming and user-friendly space. Some four years later, city officials released Tuesday their new renovation plans.

Kate Tooke of the design firm Sasaki, which was hired to spearhead the redesign, said an important priority for the plan was increased accessibility. She said that goal has been difficult to achieve due to the sloped elevation of the lot.

“The [Americans with Disabilities Act] did not exist when this plaza was designed, and so you have 22 feet of grade change, which was dealt with in terms of a series of terraces,” Tooke said. “But now we have codes which govern accessibility, and we also have a philosophy as a community of designers that spaces should be universally accessible.”

Tooke said the renovations will do away with terraces that make it difficult for people in wheelchairs to get around the plaza.

Here's a sampling of the planned new features:

  • 100% of the plaza to be considered "accessible"
  • 12,000 square feet of play space
  • 100 trees
  • New permeable surfaces to absorb stormwater
  • The reopening of the second floor entrance to City Hall
  • For events, seven "plug and play" areas with electricity and other services

Members of the public are invited to an open house that will focus on the redesign. It's from 4 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5 at City Hall Plaza.

Renderings of the renovations:

The main entrance. (Courtesy City of Boston)
The main entrance. (Courtesy City of Boston)
The main plaza in the winter. (Courtesy City of Boston)
The main plaza in the winter. (Courtesy City of Boston)
Congress Street "civic pavilion." (Courtesy City of Boston)
Congress Street "civic pavilion." (Courtesy City of Boston)
Congress Street entrance. (Courtesy City of Boston)
Congress Street entrance. (Courtesy City of Boston)
(Courtesy City of Boston)
(Courtesy City of Boston)
(Courtesy City of Boston)
(Courtesy City of Boston)
Children's playscape area. (Courtesy City of Boston)
Children's playscape area. (Courtesy City of Boston)

Simón Rios Twitter Reporter
Simón Ríos is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.

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