You don’t have to go far in Boston to stumble across a construction site.
The city is seeing the biggest building boom in its history, according to Brian Golden, the director of the Boston Planning & Development Agency.
“There hasn’t been this much built in a six-year sequence since the founding of the city in 1630,” he told Boston.com.
Projects in the decade of the 2010s got off to a slow start, coming off the Great Recession in 2008. Not much was built in 2009, 2010, or 2011, Golden said.
But things started to pick up by 2012.
“By ’13, we were moving briskly out of it,” Golden said. “But it’s really been the past six years that have seen, not only really significant square footage permitted by the board of directors at this agency, but those projects are actually being built. And it’s extraordinary.”
The agency has permitted about 65 million square feet of new development and the city has seen more than 60 million square feet built in the last six years, according to the BPDA.
Golden argued that the building boom in Boston is all about the “demographic boom” that has also occurred in the last decade, driving the need for new work and residential environments.
“If you look at 1980 to 2010, we’re adding about 1,500 people a year for 30 years,” he said. “That was the netgain. And now we’re adding between 8 and 10 thousand people a year, since 2010.”
The result of the growth of the last decade is evident in the literal changing of Boston’s downtown skyline and the built environment of the city’s neighborhoods, Golden said.
“The structures themselves are important — they’re an important physical accomplishment of humankind,” the planning director said. “But it’s about what these buildings are doing for human beings. It’s not just about the sticks and stones — the sticks and stones are having a profound impact for the good on the people of this city. There’s been a host of residential buildings that are really interesting and important, and there’s a host of commercial office and industrial and lab space that also continues to ensure that we’re creating jobs for the people who are moving here.”
The change is perhaps most notable in the Seaport, where millions of square feet of new development has sprung up, becoming home to pharmaceutical giants like Vertex.
“The Seaport was the blank canvas, and everything you see on it, almost everything you see, is a creature of the past decade to 15 years,” Golden said. “That is the [neighborhood] that continues to metamorphosize the most aggressively every year.”
But other areas, like Allston/Brighton, the Fenway, and East Boston, have also seen significant change.
Below, the six developments of the last decade Golden says transformed Boston:
The stretch of new development along the Mass. Pike in Allston/Brighton is one of the city’s “crown jewels,” Golden said.
It was a decade ago that the discussion was ongoing at the BPDA about what to do with the area, which, up until the 1950s, served as the location where cattle, shipped in from the Midwest, were offloaded for slaughter and packaging for sale at grocery stores across the eastern seaboard.
“It became a sort of back of the house, gritty, industrial warehouse-type environment,” Golden said of the area. “Single-story, low-density.”
Initially, the city looked at turning the stretch along Guest Street into a parking lot for a home improvement store.
“We were kind of desperate because it was a bad economy,” he recalled. “Nothing was being built in the city in ’08, ’09, ’10. … But we thought, maybe we should look more holistically at this neighborhood, at this part of Allston/Brighton, and figure out can we do something that might add more value, more economic vitality.”
A two-year planning study resulted in the Guess Street Plan and the eventual partnership and development with New Balance. Now, the area is the site not only of the company’s new headquarters but practice facilities for the Boston Bruins and Celtics and a new residential building containing 297 units.
Additional development, including a new state-of-the-art track facility, a hotel, and more housing, is still expected. The work put into the project has been a “real place-making effort,” Golden said, which continues to bear fruit for the city.
“That area, what you’re seeing today, is brand new,” he said. “And it really reflects the building boom because even once building started to occur there, I don’t think any of us saw it coming so briskly. But every year we bring a new building online over in Boston Landing, and it’s in large part because this agency slowed down a consideration of a home improvement center, did some really good quality planning with the neighborhood, and had a really terrific corporate citizen in the form of New Balance. … That will create dividends for the City of Boston — Allston/Brighton — but the City of Boston at large, for many decades to come. So we’re thrilled at what’s happened at Boston Landing and look forward to what it will continue to do for the city.”
The construction and completion of the Bolling Building is important for a variety of reasons, according to Golden.
Perhaps most significantly, the Bolling Building became an anchor for Dudley Square, which was officially renamed “Nubian Square” in December, and serves as an example of the city’s public sector pouring resources into a neighborhood to “build confidence” for the development and investment opportunities in the area, he said.
“Dudley Square has become a hotbed of development activity,” the planning director said. “There’s a lot of building going on there, there’s a lot of new arrivals in the residences there. Part of the city’s demographic boom is manifesting itself in people moving increasingly to Roxbury, and Dudley is an important locus in the activity.”
Establishing the government building, which houses the administrative offices for Boston Public Schools, in the neighborhood was an expression of the city’s “commitment and optimism in the future of the neighborhood,” Golden said.
It was the city “putting its money where its mouth is,” he said.
“A government building alone isn’t going to by itself transform a neighborhood,” he said. “But it helped send a signal, it helps build confidence. And others are now looking at residential and commercial development in the vicinity. And that means residences, that means jobs, that means economic opportunity for people who live in that neighborhood, as well as far beyond that neighborhood.”
Golden recalled that when he started working at the BPDA in 2008, there was a giant hole in the ground near the remnants of the old Filene’s building in downtown Boston. Just over a decade later, the Millennium Tower rises above a rehabilitated Burnham Building at the center of Downtown Crossing.
The old department store building was reworked to include about 370,000 square feet of office and retail space and is now occupied by the British department store Primark. Above it, the Millennium Tower contains about 442 residential units and three levels of retail space.
“That is an old retail department store that is a significant addition to the skyline with several hundred new units of housing, again, serving as an anchor of a new residential neighborhood in Downtown Crossing,” Golden said. “It has transformed our retail center of gravity into retail as well as residential.”
The project is significant in the last decade for another reason, he argued.
“It’s also a really early indicator of our turn out of the recession and into this period of significant prosperity that has manifested itself in the city’s biggest building boom,” the director said. “The Millennium Tower is really important.”
The project at Beverly and Causeway streets created 239 units of affordable housing, 220 hotel rooms, and 220 parking spaces beside the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
“It’s hard to encapsulate how much we love The Beverly here,” Golding said. “It is a remarkable success story of the agency working with multiple developers to ensure that sufficient IDP — Inclusionary Development [Policy] — funding was poured into that building.”
The funding for the West End development came from IPD cash produced by the Hub on Causeway and Lovejoy Wharf projects. Golden said the housing units in the Beverly are income-restricted at a variety of levels so that a “variety of incomes can enjoy living in that part of the city.”
“We haven’t been able to do much like that,” the planning director said. “But we are hopeful that model can be replicated in other scenarios.”
Golden described the 61-story tower in the city’s Back Bay as a kind of companion project to the Millennium Tower that signals a change in the kind of residential communities people are embracing in Boston.
“Something that wasn’t that common in Boston — the residential tower downtown — is now becoming quite common,” the director said. “We saw the Millennium Tower, and now the third tallest building in the city, One Dalton, is a residential tower. So people are very willing and eager to live in high-rise residential settings downtown.”
The development also fulfills the city’s need for hotel space to support the thriving business, tourism, and convention center activities, he said.
The Hub on Causeway, a 1.5 million-square-foot, multiphase project from Delaware North and Boston Properties near TD Garden and North Station, has breathed new life into the West End, Golden said. Phase two of the development, consisting of a residential tower with 440 units and a hotel, was completed this fall, and a highly-anticipated food hall, Hub Hall, is expected to open in spring 2020.
“By the late ’80s you had the Tip O’Neill federal building there, but it was still, frankly, an underdeveloped, underutilized part of the city,” Golden said of the neighborhood. “And it has really come into its own. It makes perfect sense that there’d be significant new development there — residential, hotel, retail, commercial office space. It’s all there, and it sits atop a major transit node.”
Phase three of the project, an office tower, is expected to be completed in 2020.