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.
Managing the maintenance
By Ronald E. Logue, 5/22/2002
HANKS TO THE efforts of the ''Beyond the Big Dig'' public information campaign, there has been a lively conversation about plans for new land over the Central Artery. But before any of the many good ideas expressed can lead to successful outcomes, a management and maintenance organization should be put in place so that we can fully realize the potential of the land.
When the elevated highway is removed, close to 30 acres of open land will become available for reuse. Indeed, while we are bringing to a close a $14 billion-plus highway project, we will find we are embarking on an entirely new adventure for Boston that will unfold over the next several decades. There is great interest in what happens ''Beyond the Big Dig,'' and we will all be judged by the results.
Boston has faced challenges like this before. In the early 1800s, business and government leaders banded together to transform a backwater into Boston's historic Back Bay -- creating a Victorian neighborhood of such beauty that it challenges the imagination today. Similarly, Frederick Law Olmsted was given the challenge to drain the Fens. The result is Boston's famed Emerald Necklace, considered a landmark of American landscape architecture and a timeless Boston treasure.
''We must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill. The eyes of all people are upon us.'' John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, penned those words in 1630. They are equally applicable today. We have an entirely new opportunity to extend the Boston legacy of the Back Bay and the Emerald Necklace, building on this tradition of excellence that our forefathers established.
Those of us whose companies call Boston home are committed to the city's success over the long haul. Many of us have invested time and resources toward the city's well-being.
It is our job as business people to make things work and to plan properly for the future. Not all of us have backgrounds in architecture and public space usage. But we do have experience identifying and budgeting resources to maintain our operations and to assure that our businesses remain vibrant and relevant for years to come. That is why, as proposals are made to create a major public-private partnership to design, manage, and maintain the surface parcels, the business community should play a significant role in conversations that involve the future of the land.
There are important examples of how such a partnership can be effective. One is Post Office Square, a well-maintained public park that sits atop an underground garage. Friends of Post Office Square, a nonprofit consortium of local businesses, developed and continues to manage the area. Fees from the garage and rent from a nearby restaurant repay capital costs and fund ongoing maintenance.
Another example is the restoration of Central Park in New York City. During the early 1970s, major portions of the park had been neglected to the point where Central Park was no longer the vibrant public space it was designed to be. But businesses, neighbors, and the government came together to create a public-private partnership to improve management and care of the park. Over the last 20 years this partnership has reclaimed Central Park as a renewed oasis for residents of the city, utilizing public and private funding to increase the park's maintenance budget dramatically.
To maintain the 27 acres to be developed in Boston after the Central Artery comes down, Mayor Menino, working with state leaders, has proposed a surtax on downtown businesses. In addition, we should look at other funding options. As we know from experience, recessions can negatively affect the resources available, and a well-thought-out, funded, and executed maintenance plan may be the linchpin of the project's long-term success.
One such option might be to dedicate fees from special events toward maintenance of the surface parcels. Events should be limited in number and carefully selected so as not to dominate the open space. Of course, there are many more ideas that others may have on the subject. All reasonable proposals for creating a diverse and sustainable funding mechanism should be heard.
Clearly, the business community stands ready to become an active participant in this discussion. With a collaborative approach, we can build on Boston's history of successful public-private partnerships to ensure that future generations will fully benefit from this 21st century treasure.
Ronald E. Logue is president and chief operating officer of State Street Corporation.