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City proposes a 24/7 downtown with more residents, nightlife and a Faneuil Hall Marketplace that once again focuses on local offerings

Map showing decreases in foot traffic downtown, especially in the Financial District

City report illustrates part of the problem downtown.

The mayor's office released a report today on revitalizing downtown after Covid to make it more of a walking neighborhood with lots more residents, tourists and, yes, office workers, and with more things for them to do, even 24/7, like in other world-class cities, instead of a place where residents fight late-night tacos.

With a daytime population and physical space heavily biased toward offices, downtown has felt the reverberations of changing working norms acutely. Foot traffic downtown remains on average 55% below 2019 levels, driven by a loss in office workers who may not return in full force. These impacts resonate far beyond office towers - impacting downtown's retail, culture, and hospitality ecosystems, shifting transit patterns, and highlighting disparities that have been systemically present in the area.

Among the possible steps for improving downtown: Supplementing Washington Street with new "pedestrianized" roads open only to pedestrians and bicyclists, some permanently, some on special occasions such as the Open Newbury street closings in the summer.

The City, as part of the PLAN Downtown effort, has already identified potential candidates for pedestrianization in this area (including Canal Street, Tontine Crescent, and expanded areas in Downtown Crossing), but selection will require additional study from safety and enforcement teams, including fire, police, traffic engineers, and public works, among others.

The proposal calls for encouraging new residential development downtown and making it easier to convert downtown office space in older, less prestigious Class B and C buildings into residential units - especially if the projects include a hefty amount of affordable apartments and condos; those projects would get a fast-track approval process. Conversion to college dorms would also be encouraged.

The report says that Boston's "peer cities," including London, Paris and Washington, DC, already have programs for this.

Currently, only ~28% of downtown's development pipeline is residential. Notably, however, many existing commercial buildings could be well suited for residential conversion, avoiding vacancies while preserving downtown's historic charm for future generations. The City plans to work with developers and institutions to better understand roadblocks to residential development and to support residential projects.

The plan does not address where children who might live in these new spaces would go to school.

The proposal also looks at how to bolster both retail and nightlife downtown.

The City can help existing businesses and industries downtown expand their operations through programming, investment, and regulatory facilitation. Industry-specific promotional weeks, such as Dine Out Boston, have been historically successful in boosting spend and engagement at Boston restaurants during slow periods; expanded promotional efforts - for hotels, cultural centers, retailers, or more - could provide similar activation for other industries downtown. The City can also invest in placemaking activities that make the downtown space a more inviting place to spend time; by improving infrastructure and putting on programming, the City can entice broader audiences to this space, bringing increased traffic to the businesses operating downtown, especially at night and other low-traffic periods. By easing unnecessarily complex policies and re-thinking zoning laws, the City will also greatly facilitate the ability for businesses downtown to continue and expand operations and lower barriers for new entrants looking to serve this neighborhood.

The city would look at changing downtown zoning to let first-floor retail space be more easily converted into such uses as co-working spaces and daycare as well as for pop-up temporary stores and even maker spaces. Owners of empty office space would be encouraged to offer free or subsidized space to cultural and entertainment groups.

The proposal also calls for beefing up retail downtown, including "a multi-million dollar commercial subsidy program targeted to support underserved businesses and fill vacant space," with a focus on minority-owned businesses.

Entertainment needs to be upped to help "make Boston a 24-hour city, on par with other global cities, with nightlife that is inviting and welcoming to everyone," the report states. Mayor Wu is looking to hire a director of strategic initiatives to help make this a reality. The two previous mayors also talked about 24/7 areas in the city but then retreated.

Part of that would include figuring out how to "create spaces, events, and programs to expand nightlife downtown, ideally to attract new populations and demographic/socioeconomic groups."

There are currently only 89 nightlife establishments open in downtown Boston.

Boston's "sleepy" reputation impacts the City's ability to attract and retain younger talent.

Nightlife establishments in peer cities contribute roughly $1.5M per establishment to a city's economy annually, representing significant economic opportunity for Boston.

Key to helping local retail would be boosting the number of tourists who come to downtown. And you can't talk about that without talking about Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which the city says should return to its roots as a place focused on "inclusive and diverse" locally owned shops instead of becoming just another series of chain outlets with brick sidewalks. Part of the discussions with the New York firm that now holds the lease on the city-owned marketplace will have to focus on the "significant deferred investment" in the physical marketplace buildings to help build a better marketplace, one that brings in not just tourists, but locals.

Ironically, given Faneuil Hall Marketplace's history as one of the nation's first "festival marketplaces" when it was redesigned in the 1970s, the city says it could take inspiration from places in other cities, including Chicago's Navy Pier, San Francisco's Ferry Building and London's Covent Garden. The city notes that New York's Chelsea Market is limited to retailers actually based in New York.

With all those new people coming downtown, Boston would need to make its dense streets work better for pedestrians and bicyclists. In addition to looking at possibly eliminating cars from some streets, the city plans to look at ways to reduce the number and size of delivery vehicles downtown - and to increase the number of bike lanes and make sidewalks easier to navigate:

Last-mile delivery logistics can create congestion, noise, and safety concerns in a busy City center; to ensure Boston is able to properly regulate, incentivize and support an efficient system of delivery logistics, and to inform decisions surrounding pedestrianization and other streetscape changes, the City needs to study delivery-related logistics movements. ...

City action to improve streetscapes should follow the pattern of the current State Street and Blossom Street reconstruction projects, introducing dedicated bike lanes, widening the sidewalk and making it fully accessible, improving roadway conditions, and analyzing and optimizing use of curb space to maximize efficiency

This would include figuring out how to work with downtown landlords on maintenance of all those privately owned "areaways," also known as "hollow sidewalks," which fortunately only rarely catch on fire.

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Comments

Good idea, Michelle.

You can start by instructing your garbage Licensing Board to reinstate Sons of Boston.

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Voting closed 18

Exactly the type of place the city doesn’t need.

Expand your horizons beyond dime-a-dozen, townie-cosplay watering holes owned by bland LLCs.

And it wasn’t the licensing board which said the owners were responsible for an assault and battery on a customer with a dangerous weapon—it was the BPD.

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Voting closed 74

All in the same post!

The very definition of anon trash.

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Voting closed 13

Wasn't that just another townie bar? That's the opposite of what's going attract people to stay in this city.

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Voting closed 4

You mean the bar where the bouncer murdered a marine and one of the co-owners is on tape on the basement trying to get rid of his bloody clothes?

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Voting closed 91

Surrendered to authorities and will face the justice system.

It's my understanding that the person you describe in the latter act is also involved in legal proceedings, but they are not and were not involved in ownership or management. (EDIT: They were)

Of course, none of that has anything to do with the rest of us who are civil, and just want for a good social space to operate peaceably now that our society's functions for trying and punishing those who break the law appear to be in motion.

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Voting closed 9

.

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Voting closed 12

"a good social space to operate peaceably"? Sons of Boston?

lmao

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Voting closed 51

Owned by a dear friend of mine. Never felt unsafe once.

The offender has removed himself. I keep the Martinez family in my thoughts.

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Voting closed 7

You could've said that up above so that your comment could be immediately ignored as quickly as you'd be dismissed as a juror in the criminal case(s).

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Voting closed 75

Owned by a dear friend of mine. Never felt unsafe once.

Wow, you never felt unsafe? At a bar owned by a dear friend of yours? That's certainly a take. Maybe Daniel Martinez should have tried to make friends with that bouncer, amirite?

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Voting closed 18

MassLive, the Globe, etc. all identify her as a co-owner of the bar. Hey look, turns out that if there is a murder at your business and you help to conceal said murder by trying to get rid of the blood-soaked clothing in the basement of your business. There are also accusations that the bar armed their bouncers without approvals, and quite a few other things. Then again, what's it matter to you all the way up north? Why don't you just open your own Sons of Boston up there if you so want it - free market and all that?

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Voting closed 55

Do you believe that people abdicate all of their friendships and relationships when they move from one place to another?

EDIT: As for your free market argument, I'm not clear as to how that's an argument against my grievance against government taking away something I liked. You might as well have tried to start an argument with me by telling me that the Earth revolves around the sun.

I'm satisfied with what markets and government have combined to offer me for places to drink socially in Rutland, Vermont.

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This Sons of Boston? The one with the repeated violations even aside from, you know, the murder? By the bouncer?

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Whom I'll defend at every turn.

He does his best to staff his bar with good people, and reads people quite well. Unfortunately, the talent pool for good, necessary non-bartender personnel has thinned through the years - which, in fairness, was and is not specific to Sons of Boston.

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Voting closed 8

As a good friend you could give them some sage advice to get out of the hospitality management business.

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Voting closed 43

in Boston is to address the outdated liquor license laws we are saddled with.

But since the Commonwealth must do it, the City will continue to suffer.

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Voting closed 103

I've said it before and I'll say it again, the restaurant/bar scene in Boston sucks compared to what it could be and in similar cities in size & demographics.

That primarily stems from the outdated liquor licensing situation which severely limits the potential and who can step into the restaurant business here. There are some things the city could do to help, but if the state doesn't un-f**k the liquor license situation none of it will matter.

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I would say Boston's (and I guess the general Boston area's) restaurant scene is terrible, and I think, depending on the cuisine, can compare to other cities our size. But, yes, of the things people usually say are "holding" us back it's:

  • Later Closing Times (including extending 2am bar closings)
  • Happy Hour
  • Liquor Licensing (and I guess licensing in general)

I fully agree that licensing is the most important thing to fix and the biggest thing holding back the general restaurant scene in Boston. There is simply no way for new chefs, mom-and-pop shops, or immigrants coming in can compete when you need hundreds of thousands in capital investment just for a liquor license, and still a ton for just a beer and wine license. And without those it is tough to compete with the bigger groups that have bought them up as most of the public will gravitate to a place where they can have a beer or glass of wine with their meal; not to mention that can be a significant source of income for a restaurant as food-only margins are pretty low. And those are the people that are innovative, push boundaries and try new things that elevate the culinary scene and they essentially get locked out.

The main streets neighborhood licensing was a semi-good idea, but, it is still way too limited in numbers, and punishes anyone outside of those predefined areas (remember Seven Star Bistro in Rozzie that was outside of the square and thus ineligible). The more I think about it, I think perhaps a step in the right direction would be to make beer and wine licenses unlimited and nontransferable to anyone for a small fee that has perhaps two or fewer restaurants. This at least gets wine and beer for someone to open a small French bistro, Ramen shop, or churrascaria, which is the least expensive at the moment, but still retains some value of the existing licenses for the bigger restaurant groups that might want them.

Something needs to happen to allow people to easily startup viable restaurants without taking out a literal mortgage just for the liquor licensing (let alone the lease, equipment, and other investments). I'd also love to see zoning relaxed to allow more small eateries interspersed in residential areas like what you see in other countries.

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I have a friend that went to school where closing time was midnight and people would head out 8-9 pm.

In Boston or other places where it's 2 am the bars tend to get crowded 10-11 pm.

I lived where it was 3 am on Fri/Sat and it ramped up 11-midnight.

In NYC where it's late people will go out after midnight.

So in the end most people are going out for about the same amount of time, it just depends when it starts. For some individuals it can suck (e.g. if your shift here ends at 1:30 am and you're not a regular someplace where you can hang out after hours), but I don't think it makes as much of a difference to most patrons or the bottom line of restaurants/bars/clubs as some people make it out to.

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Hell, just look across the Charles. Somerville is absolutely HOPPING, and a great place to go hang with lots of interesting and fun options for all price points.

Boston sucks.

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Why Close more streets?
Everything is dirty and there is too much drunkenness as is.
Why is the need for 24/7 party zone?
Why are they trying to make more problems?
Who wants to live downtown next to a hotel converted to a homeless shelter?
There is already too much crime downtown! that's why "foot traffic" is down.
The whole downtown area is obsolete with the internet.
Everyone used to work in those bank buildings now works from home.
Everyone from the government offices are all still work from home.
There no more stores residents would use.
What is left is those that cater to tourists.

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Voting closed 20

Without telling me you didn't go to Open Newbury.

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Voting closed 72

Takes like this require ignoring what property prices tell us. Property is more expensive where more people want to live.

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Voting closed 5

Operating public transit past the time that nightlife establishments close would be a fantastic first step in encouraging attendance at existing ones and opening of new ones, but that would require the MBTA to function in an even remotely reliable manner. When the last train home runs well before one a.m. but last call is 1:30 or later, the only transportation options are surge-priced rideshares, also-pricey taxis, or trusting and hoping that your squad's DD is actually sober. Personally, I often avoid going out to bars/clubs in the Downtown area and instead stick to areas where I can walk home specifically for these reasons, and if the T actually worked this would be such an easy fix. Alas.
Also, a city where absolutely nothing is open past two a.m. is hardly conducive to a vibrant nightlife scene, but I imagine that solving that issue would likely involve a lot more bureaucratic inertia than running later trains.

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Voting closed 68

The t did run late on Fridays and Saturdays, until Baker was elected. One of the first things he did was cut it back to near useless levels and then killed it fully as soon as legally possible.

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The best way to reinvigorate downtown is not too focus on tourists, but to stop approving office/tech buildings and focus on creating a diversity of dense housing there. Offices create more pressure on the housing market as people move to work at these new offices, and then those people go home after work. With the T being demolished these past 8 years (and more) and each new office building having tons of parking, it means more congestion/pollution. The city focusing on soley new housing construction downtown would create thousands of people who grocery shop, eat out, and shop local every day. The Seaports focus on offices with a scattering of luxury condos shows what office parks look like: boring chain stores and restaurants and a car culture which lessens the areas appeal as a destination.

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Voting closed 42

#1 reason I used to frequent DTX: Filenes Basement.

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In a housing crisis we need to deal with all of the underutilized office space.

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Is typically in larger post 1960 built buildings with large blocks of space that aren't suitable for residential conversion uses.

A lot of older 1910's to 1950's built buildings are actually doing ok owing to their smaller footprint tenants.

My optometrist's rent doubled because of the lack of small spaces available. He is in a building built in 1910.

There is a persistent myth of older buildings being the problem of vacant space. It is typically the larger, newer ones that have the large blocks available.

When Daylight Savings Time kicks in next week, look at the downtown skyline at 5. You are going to see lots of black in the larger buildings, not so much in the smaller, older ones.

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What did your optometrist rent double to? I agree that standards are different and many spaces would need changes to fit to code for residential. I didn't say old, I said underutilized.

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Is too big for residential uses.

Just look at the differences in sizes of the floors between One Boston Place and Two Devonshire.

Converting these large floor plates designed for the 60's to 90's office (bank / insurance) uses to residential uses is a massive, with little economical sense undertaking.

That is why the high rise residential buildings downtown; 45 Province, Tremont on The Common, One Franklin, are narrow. You need light for residential uses, not depth.

There are exceptions - A building like 28 State - Narrow, light on each side, water views from the 9th floor up on the east side would be a good hotel or residential use but that is about it.

Rent went to $48/SF.

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But it isn't necessarily unsolvable. Just spit balling, so not necessarily a valid idea, and certainly not the only valid idea, but why not combined housing and light industrial use in these newer office buildings? The perimeter, windowed areas would become housing, while the internal areas could be used for industrial kitchens, order fulfillment, light manufacturing, etc. Many of those functions are currently in the suburbs because the per SF cost is lower, but the economics change if downtown office buildings are no longer office buildings.

Creative repurposing solutions exist, and will ultimately be a better choice than leaving the buildings empty or demolishing and rebuilding.

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Could also open up the middle to allow for light/air shaft?

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Yes.

You can do all that....and go broke.

Things ain't free.

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I know it's possible. I'm in the business, John. You don't know how deep some pockets are. Or the costs associated with it.

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Aren't we just making lofts? Or is it really different from warehouse and industrial conversion?

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You could make them lofts that are wide open and let the buyers hire architects to deign the spaces to code. Or the developer could do the whole divvying up thing.

There are two different sets of codes for commercial and residential. A lot having to do with required daylight and means of egress - specifically distance to 2 different ones. And I'm pretty certain that bedrooms are required to have windows.

There would have to be a review to understand the existing structure before considering how to break up a space and possibly open up for light shaft(s). And added vertical shafts will be required no matter what for the various plumbing and mechanical needs. They eat up space quickly.

All of this is eminently doable, just depends up on the developer.

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Many of the users of downtown office buildings come in by public transit. For industrial kitchens, order fulfillment, and light manufacturing, materials would need to be brought in and out by truck to be economical. The streets are already overburdened and I doubt the CoB is willing to prioritize trucking.

Also,in the suburbs, industrial uses and warehouses require a buffer between them and residential areas for good reason which would be difficult in an urban area. This is in addition to the the issues of access, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC.

There may be exceptions but I think it would be largely infeasible.

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Voting closed 5

Put studios apartments next to the windows and then storage rooms across a hallway in the center of the floor plate. There would still be a lot of work creating hvac and plumbing for individual bathrooms and kitchens.

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"City action to improve streetscapes should follow the pattern of the current State Street and Blossom Street reconstruction projects, introducing dedicated bike lanes, widening the sidewalk and making it fully accessible, improving roadway conditions, and analyzing and optimizing use of curb space to maximize efficiency"

Turn the entire area into DTX; barren of viable retail and largely void of pedestrian traffic.
Should work out well.

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Voting closed 24

"largely void of pedestrian traffic."

Tell me you never go to DTX without going to DTX

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Voting closed 50

Most pedestrian traffic appears to be to and from the subway; 730 AM to 900AM and 300 to 530PM, primarily the remaining office workers and much less than pre-pandemic.

Lunch traffic appears to a fraction of its former self. "Let's go shopping at DTX", are words rarely spoken anymore.

After 600PM most days you could land a small aircraft there.

What I see is confirmed by the Mayor's report.

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Voting closed 22

Without saying you don't go to DTX.

I live and work there. It's certainly not as bad as it was in, say, April 2020, but outside of business hours, DTX is pretty dead. I see all the vacant storefronts on Washington Street and it's even worse on side streets like Bromfield or Franklin. Getir is using a former store on Winter Street as a distribution center. CVS closed stores on Winter and in Center Plaza. Even Starbucks closed one of its stores.

And FWIW, the "pedestrianization" of Washington Street is just shitty. It'd be great if it really were a pedestrian zone, but there's always a cab or delivery truck tooling up the street so you can't ever walk in the middle of the street.

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Voting closed 19

Almost as many people out as ones sunbathing at Nantasket Beach at 4 in the morning. I passed two people between West and Franklin Streets.

The corner of Winter and Tremont a hundred years ago had the highest tax assessment on a per square foot basis in the state.

The same building now has a nice vacant Capital One Bank / Cafe.

Winter Street is damnation alley. The junkies killed it. DTX would be even worse if not for the BID guys who are doing their best, but when stories surface like the woman who was trying to light people on fire at Roche Bros yesterday, good luck with that after hours thing for those people who do not have a sense of city life.

I've been going through DTX since the late 70's. People used to be like "crime" (i.e. black teenagers hanging out) in the 80's. Nah, The place was great. Today, not so much.

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Voting closed 7

I'm through there most days of the week and there's always a ton of pedestrian traffic. I'd agree with the viable retail, but I'd guess that has more to do with high rents for businesses rather than a lack of foot traffic.

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And where do you come from?

LOL'ing as I read these comments about downtown being a barren wasteland. Is this the kinda stuff old angry people hear on AM radio?

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But we all know how this ends. Peoples “what do you need to be out of your house after 9pm for. Good people are home going to bed” Nonsense.

Should have been a 24/7 city long long ago, but we let the olds and NIMBYs keep their grip on the city.

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Voting closed 5

This will be either NIMBY'd or some external force (like the state's liquor laws) will make this a massive failure. Sorry to be so bitter, but this is the city that always sleeps after all.

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They've been saying they're going to do something about Faneuil Hall for what, 20 years now?

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Before the urban amusement park is built can we solve these problems first:
1) A safe and secure MBTA
2) A school system that is safe and focuses on education
3) Housing for seniors and single mothers that is affordable
4) Traffic control for bike lanes
5) Mass and Cass
6) Gentrification
7) Crime and grime
8) Mental illness and the unhoused
9) Addiction
10) The rents are to high

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Voting closed 26

Part of the answer is office workers, where I work, we are only in the office two days a week. We are a big employer in the Back Bay and a lot of little lunch places have been closing.

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to tax WFH. There are already suggestions to charge a fee for home delivery to fund the MBTA.

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Actually the opposite is true, WFH people get subsidies in the form of tax breaks for their home office.

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But always avoid the Corner Mall section of DTX.

Never really in the mood to deal with someone shitty kid who assaults random people for no reason.

Bring back a permanent policy presence and maybe, maybe more people will shop there.

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Voting closed 25

Xi'an Rougamo is a current favorite. DTX has been exactly like it is now for pretty much my entire life, minus maybe a few years around 2017-2019 when it seemed to be thriving, and even then people complained about "crime" and it was mostly dead after work hours.

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Voting closed 1

Does anybody who comes up with these plans actually live in the city? They want to make Canal Street a car free zone? Have you seen Canal Street lately? It's a mini Mass & Cass when it comes to the addicted and mentally ill. So they just want to give them more space to set up housekeeping on? We see how that worked with DTX when car traffic was banned there. Let's just create Methadone Mile Mark II, why don't we.

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What exactly is downtown? For me, downtown is Causeway Street, particularly when the Bruins are playing and the area is teeming with people. Thousands of people recently enjoyed the Head of the Charles on a gorgeous Saturday. I attend games at Agganis Arena and see foot traffic all over Comm. Ave. and Brighton Ave. The city is most certainly alive. If one is talking about Downtown Crossing, well, DC stinks. Sports events and concerts are the lifeblood, not shopping or clubbing.

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....is not downtown

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The problem is she sees our peer cities as Paris and London? Seriously? DC maybe. We can’t even have 24 hour MBTA because we’re just too small.

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What's the plan to make it safe for preventing crime before it happens as part of this master plan? I know this is a city and drug dealing and use and addiction and crime is a fact of city life, but there should still be increased visual police presence.

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Looks like a small dinosaur biting the North Station area.

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