Jessica Garnitz for AIA
Porter Gifford Jessica Garnitz for AIA

Jess Garnitz, Assoc. AIA, a designer at the Boston-based architecture firm ADD, organized reGEN Boston: Energizing Urban Living, an ideas competition that asked entrants to balance resiliency demands, walkable urbanism, multigenerational occupants, and the city’s status as a transportation hub for a 21st century city. Sponsored by the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) with help from the BSA’s Emerging Professionals Network (which she chairs) and the BSA’s Housing Committee (co-chaired by ADD principal B.K. Boley), reGEN Boston comes at a pivotal time, says Garnitz, “when we need strategies that make sense.”

We wanted this competition to take Boston as a case study, as a way of getting at universal urban issues. The problems Boston faces—coastal location, driving nightmare, critical levels of density on already almost fully developed land—are problems that other cities face. So repurposing buildings and turning density into a positive element is at the core of what we asked entrants to do.

Boston is growing, but so is the desire for more flexible living arrangements. People want proximity to all of the things a city offers, and they want a level of comfort at every stage of their lives. City developers sometimes leave out the three-bedroom and the four-bedroom floor plans because they’re not moneymakers in the ways that studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom plans are. The current housing market doesn’t address the different stages of life that everyone encounters—you have different needs as a single person living in the city than you do as a member of a family of four, or as two empty-nesters who love their home city and want to stay connected to it.

We asked entrants to look at one of two sites—both on the waterfront, both currently owned by the city. One is in Boston’s North End and the other is in East Boston. A lot of entries focused on views. Some incorporated water-taxi terminals in or next to the buildings. Some incorporated plazas and promenades into their site plans as a way of creating a more seamless connection between public and private space. There was one great entry for the East Boston site that divided the site in half—one half was a marshland with nature walks, and the other half tackled the housing requirements.

The housing climate spawned this competition, as did ADD’s goal to create more opportunities for younger architects who live and work in a rapidly changing city. Take, for example, the fact that you can now build micro-units within one mile of a T station, where previously they were only allowed in the so-called “Innovation District.” So it’s an interesting time—we have a new mayor with new goals and new desires. All of these things aligned for a fresh conversation about Boston’s future.