Public spaces define a city’s personality. Parks and squares, harbors and historic sites are the face that Boston shows the world and are a great source of pride for Boston’s residents.

A Better City helps give voice to and coordinate the many stakeholders involved in developing, managing and funding Boston’s vibrant public spaces.

Roslindale Parklet Installation

In May 2019, A Better City partnered with Roslindale Village Main Street (RVMS) and the City of Boston, and community partners to transform Birch Street in Roslindale into a street for people. This spring, we began work with a landscape architecture firm, Merritt Chase, on the design of the project. Based on the communities and businesses input the "Birch Forest" concept was selected, which include added-in trees, permanent wooden seating, and movable chairs. In early May, we tested the design concept on the street as part of a week-long pop-up event to talk directly to community members. On the weekend there were games for kids, a few vendors, and music performances. The response from everyone was overwhelmingly positive.



Jamaica Plain Parklet Installation

Centre Street is Jamaica Plain’s primary retail corridor—and the intersection of Centre Street and Green Street is one of the most central and busy sections of the street. Over a six-month period in 2019, A Better City began working with JP Centre/South Main Streets, Merritt Chase, and the City of Boston to design a parklet on Green Street.

The new parklet is located in front of the Blue Frog Bakery in Jamaica Plain. Because the bakery has limited inside seating and no plazas nearby, a parklet is a great way to increase seating for shop patrons and pedestrians, while also creating a space for other visitors to the Main Streets District.

Municipal Harbor Planning Process

Several parts of Boston’s Downtown Waterfront have been identified for potential development, including parcels at the edge of the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel, at the Harbor Garage, and at the site of Hook Lobster. The Boston Redevelopment Authority is managing the process which will result in amplifications, substitutions, and offsets to be incorporated into the overall plan to satisfy requirements of the Massachusetts Public Waterfront Act, known as Chapter 91.

Why It’s Important

Boston’s Waterfront is one of the city’s great attractions, featuring the New England Aquarium, two major hotels and passenger maritime activities on Long Wharf. Managing development to balance the needs of businesses, workers, commuters, residents and visitors will be critical to success of the project.

A Better City’s Role

A Better City serves on the Downtown Waterfront Planning Advisory Committee, which is instrumental in development of the Municipal Harbor Plan for space along the water’s edge from Christopher Columbus Park to the Moakley Bridge. In this role, A Better City has provided detailed written and oral comments on the Public Realm and Watersheet Activation Plan and on the City’s description of proposed amplifications, substitutions, and offsets in the Municipal Harbor Plan.

Public Realm Planning Study

In 2015, A Better City partnered with the Boston Transportation Department to develop the Public Realm Planning Study for Go Boston 2030. As co-chair for the Go Boston 2030 Plan, A Better City identified the untapped potential of Boston’s transportation to function as a network of vibrant public spaces that would support social, cultural, and economic activities. This study explores and devices placemaking strategies to claim streets for people. A Better City is currently working with its partners and design consultant in revising the Boston’s Parklets Program, and developing design and planning standards for implementing sidewalk cafes and interim plazas.  These standards will be tested in a series of pilot plazas scheduled for 2017 and 2018. Our project team is also supporting City efforts to streamline the design review process through standardization.   

Why It’s Important

Streets are the largest open space network owned by cities. Unfortunately, the current design of our streets responds to engineering principles aimed at traffic efficiency and does not respond to today’s need for multi-modal transport. Obsolete street design translates into vast under-utilized roadway that could be repurposed with other transportation and land uses. This study develops resources and best practices to retrofit Boston’s streets to accommodate an array of social, cultural, and economic activities, create vibrant neighborhoods, and boost the region’s socio-economic development.  

A Better City’s Role

A Better City serves as project manager and advisor for all projects developed under this initiative.  A Better City also edited the content for the publications: “A Guide to Placemaking for Mobility” –recipient of the 2017 Chapter Award by The Congress of New Urbanism (CNU) – “The State of the Public Realm in Boston,” and “Inspirational Ideas for Boston’s Public Realm.”  This work is supported by the Barr Foundation and Enterprise Rose Architectural Fellowship.


Retrofitting Phillips Square

At the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Essex Street, Phillips Square is a dormant public space, waiting for Bostonians to realize its full potential. Currently, the location is over-designed for vehicular traffic, with one underutilized roadway and an empty traffic island.  In partnership with the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) and Boston Planning and Design Agency (BPDA), A Better City manages the development of a conceptual design proposal for retrofitting Phillips Square. The project team has convened a series of design charrettes with the local community to shape the proposal.  The City of Boston plans to implement a semi-permanent version of the finalized conceptual design proposal in 2017.

Why It’s Important

This conceptual design proposal sets the foundation for the transformation of Phillip Square into a vibrant public space in the heart of Chinatown. By the end of 2017, this location will be improved so it can support better local social and economic activities. 

A Better City’s Role

A Better City serves as project manager for the project team, managing the consulting team and budget, tracking progress, and developing work plans. Our team works hand in hand with our partners to ensure implementation of the design proposal in the near future.