Possibilities of the In-Between


Reading through Imagine Boston 2030, the first city-wide planning effort in almost 50 years, its plan to promote growth at the in-between conditions between neighborhoods caught my imagination.  To quote,

At the edge of neighborhoods and commercial cores are areas that today serve as boundaries but have potential for transformation. Some edges between neighborhoods and the commercial core are clearly defined by transportation and other infrastructure, or large open spaces— I-93 between the South End and South Boston is one example—but others are formed by agglomeration of multiple low-density or vacant parcels between thriving residential neighborhoods. These seams—both large and small—at the edges of neighborhoods and commercial cores are the places where the expanded neighborhoods will take root.

I have long been fascinated by edge conditions and their potential to serve both as a boundary and a place of interconnection. With these proposals for the expanded neighborhoods of 2030, I was reminded of my thesis project in graduate school.  I chose a site in East Cambridge in the year of 2000 when the swaths of vacant lots and industrial uses were being rapidly converted in the large block office parks adjacent to a historical residential fabric.  The neighborhood was thereby quickly bringing together disparate scales and uses in close proximity, but relegating each to its own distinct zone.  For example, a narrow street would have a residential neighborhood on one side and a large scale office block on the other, but these uses and scales did not intermingle.


The thesis project therefore proposed a public space that allowed these different uses and occupants to overlap in a two-block site.  Carefully considering the historic evolution of the site, the programmatic mix of the project created many distinct places to go to, for example an elderly care facility, a big box retail store, a youth center, and corporate retreat spaces, but their zones were not clearly defined.  One use could expand into the territory of another temporarily and then become more compact.  Uses might overlap for a time. Representational techniques such as overlays, screening, and collaging brought these goals to the forefront of the design process.  The mix of scales of the project tapped into the dynamic potential of the East Cambridge neighborhood and its different architectures, without defining it too tightly.  There was a balance of providing “just enough” such that a variety of different types of uses and functions could flourish and interact on the same site, bringing the neighborhood together in a new way.

It is this poetic possibility that these expanded neighborhoods hold.  Creating enough to make them wonderful places, but also leaving open the possibility for new, varied uses and fresh relationships between the disparate uses and scales that these locations represent.  Not merely to infill between neighborhoods, but also to create something unique that holds the air of possibility and communication of the “in-between” condition.

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