Here's How Boston Wants to Reinvent Its Downtown Post-COVID

Expanding housing, boosting art, cultural and retail spaces, growing tourism and enhancing small business opportunities are all on the city's list of goals for the neighborhood

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Downtown Boston is still struggling in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic with less than half of the foot traffic, empty store fronts and vacant office space. Boston is now moving to revitalize the 34 blocks that make up the city's core neighborhood, including Downtown Crossing, as well as the Theater and Financial districts.

Mayor Michelle Wu released a new report Thursday that outlines the present challenges and future ambitions for the city's storied Downtown neighborhood.



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"We really need to mix things up downtown," Wu said. "It needs to be a thriving residential neighborhood, spaces for arts and more businesses."

In conjunction with the report is the relaunch of "PLAN: Downtown" which is being described as a "comprehensive City planning process for the neighborhood to help further develop and implement the vision in the report." It was initially launched in 2018, but paused in 2020 because of the pandemic. The newly-relaunched plan will focus on bringing more housing to Downtown and supporting open space and small businesses.

The report was put together by several city departments, including the Mayor’s Office, the Office of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), as well as Boston Consulting Group, which is an outside firm.

Downtown Boston was known for being the busiest neighborhood in the city prior to the pandemic, but remote work has changed that, according to the report, which says that foot traffic remains at least 40% below where it was before COVID hit. Foot traffic on weekends, though, was found to have been recovering faster. The city wants to steer Downtown toward a future that's less reliant on office workers.

That means expanding housing, boosting art, cultural and retail spaces, growing tourism, enhancing small business opportunities and more.

One idea for bringing people back calls for converting commercial office space to housing. Not everyone‘s convinced, but the mayor thinks it could work, especially with smaller buildings.

"We’ve had some really great conversations to start with," Wu said. "The first ones to go might not be the most kind of expensive, tallest office buildings.”

Jim Rooney of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce sees this as a 10-year blueprint for downtown. Others say it could be longer than that. Either way, they all agree it’s a start.

Here's a list from the city of six key focus areas that leaders say will help to revitalize the Downtown Boston of the future.

  • Ensuring the continued vibrancy of office space downtown
  • Expanding housing downtown
  • Growing the daily use of downtown by bolstering cultural, art, retail, services, and hospitality ecosystems
  • Supporting connectivity and mobility downtown via multi-modal transportation infrastructure and protected infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists​
  • Enhancing economic opportunity downtown by supporting women, BIPOC, and other underserved populations, and by strengthening the small business and creative community
  • Growing Boston's footprint as a global tourism hub​

“We envision Downtown Boston as a space where people from all backgrounds come together,” Mayor Michelle Wu wrote in a news release. “Together with the restart of PLAN: Downtown, this report presents a roadmap for a truly inclusive, round-the-clock neighborhood filled with new homes, diverse businesses, world-class public spaces, vibrant nightlife, and a thriving arts and culture scene.”

PLAN: Downtown is set for an official relaunch with a kick-off event in Downtown Crossing on Nov. 9.

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