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Alum’s vision for more usable sidewalks

Nick Guertin, AMD’14, is often struck by the lack of sidewalk space for plantings, bike racks, or even seating on Huntington Avenue in Boston. When he goes for runs, he notices commuters siting on apartment stoops while waiting for the bus.

This past spring, Guertin developed a solution to address the problem. While working on co-op at Abacus Architects + Planners, the Boston-based design firm that recently hired him as a full-time designer, Guertin created “The Hub,” a modular unit installation comprising seating, planters, bike racks, and covered shelter overhangs.

“This gives any neighborhood that wants to better itself the opportunity to do so,” said Guertin, a Mission Hill resident for the past two years. His work with Mission Hill Main Streets, a community organization that promotes a vibrant and diverse Mission Hill, also inspired the project.

The structures, which Guertin designed with Huntington Avenue’s narrow sidewalks in mind, can be tailored to accommodate the area’s needs. One installation might consist of one long stretch of seating while another might feature a bike rack paired with a planter.

“It has a generic identity but can be very specific based on the needs of people in the area,” Guertin said. “We want to be able to quickly respond to everyone who is using it.”

Earlier this month the bench/parklet hybrid was chosen as one of three winning submissions in the streetscape category of Boston’s Public Space Invitational, a crowd-sourced design competition aimed at re-thinking small public spaces, sidewalks, and Boston City Hall. Mayor Martin Walsh’s Office of New Urban Mechanics sponsored the competition.

As part of this recognition, Guertin will receive funding from the city to build two prototypes to install later this year along the Huntington Avenue corridor between Brigham Circle and the Riverway. He said the hope is to not only offer additional seating for pedestrians, but also provide additional uses that allow pedestrians to connect with their neighborhoods even more.

In the project’s planning phase, he solicited input from Northeastern architecture professors and his Abacus supervisors. “This is the culmination of my entire education and co-op experience,” Guertin said. “All of the success is due to my experiences at Northeastern.”

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