I have a hobbyist interest in urban design. Last week my girlfriend made fun of me for noticing the curb cut on the north-west corner of Charles & Cambridge St was widened by a few inches.

Had it not been clear that I was the only one interested, I would have audibly hypothesized that it may be due to the regular build up of pedestrians at the crosswalk moving between the shopping on Charles St and the footbridge to the river walk. More people crossing at once may mean less space for those who need it to use the curb cut.

These changes remind me that there is someone, somewhere thinking about each curb I walk over, and each space I spend time in. I’m drawn to things that bring me more context about my world and the combination of historic organic growth, modern master planning, and human-driven chaos that cities possess make them fascinating playgrounds to explore. Each part of a city has both its own story and inhabits a place in the larger context of our world.

I’ve lived in downtown Boston for three years. My girlfriend, cat, and I share a 550sqft apartment in Beacon Hill.

Beacon Hill is hostile to nearly everyone. Is anyone surprised?

The only through-street in Beacon Hill is Charles St. It’s the main artery thats runs from the MBTA stop to the Common and parallel to the river from which it takes its name.

Charles St is one-way as is nearly every other street in the neighborhood.

Map of Beacon Hill

One-way streets can be used to improve and inhibit traffic flow. Manhattan uses one-way streets to improve traffic flow in their grid system, while in Beacon Hill they are aggressively inhibit any movement in the neighborhood.

The streets of the hill feel alive. Don’t make a wrong turn else you’ll be swept up by the one-way current and deposited on a perimeter road far from your destination. After a few trips, you recognize the clear goal embedded in the streets: You aren’t wanted here.

I both despise cars and am often required to drive them, so the ramifications of this design is a point of internal conflict. Beacon Hill is a castle with a moat, alligators, and high walls in modern day Boston.

As a driver, you’ll only be able to approach from the north. Approaching from the south means a series of opposing one-way streets thrown in your face until you’ve found yourself bypassing the neighborhood entirely.

As a cyclist, you’re equally uninvited. Beacon Hill has no dedicated cycling infrastructure and bikes must operate within car traffic. Some courageous cyclists attempt to breach the castle walls from the south, dodging cars and tour buses coming at them head on. “For 40 to 50 years, I have gone the wrong way on Charles Street” - Joan Doucette testifying in favor of a bike lane

As a pedestrian, you’ll fare better. While not at the whims of traffic laws, you’ll be dodging slow moving tourists, displays from the local businesses, shin-high metal grates fully-encompassing tree beds, tree branches, parking meters, construction crews, scaffolding, and most recently outdoor dining. But alas, any more sidewalk space would take away from the three lanes of traffic that cars traveling south desperately require.

Some people join the cyclists and take to the empty street in protest of unequal distribution of transportation wealth. In quieter parts of the neighborhood though its important to tread carefully to avoid a twisted ankle from the warped cobblestone streets.

Your car is welcome in the neighborhood if you have the means. You’ll find ample private on-street parking if you can purchase a single-family home in Louisberg Sq or on Byron St. But you wont need it since you’ll have a garage too.

I do wish that Beacon Hill’s hostility towards cars was well intentioned; that the neighborhood was planned as a pedestrian utopia. There is a history of wealthy residents using regulation and urban design to bend landscapes to their interests at the expense of others. Hopefully thats not happening in Beacon Hill though.