NEWRA Parks & Open Space Committee Chair Anne M. Pistorio (standing left) compares notes with City of Boston Parks Commissioner, Antonia Pollak.

A large crowd of North End residents gathered on Tuesday night to discuss how to improve the neighborhood’s parks and playgrounds. The meeting was chaired by Anne M. Pistorio of the NEWRA Parks and Open Spaces Committee. Special guest speakers were Parks Commissioner Antonia Pollak and City Councilor Sal LaMattina.

Commissioner Pollak thanks North End residents for their recent efforts in planting thousands of daffodils in the parks and throughout the neighborhood. During the meeting, she expressed strong support for park improvements and maintenance while acknowledging her department budget is only $16 million, covering 240 sites and 2,600 acres.

The parks discussion from the community meeting is summarized below.

Copp’s Hill Burying Ground
A restoration project is currently underway at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground to replace the decorative fence and gates along Charter Street. Chair Anne Pistorio noted that burying ground was once the only open space in the North End, established in 1659. Tombstone reconditioning is long overdue, but is not currently budgeted or scheduled. The City of Boston has a Historic Burying Grounds Initiative, led by conservation expert Kelly Thomas. The Initiative receives a minimal amount of public funding and looks for grants to leverage its budget. The Freedom Trail Foundation contributed to the fence project and the tourist graveyard tours that visit Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, among others, also pay a fee to the Initiative.

Noting that visitors are often locked out at night, resident and NEWRA Secretary David Kubiak, asked if Copp’s Hill Burying Ground could stay open past 5:00 pm. Commissioner Pollak explained that the Parks Department has only one shift. In the summer, Park Rangers sometimes leave the gates open into the early evening. She also noted that locking the gates at night has likely helped avoid vandalism.

Copp’s Hill Terrace
In addition to the Burying Ground, Copp’s Hill Terrace (Slide Park) is also on the National Register of Historic Properties. It was built by the Olmsted Company starting in 1893 and opened in 1897.

Loitering issues have been a longstanding problem on Copp’s Hill Terrace. Residents told city officials that the situation has recently improved. However, the problem moved to Snow Hill Street on The Flights of the Gassy (DeFilippo Playground), according to resident Jennifer McGivern, who reported significant drug activity there.

In 2015, improvements and restoration are scheduled for Copp’s Hill Terrace. The vines have been growing into the granite walls as well as strangling the trees. The city plans a “needs assessment” for the park. The metalwork also needs attention, noted one resident.

Foster Street Playground
Long ago, the city struck a deal with residents to allow parking at the Foster Street Playground. There are now sinkholes appearing and some residents would like to see it returned to its open space format. Anne Pistorio noted that Paul Revere once had a foundry there and the space was purchased by the city in 1930.

City Councilor Sal LaMattina and Parks Commissioner Antonia Pollak at the NEWRA Parks and Open Space Committee Meeting.

Cross Street Plaza
City Councilor Sal LaMattina
told the group that he is working with State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy to bring some planters, tables and chairs to the Cross Street Plaza area between Hanover & Salem Streets. Optimistically, the new furniture might be in place by late summer. Victor Brogna reiterated a long held desire to make the area into an Italian Piazza with a sculpture fountain designed by a Roman.

There was resounding applause when Councilor LaMattina said he would prefer to keep the Cross Street Plaza as open space rather than build on it according to plans by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. David Kubiak also asked the city to avoid placing food trucks on the plaza. Instead, he suggested supporting neighborhood businesses that could help activate the area with outdoor seating.

Homeless in the Parks
Several residents brought up problems with the homeless camping out in the North End’s parks and open spaces. The issue has been particularly problematic at Christopher Columbus Park where a mid-30’s homeless man recently died after allegedly being pushed into the harbor by another homeless man. Boston Police and City officials are scheduled to address the Columbus Park homeless situation on May 14th, 6:30 pm at the Pilot House during the monthly meeting by the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park.

Langone Park Teens Hangout
“Hundreds of kids gather on the Harborwalk near Langone Park leaving a ton of trash every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night,” said resident Brendan O’Brien. He asked for a bicycle or motorcycle cop to patrol the area on weekend nights, also noting that the teens sometimes vandalize the property.

Skateboarding continues to be a problem at many parks. A Skate Park plan has been approved for the area under the Zakim ramps and should be built in the next year or so. Residents urged officials to install more skate guards to protect park infrastructure. One area highlighted was at Copp’s Hill Terrace where kids “grease” the granite and slide down with bikes and skateboards. Most skateboarders are from the suburbs, according to residents. The Parks Department has asked Boston Police to start confiscating the boards in some situations.

New Bulfinch Triangle Housing
With over 4,000 new housing units planned in the Bulfinch Triangle, residents expressed concern that there are no new public parks to serve those residents. It is expected that the North End parks will become a destination for this population. “How far can we stretch two tennis courts?” asked David Kubiak. “There is not one new blade of grass planned for the Bulfinch Triangle” despite all the building, he noted. Commissioner Pollak generally agreed, but also highlighted a new park going in as part of the Lovejoy Wharf project on the water side of Beverly Street. Councilor LaMattina plans a hearing in the near future to expand the budget for the parks department and encouraged residents to testify.

North Square
Public Works has submitted a budget item to the City Council to restore historic North Square, the first public square in the country. The area is listed as “open space” although not under the control of the Parks Department. Councilor LaMattina said a community process would begin next year on the redesign for North Square. He also noted that residents did not want a pocket park at Bartlett Place, instead choosing one tree, new surfacing and some bike racks.

Trash
The continuing situation of overflowing trash at the Eliot School, adjacent to the Prado, was raised by resident Bart Higgins. Officials believe that a substantial amount of resident trash is being placed next to park trash cans and dumpsters. Another resident said he sees contractors placing toilets and random trash everywhere. When he reports it, he complained that it is his address that gets the green ticket.

Dog Park
A number of dog owners were at the meeting and voiced their strong need for a dog park. Although this was not on the agenda, participants met informally afterward and those interested can attend the next RUFF meeting (Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 7:00pm, Nazzaro Center – See RUFF on Facebook) for the latest discussions between city agencies, neighborhood dog owners and the Greenway Conservancy.

There was general frustration expressed about dog waste in the parks. Darlene Romano asked why Parks Department workers do not pick up dog poop at the Gassy’s Flights area. Commissioner Pollak said that workers “don’t like to pick it up any more than anyone else. Responsible dog owners are the only solution.”

Public / Private Partnerships
One of the neighborhood’s most successful public / private park partnerships is between the Friends of Christopher Columbus Park and the City’s Parks Department. Friends groups can raise money and apply for grants that help leverage public dollars. The Parks Department pays special attention to what the groups are doing and how it fits into their overall public plan for the park. In total, the City partners with 175 groups.

A recent public / private effort helped prune the trees in the Prado. Old North Church took the lead along with the Friends of the Prado. The city followed with a grant and guided the plan. Stephanie Hogue commented that the pruning seemed harsh and overdone. Commissioner Pollak said this would improve the health of the trees over the long term.

The committee provided some headline recommendations in order of priority:

  • Needs assessment and master plan for the Prado (Paul Revere Mall)
  • Improvements to Morton Street (Cutillo Playground)
  • Restoration and reuse plan for The Flights above The Gassy (DeFilippo Playground on Prince Street)
  • Improvements to Rachel Revere Park in North Square
  • Planting plans for all of the neighborhood parks, beginning with The Gassy
  • Improving the condition of the North End’s street trees

Other miscellaneous notes from the meeting:

  • The Parks Department has submitted its budget for FY13, so the next opportunity is FY14.
  • Rats – Problem area especially at Morton and Stillman Streets (Cutillo Park)
  • Bikes – One resident brought up the issue of blocking the sidewalk on Atlantic Avenue by Urban Adventours, as well as bike tours in Christopher Columbus Park and Copp’s Hill Terrace. Other residents suggested the city help educate bikers on the rules of the road.
  • Lights in the Gassy – Residents and city officials discussed how to get more light on The Flights of The Gassy. They will reach out to the abutting garage for possible installation.

Groups and individuals that would like to partner with the Boston Parks Department can get started by submitted a Planning and Improvement Checklist. Maintenance and tree requests can also be made through the City’s website.

The next meeting of the NEWRA Parks & Open Space Committee is June 4, 2013, 7:00 pm at the Nazzaro Center, 30 N. Bennet Street. View the Community Calendar for more meetings and events.

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