Boston City Hall Plaza

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City Hall Plaza, Boston, 2009

City Hall Plaza in Boston, Massachusetts, is a large, open, unadorned public space in the Government Center area of the city. The architectural firm Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles designed the plaza in 1962 to accompany Boston's new City Hall building. The multi-level, irregularly shaped plaza consists of red brick and concrete. The Government Center MBTA station is located beneath the plaza; its entrance is at the southwest corner of the plaza.


City Hall Plaza in 1973

The siting of the plaza, the City Hall, and other structures in Government Center was the responsibility of I. M. Pei,[1][2] commissioned by Edward J. Logue, then development administrator of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The plaza and City Hall were constructed between 1963 and 1968, on the former site of Scollay Square, which despite its vibrancy and historical interest, was considered a seedy area by some people.[3] Other streets removed to make way for the plaza included Brattle Street and Cornhill.

The 1962 design was reportedly[4] modeled after Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy.

Reaction to the plaza has been mixed. Some praise City Hall Plaza for being cleaner and more appealing than Scollay Square, and for the simple fact that it was built at all—with the cooperation and compromises necessary of any complex, multi-agency government construction project. Others dislike City Hall Plaza[5] for its anti-social aesthetic and failure to address unpleasant weather effects (such as wintertime cold, wet, and wind, and summertime heat, dust, sun, and wind).[6][7] The Project for Public Spaces ranked it at the top of the organization's list of "Squares Most Dramatically in Need of Improvement in the United States" in 2005,[8] and has placed the plaza on its "Hall of Shame."[9]

Since the plaza opened in 1968, ideas for improvements to the public space have been put forth by citizens, students, architects, politicians, and others. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino had several ideas for improvement. In 2007, Emerson College students used the virtual world Second Life to re-imagine a better design; the project was sponsored by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, among others.[10] A 2011 study[11] commissioned by the United States Environmental Protection Agency made recommendations for the "greening" of the plaza.

Work began in 2011 on plans to redesign the plaza and the Government Center MBTA station.[12][13] The new MBTA station opened in March 2016[14] after two years of construction. Extensive landscaping and accessibility improvements to the plaza[15] are scheduled for completion later in 2016.

Public events[edit]

2004 rally to celebrate New England Patriots victory in Super Bowl XXXVIII

Nearby Boston Common has long been used for public events, including a 1969 peace rally that drew an estimated crowd of 100,000[16] and the 1979 mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II.[17] But damage to the park from such large events led city officials to limit future events on the Common, relocating many to the paved City Hall Plaza.[18]

Annual events held on City Hall Plaza include Boston Calling Music Festival, Big Apple Circus, The Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl, the Boston Pride Festival,[19] the African Festival of Boston,[20] Boston GreenFest,[21] Boston Techjam,[22] and the Boston Cycling Celebration.[23]

Occasional events on the plaza have included Boston's 350th birthday celebration,[24] art exhibits such as Strandbeest;[25] large rallies in honor of the New England Patriots,[26] the Boston Red Sox,[27] and the Boston Bruins; political demonstrations;[28][29] an exhibit of "street pianos";[30] a beer festival;[31] and a "Roller Disco Tribute Party".[32]

Image gallery[edit]


  1. ^ Thomas H. O'Connor (1993), Building a New Boston, Boston: Northeastern University Press, OL 1737146M 
  2. ^ Laurel Ulrich (1970), A Beginner's Boston, Cambridge, Mass, LCCN 73023868 
  3. ^ Robert J. Allison (2004), Short History of Boston, Beverly, Massachusetts: Commonwealth Editions, ISBN 1-889833-47-9 
  4. ^ "Planning Models - Boston City Hall Plaza". FAH 198-05 Government Center. Tufts University. Retrieved 24 March 2016. 
  5. ^ The good city: writers explore 21st century Boston. 2004; p.4.
  6. ^ Lawrence W. Kennedy (1992), Planning the City upon a Hill: Boston since 1630, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, OL 1562221M 
  7. ^ Anne Whiston Spirn (1985), Granite Garden, Urban Nature and Human Design, Basic Books, ISBN 978-0-465-02706-4 
  8. ^ "Project for Public Spaces". 
  9. ^ "City Hall Plaza - Hall of Shame". Project for Public Spaces. Retrieved 20 March 2016. 
  10. ^ Colin Rhinesmith (2007), Collaborative Design in One Virtual World: Using Second Life to Re-imagine City Hall Plaza 
  11. ^ "Greening America’s Capitals: Boston’s City Hall Plaza" (PDF). Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 23 March 2016. 
  12. ^ Casey Ross (March 16, 2011), "A 10-year plan for City Hall Plaza: New incremental approach starts with remodeled T station, trees", Boston Globe 
  13. ^ "What do you think should be done to City Hall Plaza?", Boston Globe, March 16, 2011 
  14. ^ Moskowitz, Eric (21 March 2016). "Government Center shines as it opens again". Boston Globe. Retrieved 23 March 2016. 
  15. ^ "MBTA Government Center Station + City Hall Plaza". Halvorson Design. Retrieved 23 March 2016. 
  16. ^ "The 1969 peace rally". The Boston Globe. 17 October 2012. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  17. ^ "Pope John Paul II visits Boston". The Boston Globe. 3 October 2012. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  18. ^ Drake, John C. (20 March 2008). "Large events may become uncommon at city's beloved park". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  19. ^ "Boston Pride Festival". Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  20. ^ "African Festival of Boston". Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  21. ^ "Boston GreenFest". Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  22. ^ "Boston TechJam". Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  23. ^ "Boston Cycling Celebration". Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  24. ^ "A look back: Boston’s City Hall Plaza". Boston Globe. 20 September 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2016. 
  25. ^ "Strandbeests come to Boston". The Boston Globe. 28 August 2015. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  26. ^ Schworm, Peter (26 January 2015). "Showing true grit, Pats’ fans rally in Boston". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  27. ^ "Playoff rally at City Hall". The Boston Globe. 1 October 2007. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  28. ^ Nguyen, Rosa (7 August 2015). "Civil rights groups protest federal program to combat extremism, saying it targets Muslims". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  29. ^ "Supreme Rally for Women's Equality at City Hall Plaza". Boston Herald. 8 July 2014. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 
  30. ^ "Street Pianos - City Hall Plaza". Retrieved 18 April 2016. 
  31. ^ Weaver, Alex. "City Hall Plaza Lands Another Giant Beer Festival". BostInno. Retrieved 20 April 2016. 
  32. ^ Rosen, Andy (18 July 2014). "Roller disco event honors Donna Summer". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 5 April 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

Published in the 2010s

Published in the 2000s

  • Peter J. Howe. Mayor has new spin for City Hall Plaza; Menino wants to explore wind turbine installation. Boston Globe, Sep 29, 2007. pg. A.1.
  • Christina Pazzanese. Some small things could pretty up City Hall Plaza. Boston Globe, Sep 16, 2007. pg. 2.
  • Matt Viser. Fount of futility finally runs dry; City Hall Plaza eyesore gets a concrete solution. Boston Globe, June 9, 2006. pg. B.1.
  • Jack Thomas. 'I wanted something that would last': At 89, an architect stands by his plan for City Hall after four decades of both condemnation and praise. Boston Globe. October 13, 2004.
  • Talk about City Hall Plaza. Boston Globe, Apr 12, 2003. pg. A.10.
  • Thomas C. Palmer Jr. Effort to improve City Hall Plaza gets new life, group expected to deliver recommendations next year. Globe Staff. Boston Globe, Oct 1, 2002. pg. D.1.
  • Sarah Schweitzer. An unfulfilled urban promise; Menino resurrects a plan to renovate City Hall Plaza. Boston Globe, Aug 8, 2002. pg. B.1.
  • Robert F. Walsh. Some lessons on upkeep at City Hall Plaza. Boston Globe, Apr 15, 2002. pg. A.17.
  • Improving City Hall Plaza. Boston Globe, Jul 17, 2000. pg. A.10.

Published in the 1990s

  • Anthony Flint. City Hall Plaza to get $27.5M renovation. Boston Globe, Dec 17, 1999. pg. B.3.
  • A refuge on City Hall Plaza. Boston Globe, Dec 17, 1999. pg. A.26.
  • Anthony Flint. City Hall Plaza redesign is OK'd; modest makeover to be announced. Boston Globe. Boston, Mass.: Dec 15, 1999. pg. A.38.

Published in the 1960s

  • Walter Muir Whitehill. Boston: a topographical history, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1968.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°21′37.04″N 71°3′32.91″W / 42.3602889°N 71.0591417°W / 42.3602889; -71.0591417