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Maligned for decades, City Hall Plaza to get EPA-aided makeover

Since City Hall Plaza opened, every mayor has tried — and failed — to salvage the area with grand improvements. Since City Hall Plaza opened, every mayor has tried — and failed — to salvage the area with grand improvements. (Wiqan Ang/Globe Staff/File 2007)
By Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / September 9, 2010

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City Hall Plaza has been skewered as a civic failure since a mason laid the final red brick in the late 1960s, completing the 7-acre expanse dubbed by an urban-planning group as one of “the most disappointing places in America.’’

But finally America has come to lend a hand: The Environmental Protection Agency selected Boston to receive technical assistance to make the windswept urban tundra more inviting.

The EPA will help Boston draft “greening options’’ with a down-to-earth catch: This time the plans have to be realistic.

The goal is to develop a “new vision that is doable,’’ said James W. Hunt III, the city’s chief of environmental and energy services. “The mayor very much wants to move forward with improvements that we can build that are relatively low cost.’’

Boston was one of five cities selected for the EPA’s Greening America’s Capitals project.

The agency will organize urban planners and landscape architects to help the city develop an environmentally friendly plan.

“New England is often at the vanguard of applying environmental principles to our lives, and striking a balance to promote healthier communities and a sustainable lifestyle,’’ said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office, in a statement.

The team will draw on the bevy of ideas that have been proposed for the plaza, and work on the design is to begin this fall.

Other state capitals included in the effort include Charleston, W.Va.; Little Rock, Ark.; Jefferson City, Mo.; and Hartford.

Since City Hall Plaza opened, every mayor has tried — and failed — to salvage the area with grand improvements: drive-in movies, European-style gardens, restaurants and a hotel; and a 150-foot-tall wind turbine, one of several earlier pitches from Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s administration.

This time the vision is much, much simpler: trees or other greenery; better storm water management; defined edges and entrances to the plaza; and green building improvements in City Hall and nearby buildings.

The Project for Public Spaces, the group that declared the plaza one of the country’s most disappointing spaces, had another suggestion to improve the space: take down the buildings, tear up the plaza, and start over again.

Menino already tried that when he proposed moving City Hall to South Boston.

Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.com.

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