Our place-based work takes us all around Boston’s neighborhoods, with the goal, in part, to pinpoint the unique strengths and gaps each possesses. In this blog post, our Urban Planning and Design Coordinator, Temishi Onnekikami writes about what she’s noticed while exploring the Longwood Medical Area and the Fenway as a new resident of the nearby town of Brookline.
Although it’s easier to tell my friends and family back home I Iive in Boston, I’m actually a newly minted Brooklinian, close enough to Boston to claim it. Specifically, I’m within walking distance of the Fenway and the Longwood Medical Area (LMA), two neighborhoods I’ve gotten to know better through my own visits (I’ll admit I’m mainly there for Fenway Target runs) and Isenberg Projects’ work.
While well known for being the home of Fenway Park, the Fenway is also a hub of universities, entertainment venues, bars & restaurants, and arts & culture. The meandering Emerald Necklace park system runs through the neighborhood and within a few years the Fenway will be an emerging lab tech cluster.
Now what would a blog post about the Fenway be without a picture of the Citgo sign?
Get to Know the Fenway & the LMA
A city within a city, the LMA is a medical and academic behemoth that receives over $1 billion in National Institutes of Health funding per year and accounts for every 1 in 11 jobs added to the city of Boston for the past decade. The convergence of a diverse range of populations, ages, and abilities on a daily basis in the LMA is expected given the variety of reasons to come to the area. That same crowd of people ensures that the LMA is always buzzing with energy– while downtown might have gotten quiet over the pandemic, the LMA, for obvious reasons, did not.
The thing is when I’m going to the Fenway, I’m going for a specific purpose: to shop, to try a restaurant, to go to a concert and then immediately leaving to go home. And when I’m passing through the LMA, that’s all I’m doing– passing through to get to my final destination. I’m not going to either neighborhood to hang out or relax. I’m not going to linger because there’s no reason for me to and if there was there’d be very few places to do so.
And therein lies the problem. The BPDA shows 20+ approved or under construction real estate projects, a majority being lab/tech/R&D and office, in Fenway alone and upcoming projects in the LMA promise a radically different neighborhood in the next decade. Spectral, glamorous renderings depict a Fenway and LMA where people aren’t just passing through, but lingering, enjoying, and exploring. But how do you make that dream a reality? It may be obvious to me, but let me lay it out for you.
I don’t have a car and rely mainly on public transportation to get around (as a native Los Angeleno this is both novel and, quite frankly, a relief). One of my favorite things about the Fenway is how easy it is to get there: I simply hop on the T, opt to take one of the multitude of bus lines that run through the neighborhood, or on a nice day, walk through the Riverway or along Huntington Ave, and I’m where I need to be.
Let’s talk about traffic. I’ve never walked past the section of Park Dr. near the LMA without seeing lines of cars, and the streets within Longwood itself are notorious for how bad traffic gets. I’ve yet to build up the courage to bike in Boston and admire the bikers who do, especially in Fenway/LMA– the lack of protected bike lanes often means you’re biking alongside the cars, a prospect that makes my heart race.
You can build the best project ever, but if it’s difficult to get to there’s a potential domino effect of consequences: workers turning down offers in the area because of the commute, leading to low tenant retention rates and slowing down leasing or turning away visitors who want to shop or eat in the neighborhood but are deterred by traffic or other factors.
ARTS & CULTURE
As a museum lover, having access to two internationally renowned art institutions, the MFA Boston and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, within a short distance is something I try not to take for granted. The MFA is located on a stretch of Huntington Ave dubbed “the Avenue of the Arts”, though I have been informed no one calls it this. In addition there’s Fenway Park, a regular host of both baseball games and large concerts, the House of Blues, MassArt and the MAAM museum, and Fenway Studios, one of the oldest live-work artist studios in the country.
And that’s just it– almost everything is just a bit…old and established. Or associated with an institution that is old and established, in the case of university programs. Not to say nothing interesting or exciting can happen at established arts and cultural sites, but the independently produced art scene is either underground or nonexistent in this area. What would artists and cultural producers need to be attracted to the Fenway/LMA?
I propose the creation of a complete arts ecosystem, one that accommodates artists at all levels from emergent to established. Building that ecosystem would likely require space, whether that be live-work artist housing, studio or gallery space, and funding, three needs new developments can fulfill. By providing artist space as a part of their community offerings and funding for programs or operational costs, development can play a role in building a sustainable, engaging arts offering on their property that taps into the robust arts scene that already exists in the neighborhood and invites new talent in.
FOOD & BEVERAGE AND RETAIL
The Fenway has brought in a number of restaurants over the past few years, including food hall Time Out Market. But where are the snack options? After my Target run I deserve a little treat! The LMA hasn’t followed suit quite yet and I wouldn’t call it a food destination, though with all the workers, students, patients and their families you can imagine it gets busy around lunch. One of the options in the area is Longwood Galleria which looks like this, so you’d see why I’m not running to go check it out. Retail in both neighborhoods is nothing I’d write home about, especially given that there is no retail to be found in the LMA.
Successful ground floor offerings of a neighborhood project should offer a mix of locally owned food & beverage and retail tailored to those who frequent the area but also attract visitors from outside the area. The LMA’s food options are limited to fast casual chains which fail to accommodate the late night student and medical worker crowd or cater to anyone who wants a sit down. The lack of retail means that patients and their families have to go outside the neighborhood for any items they might have forgotten at home when visiting for medical treatment, which isn’t ideal. What is offered isn’t conducive to the audiences that are there now, how can we expect anyone who doesn’t have to be there, to want to be there?
GREEN SPACE & A REASON TO LINGER
One of the first things I noticed about the Fenway was just how green it was. During the late summer, the Emerald Necklace is verdant and teeming with life; a stark contrast to the LMA, which lives up to the concrete jungle stereotype. Pockets of seating with umbrellas sporadically placed around the neighborhood and collegiate lawns ensure there’s at least potential to find seating even if that prospect gets less likely the closer to noon it gets.
The Fenway and Longwood share a problem in regards to greenspace: I’m not eager to linger in either. In my mind the Emerald Necklace is for walking through or playing a sport and in the LMA I wouldn’t really have a reason to stay in the area unless I needed to be there.
But I would like a reason to linger in the Fenway and the LMA! There’s an incredible opportunity to develop something there that all Bostonians can enjoy, it’s just that no one has gotten that secret sauce right quite yet.
A LOOK INTO THE FUTURE
So what does the future hold for Longwood Medical Area and Fenway? Looking into my crystal ball (the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s website) in short, lots of labs, office, and mixed use developments.
One of the keys to success here is recognizing that all pieces of this puzzle, transportation, arts & culture, retail, F&B, and green space, all affect one another. Without a place to linger, there will be no lingering. Without an ecosystem of retail, food, and arts & culture to enjoy there’s no reason to linger. If it’s frustrating to get to the destination in the first place, people won’t come.
Making sure these elements come together cohesively will be essential to ensuring the Fenway and LMA aren’t just stops, but destinations– and if anyone needs any tips on how to make it happen you know where to find me.
Urban Planning + Design Coordinator