Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Boston's Skyline Has Barely Changed Since I Was a Kid

When Boston's Prudential Tower was completed in 1964, it was the tallest building in the world outside of New York City. Even Chicago, which was home to the first skyscraper and a city perpetually obsessed with erecting the grandest buildings around, couldn't match Beantown.

A decade later, Boston added another landmark building, the John Hancock Tower. It was even taller (based on roof height) and helped usher in a new era of glassy skyscrapers.

Well, those glory days of Boston architecture are long gone. The city has rested on its laurels for decades, and its skyline is largely unchanged from when I was a kid. Sure, there are a few additions (such as 111 Huntington Avenue — the 2002 tower known as the R2-D2 building), but the John Hancock is still the tallest thing in the city.

This was striking last week as we drove through Boston. The skyline feels squat and unimpressive. The most exciting part is the Zakim Bridge, which opened more than 10 years ago. Boston's biggest marvel of recent years may well be the Big Dig, but a tunnel system is hardly a signature look.

Boston's Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge

When I lived in San Francisco, there were always complaints that NIMBYs would block any new construction. But a tower is now rising in San Francisco that will become the city's tallest, topping out at 1,070 feet when it's completed in 2017. In fact, seven U.S. cities have broken ground on 1,000-foot towers in recent decades. Boston is not one of them.

BuboBlog infographic (photo courtesy of Cushman and Wakefield).

I realize that most people don't obsess over skyscrapers, but you wonder if the proud city of Boston is embarrassed to be eclipsed by the likes of Houston and Atlanta.

It does call itself the "Cradle of Liberty." I guess cradles aren't designed to hold very large things.