Greenway Community Forum Reflects on Status of Boston’s Newest Parks

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.

9 Replies to “Greenway Community Forum Reflects on Status of Boston’s Newest Parks

  1. Perhaps people don't go for several reasons:
    1) all the meeting announcements sound like they are just for the leaadership council members and not for the general public and
    2) the Conservancy sucks at communicating anything to the public whether it is a meeting or an event. They are under the delusion that people will flock to their website to find out what is going on and could care less if people don't know what is happening.

  2. Of course they all sat there and patted themselves on the back, I'm sure. I think the amount of events and services on the Greenway is *pathetic* given Nancy's outrageous salary. $225,000 per year. Outrageous.

    The carousel is a steal?!?! It's nothing more than a tax on the families that live here. What about the families with 2 or more children who want to ride it every time they walk past? We're either faced with a tantrum, or shelling out at least $6. Why aren't discounted tickets being sold to North End residents through the Nazzaro Center? If a family with 2 children ride twice a week while it's here, suddenly that family is paying $250 for a merry go round. That's a steal for sure. Look who is getting their money stolen. Why the heck do they refuse to give locals $1 tickets????

  3. I give the people that hosted this forum credit. I could not be there, but it seems like they are making an effort. If no one showed up, maybe that's because everyone is happy? Probably not, but it didn't sound like there was much disagreement at the meeting. I am glad there is a group of people that are trying to make this work. The parks by the North End are so much better than what we had before.

  4. I love the Greenway as is. I attended the meeting. I understood from the beginning that the Greenway was totally in the green forever and that the citizens of Boston would have a green walk way after 20 years of disruption. Not true. The Greenway needs money and is looking for suggestions to promote activities, focusing on the Financial District employees, not citizens of Boston. They do not want to spend money, just make it. If no revenue, what happens — air rights? I seem to be in the minority of keeping it just as it is. I am not opposed to change, change is good, but I really like the open, green space. I love the Boston Common too.

  5. @West End resident:

    At no time during the 15 years of planning for the Greenway was the area intended to be all grass and parks. It was always intended to have museums, a YMCA, a winter Garden etc.along with some grassy parks. Some people even tried to get luxury condos and apts on the space and replace the elevated highway dividing the city from the waterfront with skyscrapers.

  6. @ Huh? – You're right with regard to trying to get skyscrapers on the Greenway. And please note – they aren't done trying yet!!

    While I appreciate that some people are trying… they come off as an elitist group that has no desire to make an actual real connection to us common folk. (In my own opinion, of course!)

    Why not make a meeting on a Saturday or Sunday so people who work, or people with families can actually have a shot at attending?

  7. @Citizen

    Community meetings are never held on the weekend because the government and non-profit types do not work on the weekends and want to spend time with their families. The theory is that people who really want to attend meetings will make arrangements to get to the meetings which are usually start @ 6:30 or 7PM. Since the meetings are held once a month or less frequently people should be able to make arrangements to attend.

  8. While I appreciate that government and non-profit types do not want to work on weekends, lots of people who work in a public service type position HAVE to work an occasional weekend as part of their job. Working on a Saturday morning never killed anyone.

    In my opinion, it would be far easier to have a few people work a couple of hours on the weekend to facilitate people actually attending, rather than expect most of the target audience to figure out how to race home from work, feed their children, help with homework/bed, and pay a sitter.

    The theory is that people who really want to actually get their constituents to attend a meeting will make arrangements to hold the meetings at a time that time that the constituents can actually go without turning their lives upside down. When meetings are held at a time that is impossible for the average citizen to attend, it gives the impression that the organizers don't really care if people come or not.

  9. I get it. It is far more important for YOU to be able to leave work, go home and make dinner and spend time with your family then it is for the Greenway Conservancy or some state worker to do the same. They should have meetings on the weekend and have to pay a sitter, not help their kids with homework and not have dinner with their family because it is inconvenient FOR YOU to leave work early or make other arrangements for your kids once or twice a year. Meanwhile, these folks you are complaining about attend multiple evening meetings a month or week, work weekends for greenway events and HAVE A LIFE. give me a break!

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