What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.
Beyond the Big Dig National Panel Recommendations
The City of Boston is under a deadline: by the year 2005 the fifty-year-old Central Artery elevated highway structure will be removed. The thirty acres of land that will become available once the Central Artery is underground, to be named the "Rose Kennedy Greenway," represent an extraordinary opportunity for Boston -- an unprecedented chance to reclaim lost land for public-spirited park use while reconnecting its downtown to Boston Harbor. To help ensure the best possible outcome for this new land, the National Panel makes the following recommendations:
1. That a permanent public/private "Trust," serving as the sole constituted authority for the design, construction and governance of the parks and other improvements on the 30 acres of land above the Central Artery, be created by the Massachusetts Legislature and Governor no later than January 1, 2003. The National Panel believes that such a Trust should include representatives of philanthropic, community, business and open space interests, as well as relevant city and state governmental agencies.
Only the mobilization of substantial public and private resources will result in the capital investment and leadership necessary for Boston to fully realize the potential of this Central Artery land to transform downtown Boston. The Panel recommends that: (a) the Trust coordinate plans and development for all twenty-seven parcels of land in the corridor as well as the edges that front the new park system; (b) the City of Boston, which is vested with the sole planning and zoning responsibilities for the district, play the controlling role in the Trust; and (c) the Trust serve as a mediator for getting to yes and moving Boston leadership toward a culture of collaboration, establishing a space for the fair hearing of all ideas and recommendations.
2. That the Rose Kennedy Greenway be designed as common ground for all residents of the city. To advance this cause, the Panel believes a "Common Ground Task Force," composed of neighborhood, cultural and business leaders, should be created as a feature of the Trust. This task force would be responsible for the production, management and staffing of major public events in the park system's open spaces and public places.
The new Greenway should provide a platform for bringing Boston together in all of its diversity. The Panel cites Boston's "First Night" and the 4th of July fireworks on the Esplanade as precedents for what can be accomplished.
3. That the year-round "Garden Under Glass," proposed by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, be adopted as a critical anchor to the entire Central Artery system of parks and public places, a brilliant centerpiece for this new downtown land. The Panel believes that this "anchor" is so important that the Society should be required to present a master plan no later than January 1, 2004, including proof of funding. Should the Society be unable to finance the project by that date, either a new designee for the Garden Under Glass should be selected or an entirely different proposal be considered.
The three prime parcels designated for the Garden Under Glass, located near the South Station regional transportation hub, represent a unique opportunity to foster "cultural common ground" for the metropolitan region. While the Panel strongly endorses the concept of a Garden Under Glass, it does not rule out other public-spirited options for this area of the city.
4. That, in addition to the "Garden Under Glass," the Rose Kennedy Greenway must feature at least one other major public attraction that lends identity to this unique system of open spaces and public places that will serve as a draw for residents of the entire metropolitan area. While the Panel believes that the Commonwealth's master plan gets it right in allocating the number and location of the seven open-space parcels, it is concerned that the master plan lacks sufficient vision for activating the park system as a whole.
On two separate occasions, Beyond the Big Dig convened "Community Conversations" in the neighborhoods of Boston to explore program and design options for the new parcels that will be created when the Central Artery is depressed underground. The Panel is not prepared to choose between Ferris wheels and water fountains. Decisions like these are left to the planners. But whether art, lighting, athletic "parcours" (a sequence of exercise stations next to jogging tracks), roller rinks, video projections, performance space, or public speaker platforms, the Panel strongly urges designers to take risks in creating highly imaginative life-enhancing attractions. While the design process should aim at getting the equation right the first time, it should not be afraid to grow the new parks over a twenty-year period and correct mistakes as they are recognized.
5. That the three major parcels containing the highway ramps that lead to the Interstate below be covered, utilizing imaginative structures and designs to provide "built edges." The Panel believes this is best way to help define the boundaries of the parks and disguise the dangerous and unattractive openings that will otherwise scar these major parcels of land.
All of the ramps for connecting automobile access from the city's downtown streets to the regional highway underground are clustered in two Central Artery parcels. When constructed, these ramps will be large and unsightly and their highly concentrated traffic flow will be dangerous to pedestrians. The panel believes that bold and imaginative efforts must be undertaken to cover the highway ramps and mitigate their blighting influence.
6. That at least 2,000 units of new housing - a minimum of twenty-five percent of it available to low and moderate income groups -- be created at the edge of the parks and their downtown environs. As Robert Campbell, the Globe's architecture critic, has said: "You must bring people to parks and parks to the people, and that means housing."
A principal finding from case-study cities is that for public parks to succeed their edges must comprise dense residential and commercial land use. To this end, the panel strongly endorses the Boston Redevelopment Authority's initiative to promote housing development in Boston's financial district by amending the downtown zoning regulations. This would mirror trends in Barcelona, Paris, San Francisco, Sydney and Vancouver.
7. That the City of Boston do everything in its power to create at least one million square feet of cultural and commercial activities along the edge of the parks and within the financial district, promoting the development of new restaurants, shops, markets, museums and other activities. As in the case of zoning to encourage housing, new regulations should be considered by the Boston Redevelopment Authority to provide incentives for retail, cultural and entertainment land uses. Such uses will help ensure that the parks and other public places within the Greenway remain vital and enjoyable spaces for residents of the city throughout the year.
The Panel notes that almost all commercial activity in Boston's downtown financial district ceases after 6:00 p.m. It believes that the City of Boston must use the opportunities created by the presence of these parcels to revitalize its downtown as a lively twenty-four-hour live-work area.
8. That in addition to acknowledging the largely north-south orientation of the Central Artery parcels, significant planning attention be focused on the streets that intersect and cross, through the new system of parks and public places, east-west. These streets include Causeway, Canal, Hanover, State, Summer, Winter and Congress. Some of these avenues should become elegant tree-lined promenades in the tradition of the famous ramblas that crisscross Barcelona, reinforcing the city's connection to the harbor.
The new public open spaces must serve to reunite Boston's downtown with its neighborhoods and its waterfront. The design of the parks must take advantage of Boston's great streets, bringing them into play as both pedestrian avenues and engines of commercial activity.
9. That, one year following tonight's event, another Beyond the Big Dig Town Forum be reconvened at Faneuil Hall by The Boston Globe, MIT and WCVB-TV5. The purpose would be to review progress on the issues raised in this town forum, as well as discuss other issues that will emerge during the coming year.
The creation of the new Rose Kennedy Greenway, including the impacts of the new parks on the downtown, requires on-going public involvement and understanding. The Panel would encourage The Boston Globe, MIT and WCVB-TV5 to continue their examination of the issues -- reporting their findings in the newspaper, on Channel 5 and over the Internet on the Web pages of Boston.com.