Coming Soon: City Pilots New “Interim Plazas”on Franklin Street and Harrison Avenue

Franklin Street and Harrison Avenue are set for a makeover. Both downtown locations will be home to “interim plazas” and kick start the realization of the Public Realm Plan called out in the City’s Go Boston 2030 transportation plan.   The City of Boston is working on both projects with local community partners and will be installing them in the coming months.  As part of the Public Realm Planning Study for Go Boston 2030, A Better City has worked hand-in-hand with the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) and other city agencies to formalize the design standards and specifications that will inform the installation of these new public spaces. By replacing obsolete roadway with public space, the City of Boston and its plaza partners will transform streets into destinations, increase pedestrian traffic and open space offer, revitalize retail activity, and make communities safer.

Interim plazas transform underused roadways into pedestrian plazas for up-to-two years with the use of low-cost, easily deployable materials, and urban furniture. Paint and planters are used to define the plaza’s footprint. Movable chairs and tables invite pedestrians to sit and relax. At a lower price tag, these demonstration projects show community members and other stakeholders how the space could be transformed before they commit to more permanent changes. Some American cities are starting to replace interim plazas with permanent ones as the former are proving the potential for a more sustained impact through long-lasting infrastructure.

Often implemented through public-private partnerships between municipal agencies and local organizations, there are a number of ways these collaborations have been set up. Some municipalities provide the financial and technical support to install the plazas, relying on their local community partners for site selection, ongoing maintenance, and programming. In others, the private sector controls the whole development process and their city staff provides technical assistance and design resources. Others, like San Francisco, have a combination of both models.  In Boston, the City has established partnerships with local business groups to manage the installation and maintenance of the Franklin Street and Harrison Avenue projects.  A Better City is working with the City to develop new models for future projects.

Boston’s first interim plaza is scheduled to debut by spring 2018 on Franklin Street, on the stretch between Arch and Hawley streets. In August 2016, the BTD and the Downtown Boston BID started to explore ways to repurpose this part of the roadway by testing a conceptual design at a three-hour event, where they closed down on-street parking and a travel lane, delineated the plazas footprint with planters and fences, and opened the area to pedestrians.  Millennium Partners, developers of the adjacent tower, financed that experiment and are funding the design and construction of the new interim plaza.  The Downtown Boston BID has worked with BTD to facilitate dialogue among the City, Millennium Partners and abutters to refine design and improve the operation. Work is continuing to plan for operations of the plaza and to design a data collection process that will test the plaza’s impact.

Next spring, a second interim plaza will pop up on Harrison Avenue, between Essex and Beach Streets. A Better City led the development of the conceptual design proposal that now serves as guide for this plaza’s final design; this was done in cooperation with the BTD, other city agencies, Chinatown Main Street and local youth and resident groups. Stantec’s Urban Places Group served as design consultant for these proposals.  The Cresset Group, developers of a new residential retrofit bordering the site, is funding the final design and construction of the interim plaza. Details about this project and process will be discussed at A Better City’s September Board Meeting.

A Better City sees an opportunity in the repurposing of underused transportation infrastructure to advance Boston’s environmental, economic, and social goals. The interim plazas coming to Franklin Street and Harrison Avenue are just two in a series of plaza projects that will start to appear around the city. New models for public spaces are emerging in Boston. With A Better City’s Assistant Planning Director serving as project manager and advisor for all projects developed under the Public Realm Planning Study for Go Boston 2030, the business community is helping to shape these paradigms and supporting the City of Boston in its quest for a better public realm.

To learn more details about Harrison Avenue’s interim plaza, our involvement with other City-led placemaking efforts, and the Public Realm planning Study for Go Boston 2030, join us at our upcoming Board Meeting or contact Irene Figueroa-Ortiz, Assistant Planning Director.


By: Irene Figueroa Ortiz, Assistant Planning Director

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