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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 BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL

A garden under glass

2/23/2002

A DECADE-OLD proposal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society to build a monumental glassed-in garden just north of South Station has had an unusual history: Few projects have experienced so little dissent combined with so much doubt.

But the doubts can be overcome, resulting in an enhanced sense of civic optimism in Boston as well as a fine new landmark.

The garden would be built on land revealed when the elevated Central Artery comes down in about three years. Nearly everyone involved in planning the mile-long string of parcels supports the garden. ''It's a base assumption; it's what's going to happen,'' said Michael Lewis, the Big Dig project manager, this week.

But the Horticultural Society, which at one time expected to raise the needed $60 million to $70 million on its own, found it difficult to get commitments for even a fraction of that amount, and planners worried that the project might wither and die.

Wisely, the society has decided to move forward in phases and has been looking for partners, with some recent success. According to the Horticultural Society's president, John Peterson, the Japan Society of Boston is collaborating on a $6 million to $8 million Asian garden on the block directly in front of the Federal Reserve Building. The chairman of the Horticultural Society's board, Liz Harris, gathered support for this phase of the plan in a visit to Kyoto last fall.

The challenge now is to find partners who have sufficient resources for the ambitious garden plan and who are compatible with the larger vision for the surface artery.

The society has been talking with a number of cultural and historical organizations that might want to use a structure of up to nine stories that could be built on part of the site. It would be best if any such building is compatible with the horticultural theme. In any event, it would have to enliven the area. As Eugenie Beal, chairman of the Boston Natural Areas Fund, put it, a structure would be acceptable on that parcel, but it should not be elitist. ''It would have to be something that would attract repeat visits from tourists and schoolchildren'' as well as from neighbors.

Mayor Menino has offered a tantalizing suggestion that the city itself might be a partner. Details are awaited.

Other possibilities could include Harvard's Arnold Arboretum, which might find a downtown branch a worthwhile contribution to the community. Harvard's glass flowers, a great attraction for visitors, would be a natural fit with the society's live flora.

Horticultural exhibits were once a symbol of empire. The Garden Under Glass planned for downtown Boston could be a fine representation of the city's growing diversity. Bringing the project off would itself demonstrate the strength of community in Boston.

This story ran on page A14 of the Boston Globe on 2/23/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.




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