GLC Chair Ann Thornburg (standing far right) leads the discussion at the forum. From the left, GLC member Donna Freni, Boston Harbor Association Executive Director Vivien Li, Boston Parks Commissioner Toni Pollak, New England Aquarium Executive Director Bud Ris, GLC Member Dan Nuzzo, Greenway Conservancy Director of Business Operations Jesse Brackenbury and Director of Public Programs Kate Gilbert Miller.
“Amazing, Remarkable, Incredible” were the words most often used to describe the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway parks at this week’s Community Forum held by the Greenway Leadership Council (GLC). The praise and complements may have been a bit overstated considering that most of the 40 or so attendees were affiliated with the Greenway Conservancy (GC), the private, non-profit organization that operates the park, or attending to fulfill a governmental/obligatory role.
The forum was actively promoted but the sparse attendance implies the public is mostly apathetic regarding the Greenway and/or its stewardship. Perhaps the community is putting their trust in the 13 GLC members that are appointed by various government officials to advise the GC. The forum’s location was at the Marriott Long Wharf, bringing minimal attendance from the North End or Chinatown, the largest neighborhoods abutting the Greenway. However, Harbor Towers had a substantial representation in the audience. Attending from the office of State Representative Aaron Michlewitz was Blake Webber and Stewart Rosenberg attended from City Council Felix Arroyo’s office.
Ann Thornburg, GLC Chair, led the forum which began with progress statements from the Greenway Conservancy (GC) heads of horticulture, events and operations. Most of the list of accomplishments has been previously reported on this website and the GC’s blog. Dave Seeley, a GLC member, reviewed the results from an online survey which received 140 responses. Seeley noted that several responses appeared biased by potential business interests (i.e., pro-bike responses from employees of a bike-rental company).
Interesting comments were made by guest speakers Bud Ris, head of the New England Aquarium, Vivien Li, Executive Director of the Boston Harbor Association and Toni Pollack, City of Boston Parks Commissioner. The three “experts” pontificated on what is working on the Greenway and their suggestions for improvement.
Below are some of the issues discussed through the online survey or by participants at the meeting.
Public art was the most requested addition to the Greenway. GC staff noted the success of the giant hammock and Bottanica. The latter, a rotating metal sculpture in front of Rowes Wharf, is due to be removed later this month.
Food - There was general support for the mobile food vending program. A Harbor Towers resident said that more restaurants were needed on the Greenway. However, others said they wanted to “keep the Greenway green.” GLC member Dave Seeley noted the back end infrastructure for a restaurant would be difficult to create on the Greenway. He advised that the wide sidewalks on the outer edges might be more appropriate for cafes and eateries.
Bike trails were requested through the online survey. Peter Gori from the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) answered that the Greenway was not designed to have bikes on the parks, but Boston Transportation Department was working on bike lanes on adjacent streets.
Segways are not allowed on the Greenway, but are often seen there. Officials said the city is working on regulatory guidelines for segway use.
Skateboarding deterrents were effective in place, but often just moved the skateboarders to other adjacent areas of the parks.
Restrooms, or lack thereof, was a point of feedback from the audience. The BRA’s Peter Gori discussed the challenges of restrooms and potential solutions for spaces in abutting buildings. Public restrooms need to have facilities for men and woman, including accessibility for the handicapped and changing tables for families. He noted the possibility of having a new one on the outside of the Marriott Long Wharf. Vivien Li noted the success she has had in getting more restrooms added to the waterfront. Bud Ris joked the Greenway could have the public restroom in front of the Aquarium.
The prospect of an ice skating rink was raised by an audience member. A plastic surface rink was trialed last year. Officials noted that Boston Common already has an ice rink at Frog Pond and the Greenway might look to do something different. (Ed: There is also an indoor rink on Commercial St. in the North End with public skating.)
There was a request for more programs during the after-work hours and during the winter season. The GC’s Miller noted that “Bright Lights on Winter Nights” will be held on December 21st on the Greenway parks.
Shirley Kressel, an activist from the Back Bay, asked about a job posting for a math tutor and how that was related to the GC’s mission. Executive Director Nancy Brennan said the job was part of the privately funded “Green and Grow” program toward the development of a handful of teens. Kressel also asked how the GC was dealing with the homeless in the parks. Staff reported they had reconfigured some shrub areas, including those in the North End, to make the spots less appealing for overnight sleeping by the homeless.
Tina Busa from the North End asked about why the vines are dead on the pergolas in the North End parks. She noted there is no shade in the area. GC staff said the pergola infrastructure was not sufficient for vine growth. (Ed: Maybe they should look at the wisteria that completely covers the trellis at Christopher Columbus Park.)
Armenian Heritage Park (Parcel 13) – It was announced that bids were received this week and are in line with the planned budget and timeframe. Construction is expected to start in 2011 with an 18-month construction schedule.
Bud Ris, Executive Director of the New England Aquarium and North End resident noted that attendance was up slightly this year at the Aquarium, despite 10% declines at similar facilities nationwide. He attributes some of that to the Greenway and the access it provides to the Aquarium as a “front lawn.” He suggests many more signs directing people to various places along the Greenway. He also thought there should be more “identity” events such as on Mother’s Day to create associations. In an odd, but sensible suggestion, he believes all the streets need to be renamed around the Greenway. He said no one understands the interconnections of Surface Road, Purchase Street, Cross Street and Atlantic Avenue. Instead, he thought “Greenway North” and “Greenway South” would be easier to remember.
Toni Pollak, Boston Parks Commissioner, noted the Greenway needs some time to evolve. She compared its current timeframe to the grazing fields of Boston Common centuries ago. In the meantime, she suggests experimentation. For example, the giant hammock display went to the Greenway because the city parks have a moratorium. She made some practical suggestions for a tot lot to serve families and a covered shed to have events in the rain. She also thought the Greenway could benefit from charity walks.
Vivien Li, Executive Director of the Boston Harbor Association, continued the creative theme of ideas describing a trip to Paris where a park was transformed into a beach for “staycationers” complete with sand and beach games. While likely inappropriate for the Greenway, she was impressed by the “Swimming Pool Dumpsters” that were the rage in New York City last summer. Li loved the process of creating the giant hammock and the thinks the carousel is a steal at $3 per ride. Li echoed Pollak’s notion that it takes time for new ideas to pay off. She used the example of the BRA’s grant for First Night on the Waterfront, a thoughtful concept that has yet to gain momentum with the public.
Li is concerned about the Harbor Islands Pavilion, believing patrons may be confused by its distance from the ferries. She favors more interpretive signage and trees on the Greenway, reminding Pollak of the Mayor’s promise for 100,000 newly planted trees in the city. Lastly, she thought the Conservancy’s promotional materials need some improvement.