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Downtown View: Greenway Cooperation–The Way To Go

Ah, the Greenway. That wonderful replacement for that awful highway.

Ah, the Greenway Conservancy.  That wonderful idea that has turned awful at times.

But there is a ray of hope. A change for the better? Shared goals developed by formerly antagonistic players? Everybody on the same page?

We’ll see. Cooperation between Conservancy staff and horticultural and neighborhood groups has been scant. But the newly-formed Friends of the North End Parks (FOTNEP), and Conservancy officials are both saying chances for teamwork look good. Let us count the ways.

First, they share goals. Next, they both say they want to work together. The timing might be right since both are ready to tackle the North End parks. How will this play out?

FOTNEP focuses on the two parks on either side of Hanover Street. Much is wonderful about these parks. The steel pergola works as intended as a popular “front porch” for North End residents. The spouting fountains are glorious. The grass is sublime— velvety with no crab grass or bare spots even though hundreds of people sunbath on it all summer.

But FOTNEP hates the planting beds in these two sections. Conservancy representatives say they don’t like them either.

In the both parks, the formal design along the southwestern side of the Greenway, along the regrettably named John F. Fitzgerald “Surface Road,” features scraggly boxwood-enclosed rectangles filled with perennials of varying colors. The boxwood hides the lower perennials, there are lots of bare spots and the perennials’ blooming periods aren’t in the best sequence. Furthermore, shrubs along the cross streets are boring and lack color.

FOTNEP wants to change it all out, said Diane Valle, a former florist, a FOTNEP leader and a horticulture advocate who has been somewhat of a nemesis for the Conservancy.

And guess what? The people in the Conservancy agree. Linda Jonash, the Conservancy’s director of planning and design. called the beds “unsuccessful.” The Conservancy inherited this design from MassDOT’s  Seattle designer prior to the Conservancy’s formation. Conservancy staff put the North End parcels on hold until they dealt with what they believed were more pressing matters, but now are ready to tackle this problem.

Luckily, their readiness and FOTNEP’s recent formation sort of coincide. Jonash believes they can move forward next spring. FOTNEP wants to get going sooner. “We need a sign-off . . . to order daffodils to plant next month,” said Valle in an email.

Problems exist along Cross Street on the northeastern side of the park as well. Trees adjacent to the pergola provide little screening from the traffic and are growing too wide for their narrow space. The autumn clematis that grows up part way on some posts is beautiful. But, said Jonash, the steel posts and beams burn other vines that might bring shade to the benches under that pergola. She seems concerned about having to cut down vines to paint the beams from time to time. “It’s maintenance-intensive,” she said. Valle understands the challenges.

With all these shared goals, can we declare an end to what literally are “turf” wars.

Here is one scenario. Maybe it will happen. Representatives from FOTNEP will sit down over coffee at Pace’s with representatives of the Conservancy. They’ll chat a bit, maybe exchange pictures of their kids or grandchildren to break the ice.

They will be overly polite. They will enter into what I demanded from my daughters—a nice cycle. That means complimenting one another and saying nicer and nicer things. It worked for my children.

FOTNEP people will present the plans of what they want to do on the North End parcels. Conservancy people will look at those plans, ask questions, compliment them, and decide then and there to give most of these ideas a chance. Probably not all of them will work, but neither did the plans of the state’s high-priced consultant. The Conservancy is allergic to new expenses, and Valle says, no problem, since her group has arranged for donations of plants, dollars and time.

A success in this matter won’t solve the rest of the Conservancy’s problems—their past, their funding problems, their reputation and the regrettable, naive, and mean-spirited insistence that all board members, including the community members, come up with $5,000.

But something else is developing. Chinatown is more organized and wants to take more ownership of their space. In the best scenario, the Boston Harbor Hotel would look at the bare spots in an otherwise acceptable string of gardens at its front door and send its crew out to make it attractive. These neighborhoods need to be brought in with enthusiasm.  Conservancy officials say they want to do that. And if their plans aren’t perfect, so what? It’s not perfect now.

Moreover, a good working relationship with FOTNEP could pave the way for cooperation with other horticultural groups that have called the Conservancy “dysfunctional” and withheld financial support.

If the Conservancy follows this plan of embracing neighborhood groups and survives, it will have created an atmosphere of cooperation that will serve it well in the years ahead.

If the Conservancy follows this plan and doesn’t survive, it will leave in place groups that can carry on its legacy until a more permanent governance is put in place.

I’m hoping for the former.

Downtown View
is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007.
She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at

One Reply to “Downtown View: Greenway Cooperation–The Way To Go

  1. Good article. Cooperation is the food for growth and enrichment while antagonism is like a weed that strangles any chance to flourish.

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