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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.


Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco


Yerba Buena Yerba Buena Park is built on top of San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center. Above is a waterfall dedicated to Martin Luther King.


* Commonwealth Avenue: Back Bay's elegant boulevard is one of the city's most successful streets.
* Piers Park: Successful in large part because of the designer's sensitivity to the requests of the East Boston community.
* Post Office Square: A lovely oasis in the heart of the city's Financial District that's a good example of public-private partnership.
* South Boston Marine Park: This not-yet-completed park recognizes that open space alone is not enough to attract people.

* Parc de Clot: Interesting reuse of an old industrial site on a scale similar to many Central Artery parcels.
* Porta Vell: A mostly successful project that reconnected a port city with its waterfront.
* The Ramblas: An outstanding example of a main thoroughfare with a people-friendly scale.

* Parc Andre Citroen: Reuse of a huge industrial complex to create a park that is an urban work of art.
* Viaduc des Arts/Promenade Plantee: Innovative reuse of an old elevated railroad viaduc to create a much-needed urban park.

San Francisco
* Crissy Field: An obsolete military base was redeveloped into a vast and successful public open space.
* Ferry Building Plaza: A not-altogether-successful attempt to redevelop the land formerly occupied by an elevated downtown expressway.
* Rincon Park: Public-private partnership use to build and maintain a waterfront public park.

Yerba Buena Center is an 87-acre, 12 block, mixed-use development that extends from Market to Harrison streets, Second Street to west of Fourth Street. It is located adjacent to the San Francisco downtown office and retail district, which is north along Market Street. Formerly known as the "Tenderloin District" -- Yerba Buena once consisted of dilapidated hotels, commercial, and industrial buildings suitable as the setting for a Dashel Hammet novel. In 1947 legislation was passed to create the Yerba Buena Redevelopment District, one of the first urban renewal districts in the United States.

Today, museums and other cultural attractions occupy 20 acres at the core of the district. These facilities surround a five-acre rolling green park that is actually the roof of the city's 500,000-square-foot Moscone Convention Center, constructed underground. Last year, 270 outdoor events -- performances, concerts, exhibits of all kinds -- were programmed in the Yerba Buena green, making it a year-round destination for the city. The balance of the district has been developed as luxury hotels and commercial retail, including 3,750 apartments, half of them affordable. According to Robert Campbell of The Boston Globe, Yerba Buena is the perfect example of three things: the power of long-range integrated planning, the need to feed a public space with activity from its edges, and the importance of programmed activity to give richness to the life of that space. It's also an example of the need for maintenance: $2.5 million a year is spent, including full-time security.


The Yerba Buena Garden is based on the idea that construction of new cultural facilities and public open space can transform a blighted district and bring economic development. Kenzo Tange completed the original master plan for the district, working with Gerald M. McCue and Associates. Fumihiko Maki designed the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. James Stewart Polshek designed a new theater complex adjacent to the arts center. The architecture firm of SMWM designed the Zeum -- a multiplex complete with an Imax theater, and an electronic games entertainment center. The central green connects restaurants and cafes to the performing areas and the entrances of other buildings.


Yerba Buena is an example of long-term planning leading to neighborhood revitalization and urban design success. Creation of the Redevelopment Authority put a strong client in place, which could be held accountable, whether the outcome was a success or a failure. Yerba Buena is self-sustaining, deriving income from development of land it controls to offset the cost of community facilities, including the operation and maintenance of public open space. The project also demonstrates the need for public open space to be surrounded by commercial activity and housing.

These case studies were researched and written by Zhan Guo and Alex-Ricardo Jimenez of MIT, under the direction of Thomas J. Piper of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. They examine a series of urban open space projects with particular lessons for Boston as it decides the future of the land freed up when the Central Artery moves underground.

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