First and foremost, the South Station Expansion project is about providing better transportation service: more train tracks and redesigned platforms; upgraded switches, signals, and other infrastructure; and new amenities. Taken together, these improvements will all make traveling through South Station more convenient, reliable, pleasant, and accessible.
But that is only part of the story. South Station sits prominently amid a diverse and growing collection of old and new neighborhoods and business districts, visitor attractions, parks, water, and a network of roads and sidewalks. How will an improved and expanded station fit into the changing urban fabric? How will it complement — and even help to integrate — its surrounding spaces, rather than stand apart? These are the types of questions facing the South Station Expansion project team members working on a crucial element of the project: urban design. Urban design blends architecture, landscape architecture, and city planning to make urban areas more functional, vibrant, and attractive to a wide range of users. It examines how a project fits into the context of a city and its neighborhoods, and how residents and visitors interact with it. Good urban design connects people and places. And around South Station, an array of new places will mean lots of new faces for years to come.
“Millions of square feet of development have been mapped out in the neighborhoods around South Station,” notes Project Manager Kate Fichter. “We are going to have very different neighbors 50 years from now, and we have to plan accordingly in order to take advantage of this moment of growth and opportunity.”
As part of creating a vision for South Station, MassDOT is reviewing all area development plans – more than 40 documents so far – studying existing land use patterns, and considering things such as function, volume, and scale. Zoning restrictions, open space goals, waterfront guidelines, and even projected sea level changes are among the many factors being taken into account. All of these considerations work together to create a compelling and clearly understood “public realm.”
Also crucial to a successful urban design is connectivity: preserving and enhancing existing connections for pedestrians, transit riders, bicyclists, and vehicles, and ensuring that future planned connections and enhancements are factored in. Key connections around South Station include those to the Rose Kennedy Greenway, Innovation District, South Bay, Fort Point Channel, Chinatown, Leather District, and other new area development.
One of the most significant and tantalizing design opportunities for the South Station Expansion project is the potential to reclaim a historic part of the city: the edge of Fort Point Channel along Dorchester Avenue. Currently, Dorchester Avenue is a private way leading to the adjacent U.S. Postal Service building. But when South Station is expanded on to that site, Dorchester Avenue will re-open to the public with a connection to the Harborwalk, creating a great new place. In addition, potential development over the expanded track area could include a mix of residential, office, retail, and hotel uses.
Amid all this change, it is critical that a public building as important as South Station continue to be a prominent venue in the city. More than a transportation center, South Station is an iconic landmark in a gateway location, filled with a rich history. Integrated into the city fabric, the expanded South Station will bring together diverse functions and users, while being respectful of the station’s history.
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