Some people think Downtown Crossing is fine, as is. “It’s an urban mall, lots of people go through there, the stores seem to make money … why does everything have to be perfect, shiny, clean, and neat?”
Other, saner, people would say that Downtrown Crossing is a messy failure.
Yes, I’m in the second group.
The newest, latest attempt to create something successful down there is John Hynes III, he of the Gale Company (or is it Gale International), who is about to build an office and condominium tower next to and above the historic Filene’s building.
So, what went wrong with Downtown Crossing?
I agree with Mr. Hynes’ assessment:
For starters, says Hynes, it was conceived when the city core was marbled with parking garages built for suburban shoppers. The strategy was retrograde because it was geared to a Boston of the ’50s and ’60s. Before long, he notes, you had options like the malls in Chestnut Hill, Burlington, and on the South Shore. In town, give or take a few years, appeared Copley Place, a resurgent Back Bay, and Quincy Market.
“So why go to Downtown Crossing?” he asks. Today, he adds, “I don’t know of a department store that wants to be here. That’s a market reality. If you’re a city dweller, why not go out to a suburban mall in your car?”
Definitely. I live in the city; I never went to Filene’s, I never go to Macy’s. I’d rather drive to Cambridgeside Galleria, or down to South Bay to go shopping.
I don’t agree with the Globe reporter, who says this:
There is another factor at play. The elephant in the living room — pick your clichÃ© — is race. Everyone knows it but no one talks about it. The truth is that long before Filene’s went south, droves of suburban matrons and urban whites were scared off by black kids in puffy parkas who hung out there. So what do you do about that?
Hynes steers clear of the subject but says this: “You see people walking to the T after work with their heads down. They never look up because they don’t want to be panhandled.”
“I’ve asked women why they don’t shop at Downtown Crossing,” he continues. “They say, `I only shop there when when I need something. I usually get it close to home or I go to Back Bay.’ I ask them `why?’ They say, “It’s cleaner. I feel safer. The shops are better.’ Cleanliness and security come first, then the quality of the stores.”
I agree with the puffy parka, not so much about race.
When you go to Harvard Square, you feel afraid, because annoying (white) teenagers skateboard and run around you, throwing things, shouting loudly, making you unsettled.
Same is true of Downtown Crossing, around 2:30, in the afternoon.
Not every commercial area needs to be clean and bright, but it does, if you want it to be successful.
More: Building ingredients – By Sam Allis, The Boston Globe