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.
Time to think big
The Boston Globe, 2/5/2002
UNIQUE. ONCE-in-a-lifetime. Olmstedian. Such adjectives have been applied hundreds of times to the opportunity presented by the demolition of the elevated Central Artery, now scheduled to begin in 2004.
The words are hardly adequate. The mile-long string of public open-space parcels that will wind from Chinatown to North Station could become one of Boston's treasures - as much a signature of the city as the Mall is of Washington.
Children and adults from nearby neighborhoods could thrive in the corridor's parks. Residents of outlying Boston neighborhoods, and of the suburbs, could flock to the new spaces for a myriad of activities, making this a prime area of common ground for all of Greater Boston. Visitors from all over the country and the world could make a perambulation of the corridor one of their travel goals for generations to come.
But none of this is guaranteed. More than a decade of active planning has produced some givens. For instance, there will be surface traffic all along the corridor, but it will be slowed by frequent lights and sharp corners to make the area pedestrian-friendly. Also, environmental regulations require that 75 percent of the area be devoted to public open space, with only 25 percent to development.
Yet there is still vigorous debate over the definition of ''open'' space, and last year's ''master plan'' left wide open the question of what will actually be done on these spaces. Final designers won't even be selected until September at the earliest.
Financing is also up in the air; the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority has allocated $31 million for initial construction, but this will likely not be enough for an ambitious plan. And who will own, manage and maintain the new parcels? The state owns most of the property and the Turnpike Authority is for now managing the project above ground as well as below. The Turnpike has been working cooperatively with city officials, but the city would like more direct authority, while a legislative commission has pointed toward creation of a new single-purpose agency with state, city and private-sector participation.
With such major questions needing resolution, the Globe and Massachusetts Institute of Technology announce today that they are convening a four-month information campaign, in conjunction with WCVB-TV5, that will develop case studies from other cities near and far and that seeks to broaden public awareness and participation.
Called ''Beyond the Big Dig,'' the campaign will feature stories by the Globe's architecture critic Robert Campbell and other reporters, lively debate on the Globe's editorial and op ed pages, four programs on WCVB's Chronicle show, an interactive site on Boston.com, two largescale community meetings in April and May and a town forum in Faneuil Hall on May 30.
The Boston Society of Architects and the Boston Society of Landscape Architects are both lending their expertise.
The campaign is not designed to compete with the efforts of the many city and state officials and community leaders who are already working on the project, but to support their progress with some fresh perspectives and growing public awareness. Because the final design will be based in part on a significant amount of public participation, an ambitious and high-quality result will only be achieved if many people are well-informed and actively involved.
While the Globe and WCVB will be paying their own expenses, the MIT case studies and forums have received major funding from the Boston Foundation and the State Street Corporation, with additional sponsorship from Equity Office Properties of Chicago, the Artery Business Committee and the Boston GreenSpace Alliance.
The Legislature has designated the surface artery as the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and Senator Edward Kennedy is working for high-quality results. Surely Boston, combining its rich sense of history with its position on the frontiers of education and research, should be able to aim high, and to marshal the political and community will to achieve its goals.
After all, this is a city where teamwork and grit make anything possible.