When my wife and I leave Symphony Hall after a concert we turn left. Turning left takes you towards Court Square and out to Main Street. Of the 2,000 or so people at an SSO concert about 5% wander out into the city, the other 95% cross East Columbus Avenue to the parking area underneath the interstate. They leave immediately after the concert because nothing is open in the area around the hall after 10 pm, and nothing is open because no one is there to frequent these (real and potential) establishments, and no one is there to patronize those businesses because it doesn’t feel safe, and it doesn’t feel safe because nobody turns left.
The culprit is the parking garage. And the poor urbanism along East Columbus Avenue. If the parking were diffused, or at least funneled people onto even one block of functioning pedestrian friendly urban streetscape then SSO concerts could create an après musique atmosphere conducive to staying in the neighborhood, sitting down for a drink, and discussing the listening experience. (Like how having a talented symphony orchestra and a virtuoso soloist waste their talents on wannabe-proto-hipster George Gershwin’s piano “concerto” is like having Velázquez paint your garage.) The repair and reconstruction of the I-91 viaduct, under which the parking deck sits, will present a challenge to the SSO as so many symphony-goers are in their sunset years and will grumble at the need to walk any more than they already have to do, but it will also present an opportunity to both attract a younger audience and retain them with a post concert environment keyed to people for whom 10 pm is not bed-time.
Coordinating the closure of the south garage with the potential renovation of the Court Square Building and the construction of a parking garage (Yes, I said it) on the EMPTY space enveloped by it and the Shean Block would give one of the most beautiful public spaces in the world a public to appreciate it. That MGM intends to participate in the redevelopment of that block makes it more likely that its ground floor amenities will have a generous evening schedule. Getting hundreds and hundreds of people to turn in to the city, and not out of the city after an event is the first step, figuratively and literally, to creating a vibrant downtown. I don’t know if it even could happen, but if you had a thousand “successful” pockets within the downtown, but each of them was insular, you wouldn’t have a vibrant downtown. On the other hand if you had two energetic nodes in the city and it became the norm to walk the streets between them you would have a successful city from a nightlife standpoint.