It’s an interesting time to think about investments in infrastructure, as the state legislature’s major transportation bill is now being finalized. As I experience Japan’s modern, expansive train system, I wonder what a bold transit plan for our Commonwealth, and the greater region, could do for our economic future?
For example, imagine a “bullet” train that travels, at least, 150 miles/hour (certainly, a far cry from our aging T fleet.) After years of hunting for an economic solution to our western region, what could a 30 minute commute between Boston and Springfield mean? Talk about an economic development engine that could also open up affordable housing alternatives!
I came to Tokyo expecting to find an aging office stock with little new construction and extremely high vacancy rates. I am surprised to report that not only are there magnificently designed, new, mixed-use projects, especially in the Shiodome area, vacancies are at levels that would make us envious. It turns out that vacancy rates in the 7% range (including the older stock) are considered dangerously high. Historically, rates have been under 4% in the Tokyo prime markets, only rising in response to major global impacts like the “dot com bubble” or the recent recession started by the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis. Curiously, real rents have not grown that much. With vacancies like this in Boston, rents would be spiking. Clearly, it’s a different economy!