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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.

Report Tries To Envision All That Artery Corridor Could Be

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 07/04/2000

It's a tall order for 30 acres. But a draft report from the consultants coordinating the planning for the post-Big Dig Surface Artery says that the land has the potential to:

  • Tell stories of Boston's rich maritime, immigrant, colonial, and transportation history;

  • Connect the eight districts or neighborhoods along the Central Artery corridor;

  • Reflect the ethnic, cultural, and age differences of the 31,000 people -- 5 percent of the city's population -- who live there, but also develop common ground for civic activities;

  • Provide a "seam that repairs the 50-year scar of the elevated freeway;"

  • Resume the tradition of outstanding open space in Boston embodied in Frederick Law Olmsted's Emerald Necklace.

Wow. Can it eliminate disease and world hunger too?

The Big Dig's 100-page "Urban Issues Analysis Report" is the first of several reports by the master planners recruited by the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority earlier this spring. It follows two well-attended public meetings, and a briefing of City Hall staff last week.

At the community meetings, ferociously active neighborhood and interest groups, and dozens of individual citizens told the planners what they wanted. Residents told planners what changes they would like seen in their area, in addition to pushing the hundreds of thousands of vehicles in their faces every day underground into an eight-lane tunnel.

The Urban Issues report is an early part of the planning, which will finish next spring with a "Final Corridor Master Plan". The final report will contain detailed recommendations for the corridor, from Kneeland Street north to Nashua Street along the curvy route of the Central Artery. It will offer specific ideas for about 20 open-space parcels, as well as a vision for the corridor itself.

"I like the fact that they have stepped back from the corridor to look at it in the context of the city around it," said Anne Fanton, executive director of the Central Artery Environmental Oversight Committee, which tracks the Big Dig's progress in meeting its environmental promises.

Bob O'Brien, a director of the transportation coalition MOVEMass, said, "I think it's a document summarizing a lot of relevant history."

While calling it worthwhile, he termed it "quite preliminary," and said that, given how long Boston community groups have been discussing the issue, he is hoping for some concrete proposals soon.

"I'm looking for some professional recommendations from people who have extensive experience in the field," said O'Brien, who was cochairman of the Boston 2000 Working Group in 1996-1997. That group reviewed the first major effort to plan the Surface Artery, which was completed in 1990.

The Urban Issues Analysis Report draft states that "the state has committed to maintaining a minimum of 75 percent of the land area of the corridor for publicly accessible open spaces and related recreational activities."

But some people involved, including urban planning specialists and open-space advocates fear that so much open space concentrated in a wide strip could have the same dividing effect on Boston that the old elevated artery had.

Others worry that developers will mount a crusade to get their hands on more of the reclaimed acreage than the 25 percent currently designated. So any discussion of the formula is bound to be divisive.

O'Brien said he thought the stiff terminology of the debate may be hindering a full discussion of the land's possibilities. "Surface Artery" is not a meaningful term to most residents, he said, nor even is a street name like Atlantic Avenue.

"If you call it Atlantic Boulevard, it starts to say something about what it might be," O'Brien said.

The third corridorwide public meeting on the Surface Artery, resheduled from last week, will be held July 18 from 6 to 9 p.m. in the New England Room of the Federal Reserve Building.

On Atlantic Boulevard.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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