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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

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.


A Vision Of Green For Artery Surface

Latest Park Plan Revealed To Public

By Robert Campbell, Globe Correspondent, 05/23/2001

By 2005, a chain of green parks will replace the overhead Central Artery in downtown Boston. Fountains will flow, lunchers will snack, children will gambol, tourists will photograph, and seniors will doze in the sun, or, in winter, skaters will skate.

That, anyway, was the vision unveiled yesterday at the first public presentation of the Central Artery corridor master plan. The plan is the long-awaited, much-debated proposal for the future of the many acres of downtown Boston that will emerge from the shadow of the overhead Central Artery, which is scheduled to come down in 2004 with the completion of the Big Dig.

The plan proposes a new park for the North End, a string of parks along the so-called wharf district in the middle of the Artery's length, and another neighborhood park for the Chinatown district. Although a few buildings are shown here and there, the plan is overwhelmingly a landscape proposal. Some of the new parks are roughly the size of the existing Post Office Square Park nearby, and some are a little larger. A major new boulevard, roughly tracking today's Atlantic Avenue, brackets the parks in the manner of the Champs Elysees in Paris or Commonwealth Avenue in Boston (Commonwealth, of course, is much smaller).

The plan is the work of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which owns the land. The pike worked with a steering committee of six, a group that included diverse viewpoints, and with a team of consultants led by Karen Alschuler of the firm of SMWM of San Francisco, architects and planners.

The process took 13 months and involved some 19 citywide meetings and many smaller ones, attended, said Alschuler, by a total of more than 1,400 different Bostonians. Only 130 people, however, showed up for last night's presentation, scattered throughout the Federal Reserve's 350-seat hall. The cost of the plan, to date, is said by the Turnpike to be $860,000.

The presentation, it's fair to say, was long on salesmanship and short on specifics. In the language of a real estate brochure, the speakers talked about "a city of great streets . . . a city that touches its waterfront, with a sense of its harbor and its history . . . a regional system of open spaces . . . parks and places that will play an integral role in the life of the city . . . it will be as important to Boston as the Tuileries to Paris, or the Ramblas to Barcelona . . .."

But a scale model showed little but grass and trees, and all who spoke were careful to point out that the plan is not a design, but merely a set of guidelines and suggestions for the actual designers of the parcels, who won't begin work until next year. There is still plenty of time for people to react to the plan and register comments. The plan document itself had not been printed as of last night's meeting, but is to be available from the Pike next week.

Alschuler noted that suggestions from citizens led her team to increase the amount of green space, reduce the amount of paving, and remove some proposed food-service pavilions. She spoke eloquently of the need to preserve harbor views from the parks and to pull the harbor into the site, symbolically, by using water features.

She proposed closing a street to double the size of one park, making it big enough for joggers. And she emphasized the importance of cross streets, slicing between the park segments, to connect the downtown with the waterfront and stitch the city together over the scar of the old Artery.

Little was said about the many legal constraints, many now a decade old, that governed everything the planning team did. These include a special city zoning law, Article 49, and a legally enforceable environmental permit by the state, both of which mandate that the Artery surface be left as primarily open space. Alschuler proposed challenging these constraints in only minor ways.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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