Boston’s Emergent Restaurant Row: A Model for the Nation’s New Linear Parks and Boulevards?

Casey Ross of the Boston Globe recently reported that the Palm restaurant, an Italian steakhouse with New York roots, will open a new 8,300-square-foot location in Boston’s International Place office complex, adding to “the steady development of the [Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy] Greenway, which has attracted many restaurants and outdoor dining options in recent years.” Indeed, the Greenway appears poised to become Boston’s next “Restaurant Row,” a development that may hold lessons for restaurateurs, landlords and other cities pursuing linear parks generally and highway replacement, specifically.

When the “Big Dig” famously buried the elevated portion of Interstate 93 running through downtown Boston, the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway was created to replace the highway, in an effort, according to the Greenway Conservancy’s website, to “balance natural beauty and landscaped grace with the vitality and dynamism of a 21st Century city.” Now, other cities nationwide, including New Haven, Baltimore and New Orleans, are also exploring highway removal in the downtown core; Seattle has already begun the process of removing its waterfront elevated highway; and Philadelphia and Chicago are contemplating following the lead of New York’s High Line by converting rail corridors to linear parks. Each of these efforts has the potential to create linear parks or grand surface boulevards similar to the Greenway.

Despite the noble intentions of the urban planners, however, the Greenway has had to overcome obstacles. Much of the surrounding development was purposefully oriented away from the elevated highway and, consequently, did not face the new public space that replaced the highway; the portion of the park abutting the city’s financial district attracted few visitors after business hours; and for every ton of elevated steel and concrete removed, there seemed to be a different opinion as to what the Greenway should be. Now, it appears, the arrival of a bona fide “restaurant scene” is one of the major factors shaping positive perceptions of the Greenway, capitalizing on unmet demand for outdoor dining options, and linking prominent dining destinations in the North End, Faneuil Hall and Chinatown. As these other cities pursue their own projects, then, the Greenway’s fledgling restaurant row may hold some valuable lessons:

  1. Restaurants are a generally unobjectionable use. The corridors created by freeway removal and rail conversion snake through a variety of existing neighborhoods. As a result, one of the (ongoing) challenges for the Greenway has been satisfying its many constituencies. Restaurants, however, rarely inspire fervent opposition, are generally seen as positive uses, and can build bridges between those who live, those who visit, and those who work in these neighborhoods. Furthermore, in Boston, where the Greenway runs along the Harbor, restaurants may also be a boon for landlords looking to provide (sometimes elusive) “facilities of public accommodation” required under the state’s tidelands statute.
  2. Restaurants, especially those with outdoor dining areas, are particularly symbiotic with parks. Eateries are amenities that attract visitors to the park. Parks, in turn, provide an environment, in terms of view and atmosphere, that more directly impacts the experience of dining than it would other uses such as, say, furniture shopping. Mutual benefits accrue to the park and the restaurants.
  3. Perhaps more so than any use other than residential, restaurants, with their extended operating hours, are conducive to enlivening areas of the city that are sparsely populated after 5:00 pm – an important consideration when developing a corridor that may bisect a city’s commercial center, but which, for years, was considered a noxious presence.

Without question, each city’s experience developing its newly “liberated” linear parks and boulevards will be unique to that city. However, three-and-a-half years into Boston’s experience, an emergent culinary corridor seems to have whet Bostonians’ appetites for their newest linear park and looks to be a promising blueprint for others to study and emulate.

Related topics: Development