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The New Urban Ring Design Charette

Mar 20, 2016



The School of Architecture hosted a design charrette in 1993 in order to help the citizens envision ways in which this comprehensive idea for planning, public space, development, and transportation might aid the growth for the region.


    September 18 & 19, 1993Northeastern UniversityBoston, Massachusetts

    2C o n t e n t s Introduction 1

    The Infrastructure Forum and The New Urban Ring M. David Lee 4

    Transportation as a Catalyst for Healthy Communities Kenneth E. Kruckemeyer 7

    Ring Dreaming and MakingAlex Krieger 12

    The Need for a Center:Politics, Morphology and the Ring George Thrush 17

    Site Programs 22

    Selected Projects 29

    Acknowledgements 33




  • 1Introduction

    It has been described as a loop, a belt, a bus line, a subway, an environmentalists park-ing solution, an open-space strategy, part of a regional transportation system, a new approach to urban development, a means for linking jobs and the unemployed, and a even as a paradigm for renewed civic life. But The New Urban Ring can also be understood as the essential foundation on which meaning-ful urban design might continue to be built in Boston. It offers the chance to connect the disparate experiences of our metropolitan area into a coherent, urbane system of trans-portation and public space.

    But what is it ? The reason that The New Urban Ring is difficult to define is that, for now anyway, it remains merely an idea. It is an idea that seeks to coordinate transporta-tion, economic development, environmental, and urban design issues into a single frame-work. This framework is a familiar one to those who have studied the physical form of the Boston region. The ring or loop form is already present in the twin highway belts that surround the city: Route 128 and Interstate 495. These roads offer more than a way to by-pass the citys core, they connect the many radial transportation strands emanat-ing from the city center with circumferential ones. This makes for a network of radial and circumferential roads that makes sense in a region focussed around the Hub. These cir-

    cumferential roads also served as armatures for economic development in the burgeoning suburban areas after the Second World War. They were seen as necessary infrastructure for successful development of Bostons outer reaches. The New Urban Ring proposes a similar circumferential system that would operate at the urban, rather than the subur-ban, scale.

    Urban designers and traffic planners have long noted the need for such a system

    (Arthur Shurtleffs 1909 plan shows this explicitly, as does the more recently pro-posed, and subsequently defeated, I-95 Inner Belt see Alex Kriegers essay in this catalogue). But by linking transportation and urban design issues, the proponents of The New Urban Ring have done much more than suggest the insertion of an appro-priately scaled transit system, they have explicitly challenged the prioritization of the automobile in transportation planning and by extension challenged the public subsidy of atomized, separated, discrete communi-ties through expenditures on transportation infrastructure. The New Urban Ring creates the opportunity for some new understanding of common, shared space. It does seem for-tunate indeed that this spatial condition; this hub with radial spokes would occur in a city like Boston; with its rich heritage of political progressivism and public life.

    This catalogue documents the unusual pro-cess through which The New Urban Ring has gained life. In its current form, the idea developed as the first project of The Boston Society of Architects Infrastructure Forum, a group created and chaired by M. David Lee, F.A.I.A., who served as President of the B.S.A. in 1992 . The Infrastructure Forum is an attempt to join business leaders, govern-ment planning agencies, and the design community in a discussion about Bostons

    What is The New Urban Ring

    The New Urban Ring Logo(Graphic by Mary-Ann Agresti)

  • 2future. Members of the Forum saw the depression of the Central Artery and the con-struction of the Third Harbor Tunnel as the end of a planning process that had begun in the 1970s. Now was the time to look ahead. M. David Lees essay, The Infrastructure Forum and The New Urban Ring documents this process here.

    Kenneth E. Kruckemeyer is another charter member of the Infrastructure Forum, and as the former associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Works, he played a critical role in galvanizing pub-lic opposition to the Inner-Belt expressway in the 1970s. For many the halting of I-95 marked a turning point in how we think about transportation infrastructure. No longer would we imagine that the convenience of high-speed automobile traffic should be achieved regardless of the price to be paid by those whose neighborhoods would be destroyed by the resulting highways. This experience has led Kruckemeyer to study the relation-ship between a variety of transportation sys-tems and the communities they might serve. His essay, Transportation as a Catalyst for Healthy Communities, applies these ideas to The New Urban Ring.

    Though not an Infrastructure Forum member, Alex Krieger, Professor of Urban Design at Harvard Universitys Graduate School of

    Design, has done as much as anyone to bring the idea of The New Urban Ring for-ward. The difference for Krieger is that the idea is anything but new. His 1986 book, Past Futures: Two Centuries of Imagining Boston, compiles a wealth of information on the history of Bostons development. The book documents a long history of civic minded planning and urban design proposals for Boston. It places todays push towards The New Urban Ring in a context that both humbles its sponsors and strengthens their

    arguments. Kriegers essay, Ring Dreaming and Making, makes clear that this endeavor could be both a step forward and a move to recapture some of what makes Bostons past so rich.

    The final essay, The Need for a Center: Politics, Morphology, and the Ring, is an attempt to connect the ring concept with evolving cultural and political metaphors. It posits The New Urban Ring as the next logical step after both The Melting Pot and The Quilt in terms of how we relate to one another as individuals, as well as to the gov-ernment and culture that we share.

    Six months before the initial meeting of the Infrastructure Forum, in June of 1992, Northeastern Universitys Architecture Concentration held its first Urban Design Charrette (see Catalogue 1, 1992). This event sought to engage area architects, artists, and urban designers in studying the complex areas surrounding Northeasterns Boston Campus. The Architecture Concentration saw this event as the first in an annual series that would study different parts of the city, including those which fell under the jurisdiction of more than one politi-cal or planning district, and as such remained unconsidered as part of any whole.

    In joining the work of the Infrastructure Forum












    Quincy Bay








    KeyMain Highways


    Local Subway

    Transfer Point



























    Commuter Rail and Transit Line Connections

  • 3with that of Northeasterns Urban Design Charrette Series, the work of both became much clearer. By making The New Urban Ring the subject of the second Charrette, both groups began to focus on generating a physical form for The New Urban Ring. This began with seeking information that might serve as part of a development program for different parts of the ring. This appears in the catalogue as Site Programs. These programs were the product of a preliminary charrette convened at Wentworth Institute of Technology with community and institutional representatives in June, 1993. That informa-tion was compiled and became the program information used in the ultimate design char-rette at Northeastern in September, 1993.

    The Second Northeastern University Urban Design Charrette took place over the week-end of September 18 & 19, and drew fifty designers, community group representatives, and neighbors. Northeastern Architecture Concentration Head George Thrush and B.S.A. Infrastructure Forum Chair M. David Lee were joined by Northeasterns Visiting Distinguished Professor of Political Science and former Governor and Presidential can-didate, Michael S. Dukakis in welcoming the participants.

    Over the next two days participants gener-ated drawings and diagrams of what exactly

    The New Urban Ring might be like. They ranged from alignment proposals to street sections, and station proto-types to images of specific intersections. Finally, the work was collected and exhibited at the top of the Prudential Center Tower in Bostons Back Bay. An opening reception drew hundreds of citizens interested in viewing a possible future for their region. The proposals shown here as Selected Projects have been chosen to show the many possible interpretations that remain for The New Urban Ring.

    Finally, as a testament to the large number of area residents, institutions, designers, and public officials who have taken part in planning, creation, and support of this effort, please refer to the section entitled, Acknowledgements.

  • 4M. David Lee, F.