Corey Zehngebot, Senior Architect/Urban Designer, Boston Planning & Development Agency
Corey Zehngebot, AIA, AICP, works as a Senior Urban Designer and Architect for the Boston Planning and Development Agency (formerly the Boston Redevelopment Authority). There, she works assiduously across scales but enjoys connecting her many interest-dots across agencies, sectors, and people. Primary responsibilities include a) conceptualizing, leading, and managing urban design initiatives and design guidelines b) conducting design review for downtown and neighborhood projects as part of compliance with Boston Zoning Code, and c) assistance with the design, substance, and management of planning initiatives and studies throughout Boston. She received a B.A. with distinction from Yale University and a Masters of Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
1. In your role at The Boston Planning and Redevelopment Agency (BPDA), you lead work that conceptualizes and manages urban design initiatives that connect to zoning. What role does urban design play in municipal zoning regulations and why is this important?
One enlightened facet of Boston’s zoning code is a baked-in requirement for robust design review as a mechanism for exemplary urban design. For the uninitiated, urban design is the art and science of shaping a city’s public realm, collectively comprised of public spaces, the activities that occur within them, and the buildings that frame them. BPDA’s Urban Design department works between scales, ensuring that the work done at the scale of the city (planning) is translated to the scale of the project (development review) to ensure a consistent, cohesive, safe, and high-quality public realm. It’s important to review projects through a wide lens, as creating a world-class city doesn’t happen through individual projects, but by forcibly looking big picture and guiding built form over the long term.
2. In Imagine Boston 2030, the Plan calls for contextually sensitive growth across the city to address projected increase in population. As a Senior Designer and Architect for the City of Boston, how does the city manage design evolutions with the need to maintain the city’s charm?
The City has a variety of strategies they can use to facilitate contextually sensitive growth across the city, and the role of the BPDA’s Urban Design Department is to ensure that the urban design principles that define Boston’s unique character are widely promoted and embedded in the planning and development projects in the city. Every day, UD’s staff faces the challenge of honoring the City’s historic character while promoting contemporary development. It’s less about a particular style or material, but absolutely about respecting the public realm framework that exists in different guises throughout Boston.
3. You were one of the many Boston leaders who experienced the first-hand account of the 2013 Boston Bombings. How does that experience shape the current work you do for the BPDA?
It’s hard to know precisely how my experience of being close to the 2013 Boston bombings influences the work that I do, but I am sure it must! There’s a term – “antifragile” – which is a notch above resilience. While a resilient city may return to its prior form, a city that is antifragile comes back better, faster, stronger. I think that Boston’s antifragility is exposed both in the moment and in the aftermath of crises like the marathon bombings, but also more gradually over time as we respond to new pressures like climate change or just pure development. Having traveled a fair amount, I have come to believe in the inherent adaptability of cities as the impulse to live in dense urban environments persists.
4. Why ULI?
Organizations are more engaging with diverse perspectives and professional backgrounds. In my role as co-chair of the Urban Development Council, we have a varied cross-section of developers, architects, landscape architects, planners, attorneys, other land use professionals, non-profit employees, and government officials such as myself. Everyone brings a different perspective – the magic is in the mix!
I’ve also really enjoyed participating in Urban Plan for the past seven years at Boston Latin and Cambridge Ridge and Latin. The students in these classes live in Boston and Cambridge, and the exercise they are asked to complete is not too far removed from their realities. It’s been rewarding to watch high school students transform into engaged citizens through this ULI-facilitated curriculum.
5. It’s summer time in the city! What is your favorite summer festival in Boston?
I have a 10-month-old, so my favorite summer festivals this year will have to be ones that are kid-friendly! Recent experiments by the City like “Open Newbury” have been ideal for transforming familiar areas of the city into something new and different. I’m excited for the “Open Canal” event happening on July 8, which came out of the planning initiative, North Station Area Mobility Action Plan, that I was involved in.
As a Charlestown resident, I look forward every June to the Bunker Hill Day Parade for some nostalgia flavor. I’m also looking forward to the Tall Ships returning to Boston’s waterfront later this month. Hopefully, it will be consistently warm and sunny by that time!