Mayor Martin Walsh’s office announced a joint venture with the Boston Society of Architects the other day on proposals for the Northern Avenue bridge. Built in 1908, the bridge spans the Fort Point Channel and has been neglecteed over the years. It was closed to cars in 1997 and to pedestrians in 2014.
According to Dante Ramos, the United States Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers have said that the bridge is now a hazard to navigation. As part of the GE deal, the City was going to replace it with a normal concrete road bridge, but presevationists cried out and so now the mayor has come up with a design competition.
The bridge is unique because it splits in half and swings aside to let larger ships pass through. The Boston Globe says it’s “A Carl Sandburg poem in action” and “A steampunk reminder of the way industrial America used to be.”
Previous requests for proposals have resulted ideas for everything from restoring it for pedestrian and vehicular use to enclosing the truss in glass and turning it into a Ponte Vecchio high end retail opportunity.
A rendering of the Ponte Vecchio concept, from the Architectural Heritage Foundation.
This is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking lacking in American cities. In the Middle Ages, bridges weren’t simply crossings, but were full of shops, houses and even breweries.
Claude de Jongh’s View of London Bridge.
As the High Street Cap in Columbus shows, these sorts of bridges aren’t impossibilities. Even more than Northern Avenue, Boston has numerous bridges over interstate highways that would be much improved by the addition of shops and even apartments, especially Market Street in Brighton, Cambridge Street in Allston and the streets between the South End and Bay Village — Columbus Avenue, Tremont Street, Arlington Street and Berkeley Street.