Festivalgoers at June's dParty, part of Common Boston
Last month, I attended a planning meeting for the yearly Boston architecture and urbanism festival Common Boston
. Every summer, a committee of architecturally-minded Bostonians hosts a series of panel discussions, tours, and other events, which are free and open to the public. Each festival has a theme and focuses on a few Boston neighborhoods; this past summer’s featured neighborhoods were Chinatown, East Boston, Fort Point Channel, Jamaica Plain, Lower Roxbury, and Uphams Corner.
I spoke with organizers Heather MacLean and Justin Crane about what’s in store for 2011. Next summer’s theme, currently titled “Live and Learn,” will explore the relationship between communities and institutions. The neighborhoods to be discussed are Mission Hill, Roslindale, Charlestown, Beacon Hill and the West End, and Fenway. According to MacLean, “One of the reasons why we’re featuring the Fenway is that the director of their CDC
contacted us in June and said ‘Hey we are awesome, you guys should look at us.’” (The organizers of Common Boston also try to choose different neighborhoods each year, and to represent a wide geographical range.) This year, “the theme came out of the neighborhoods,” said MacLean. Institutions like the Longwood medical campus (in the Fenway neighborhood) and the universities and their accompanying student populations (in Mission Hill) undoubtedly shape the character of those areas. Said Crane, “Institutions like BU and Harvard and the Longwood area make Boston a world class city but they also have a lot of power--they put a lot of development pressure on neighborhoods and they make a real difference on community demographics.”
Crane and MacLean hope that Common Boston’s events will provide a space for dialogue among the diverse groups that call Boston’s neighborhoods home. According to Crane, the festival began in 2007 with “A few architects and architecture students wondering how to better connect with the community.” He said that “there’s been a long tradition of mistrust that goes back to the 1960s in Boston. In general there’s a lot of community involvement in Boston--people care deeply about their neighborhoods--and there also a really active design community--I think the largest percentage of architects per capita in the country is in Boston. But the two don’t always see eye to eye, and it goes back to a lot of the big redevelopment projects that happened in the ’50s and ’60s. And as a reaction, a lot of community members ask for kind of a historicist architecture that doesn’t really serve the needs we have today.”
Partnering with organizations like Architecture for Humanity
, the Boston Youth Service Network
, and MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media
, this past summer’s festival featured dozens of exciting events. One event that Crane is particularly excited about is the annual “Common Build”—a three-day competition where participants design and implement a project that responds to real community needs. Common Boston 2011 will definitely be an festival to look forward to.