When Monster (Buildings) Attack

Salem is still in the midst (throes) of a relentless building boom that began several years ago with the construction of an over-sized courthouse and will eventually encompass a train station/parking garage (just opened), a new hotel complex, and an expanded campus for Salem State University. This is a lot of construction for a relatively small city, and the buildings are big. Actually I’m not sure whether the scale of these structures bothers me more than the design, though now that I’ve thought about it for a second, it’s definitely the former with the courthouse and the latter with the proposed hotel complex, which looks like it is shaping up to be a truly ugly building. Anyone who has glanced at this blog briefly knows that I’m a traditionalist when it comes to architecture so no surprises there. But I don’t want to write about the design attributes of these buildings in this post: I’m more focused on what the average citizen can do when these big projects attack–and they can, at any time and anywhere. After years of watching these developments play out, I think I’ve come to the conclusion that there is very little that one person–or even a group of very dedicated and well-connected people–can do to stop them, most especially if the state is the developer. The process usually goes something like this: the project is proposed in all its glory, people get mad, and organized, but are repeatedly told that it’s a done deal, a fait accompli, except for (relatively) little details that are subject to mitigation, these details get discussed in the review process, the project gets built, period. And that’s how Salem got its GIANT courthouse and its generic parking garage. Even though Salem State University is Salem State University, the process of development has been a bit more collaborative, at least from my perspective (which could be very biased, as I work there), but now the university wants to build a large parking garage in very close proximity to a residential neighborhood that really doesn’t want it there. And I’m wondering if they have the power to stop it.


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Monstrous Building Cube

Massive/massing: the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center in Salem; the new Salem Station Parking Garage; the proposed RCG Hotel Complex with “Cube” wing, courtesy Salem News.

I’m very torn on the Salem State parking garage, and not just because I work there. It seems quite apparent to me that design is a much greater priority for those who are planning the Salem State campus than those who are transforming Salem’s downtown. Salem State has 10,000 students and no parking garage–obviously it needs one (but it also needs a train stop)! There are actually three separate campuses: must there be one HUGE parking garage rather than three smaller, less obtrusive ones? I suppose this option is cost-prohibitive, but this is what every student that I’ve talked to wants. And there are plans for more buildings: won’t forcing this garage down the neighbors’ throats hurt future development plans? The neighborhood has organized itself into a group called Save our Salem (S.O.S: they started out as Save South Salem so this was a wise change), and they look committed. I’m really hoping that this particular superstructure doesn’t harm the environment in which I live and work.

PicMonkey Collage

Parking Garage SSU

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Facades and aerial outline of the proposed 54-foot, 725-car parking garage on the North Campus of Salem State University; Save our Salem signs along Raymond Road.

7 responses to “When Monster (Buildings) Attack

  • markd60

    When you get to be as old as me, all change seems bad.

  • daseger

    That could be part of my issue as well, Mark.

  • Lisa Connolly

    Very refreshing to see someone honest enough to express what we the people, of this formally small landscape in historic nature of a city, have all felt lately. Thank you for the candid exposure. One mention, in addition, there is also about to be another very large, massive development, on a small parcel of our waterfront. The skyline is about to disappear at the corner of Derby & Congress once more. Across the street from the other parking garage & adjacent to the Hotel, will rise the new Salem Waterfront Hotel expansion development. To say this structure is massive, is actually an understatement. Considering the small parcel of landscape it will occupy. This new high rise structure will ultimately block out the quaint view of the waterfront down there. Along with all the afternoon sunlight that once shimmered upon its boats residing there as well. It will all disappear. Forever in the shadow of the new massive corporate domain, with an ugly permanent presence. Reflecting only our ever changing quaint historic landscape, being lost to just a memory of days gone by…PS Yes, I’m old too!

  • Brian Bixby

    How DOES one get to the campus from the commuter rail station?

    • daseger

      Walk up Lafayette Street, like I do every day. It takes about 20 minutes. There might be shuttles from the station–I don’t know. But the tracks run right by the campus!

      • Brian Bixby

        I had wondered. It would seem a natural addition, just as the Fitchburg line has stops at Waltham and Brandeis/Roberts. However, the MBTA is reconstructing a number of stops to include handicapped access and high platforms to make boarding easier, so a station is a complicated affair that takes up a great deal of space now.

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