No room for haphazard development in reshaping Boston of tomorrow
Any similarity between Boston's urban-renewal thrust of the past 15 years and that of the next few years will be purely coincidental. Raymond L. Flynn made this clear long before moving into the city's mayoral chair last January. His blueprint for building a better Boston places major emphasis on neighborhoods, areas that were largely overlooked in favor of the in-town development projects that were the focus of the administration of Kevin H. White.
Stephen F. Coyle, new director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), is a man who seems to be keenly sensitive to what the city should be and look like. He also appears to know how to bring about his vision for Boston.
Mr. Coyle brings to his $64,000-a-year post more than a casual knowledge of the ''home of the bean and the cod.'' He grew up in nearby Waltham and his family has its roots in South Boston.
Even so, his professional experience is not limited to this area, unlike most leaders of the planning and renewal agency the city has had over the past decade and a half. This could prove to be a major advantage, because he is not carrying around the baggage of political friendships and obligations that can get in the way of sound development projects.
It will take months for Coyle to prove himself to be the right man for a very tough job, but his background should serve him well. He was executive vice-president for management with an architectural and urban-planning firm based in San Francisco. In addition, he is familiar with various federal programs and agencies, having served for several years as undersecretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services and as executive assistant to the secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Another asset could be Coyle's early career experience on the Waltham City Council. If nothing else, this could help him deal with Boston's elected officials, some of whom have been unimpressed by some of the renewal projects that require their approval.
Coyle's tenure in Boston may hinge on the support the new BRA chief receives from Mayor Flynn, who brought him here and is committed to giving Boston redevelopment a new and more people-oriented direction.
During his first six weeks on the job, the new captain of the city planning agency has made it clear that the door is still open to building proposals, but that greater emphasis may be placed on design than in the past.
In addition, a few of the projects approved during the previous city administration and the six-year tenure of former BRA director Robert J. Ryan may be scrubbed or modified to make what Coyle considers to be better use of the sites.
There seems to be no intent to alter projects already under way, however, even though in some instances Coyle and possibly Mayor Flynn might have preferred a different use or design.
A major focus of Coyle's first days at City Hall has been the planning of a waterfront pedestrian passage from alongside Old Ironsides in Charlestown to Commonwealth Pier in South Boston. It appears to make sense to develop the nine-mile ''emerald necklace'' now when some of the needed links, threatened by commercial ventures, are still available.
Retaining public access to the Boston waterfront is a high priority for Mayor Flynn, who is no less anxious than was former Mayor White to bring about new construction and the resulting broadening of the municipal property tax base.
The pedestrian project, which will involve a minimum of land-taking, includes ''building around the existing gemstones, like the (New England) Aquarium,'' Coyle says.
''My premise is (that) major growth is occurring around the waterfront and if the public sector does not try to shape it, public access may be lost,'' Coyle explains, adding that ''there is a natural beauty to the contour of this harbor.''
Coyle's enthusiasm is refreshing. And the waterfront foot parkway is more imaginative than anything proposed since the mid-1960s, when Edward J. Logue, a man of vision for tastefully blending of the old with the new, was running the redevelopment authority.
Coyle is ready to praise what he considers to be the major accomplishments of the Logue regime. He says he is particularly impressed with the quality, direction, and content of the 1965 10-year master plan for Boston.
The concerns of critics that Mr. Logue may again become a force on the local design and renewal scene may be ungrounded. But the sometimes outspoken former BRA administrator, who left that post in 1967 to run for mayor and subsequently has moved on to key redevelopment posts elsewhere, is moving back to nearby Lincoln and will not be that far away should his counsel be sought from time to time.
Logue, who is a friend of Boston lawyer John Bok, a close adviser to Mayor Flynn, could be a valuable resource in the administration's efforts to shape a new citywide plan for the next decade.
Regardless of who gets the credit for blazing new trails to a thriving Boston , Coyle is well aware of the challenge ahead. The proud old city must not be overbuilt haphazardly, as more and more critics have warned in recent years.
Coyle has recognized that greater attention to the design of buildings is much needed in Boston. This includes not only their shape and size, but also compatibility with their surroundings.
No developer, no matter how many friends he has at City Hall or in other high political places, should be allowed to build whatever he wants - a practice that was evident in the not-too-distant past.
One of the redevelopment authority's most glaring needs is to hire a top professional to fill the post of design review director. For reasons known only to the previous regime, this post was allowed to remain vacant for at least a half-dozen years.
Also worthy of attention might be creation of a panel of architects, community leaders, and others to review and make nonbinding recommendations about developer proposals for various projects in Boston.