There’s a reason that old wives’ tale about Boston’s roads being built on cow paths has lingered for so long. These three pros had thoughts on making it easier to get around town, whether on foot or behind the wheel.
“I would love to see a redesigning of the city so that Boston’s neighborhoods feel more connected,” says Liz Pawlak, vice president of Design Museum Boston. “This doesn’t have to be a huge physical undertaking or an expensive redesign.” Consider the ideas that came out of the museum’s Urban Innovation Festival, a three-day hackathon that took place under an I-93 overpass in July. “Ten teams paired with local residents designed prototypes to make the area between South Boston and the South End more livable and connected,” Pawlak explains. “The museum is working to produce the winning design, the Urban Hike, created by the team from Fidelity Labs, which would connect SOWA to the Greenway and downtown with a trail of markers leading folks through exciting points of interest in different communities. We imagine applying this concept to link other neighborhoods as well. The potential for design to transform and unify the city is huge!”
“Before we dream up robotic Dunkin’ Donuts clerks, let’s start with the basics, like street signs, traffic lights and clear lane delineation,” says Andrew Smiles, creative director of Tank, a Cambridge design firm whose clients include MiniLuxe, TEDxCambridge and Reebok. He points to the Allstate America’s Best Drivers Report, which ranked Boston dead last in its look at 200 American cities, noting that a Boston driver is 167.6 percent more likely to have an accident than the national average. “Is that because we’re all Massholes? Possibly. But perhaps we’re Massholes because there are street signs on the left side of the street pointing you right, or on the right side pointing you left. There are signs hiding other signs, and signs hidden in trees obviously placed there in the fall (yes, leaves do grow back—every year). It’s astounding how Boston has managed to complicate what should be the most simplistic of design challenges: Get me from A to B without using Waze or Google. What we need is an Erik Spiekermann approach to reimagining our Boston wayfinding system,” Smiles says, nodding to the designer who’s helped Germans make their way through Berlin’s metro and Düsseldorf’s airport. “Let’s start with the simple shit first.”
“Mayor Tom Menino’s vision to take 1,000 acres on the South Boston waterfront and design and develop it into the first officially labeled innovation district in the U.S. underscores Boston’s commitment to lead in innovation,” says Tom Burchard, vice president of customer experience design at Altitude, a Somerville firm that’s pretty innovative itself, having worked on projects like WikiFoods’ edible packaging as well as a “Netflix for cocktails” concept with app-enabled “smart caps” to facilitate perfect pours. “From the ICA to District Hall to the Innovation Center, the area is a literal definition of innovation…. So much so it’s created a mass invasion of professional, tech and innovation companies who vacated the traditional downtown neighborhood for a spiffier waterfront address, even luring GE, one of the nation’s largest companies.” The problem, in Burchard’s view? “Our Disney Tomorrowland ideals have a road and traffic management system that feels more like Frontierland, with a 20-minute drive from one end to the other. What this area desperately needs, and clearly deserves, is a bypass loop that allows quick and easy circumnavigation of the Innovation District, providing people with an innovative experience commensurate with the new vision.”