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Yvonne Abraham

Gaga for Greenway

By Yvonne Abraham
Globe Columnist / June 20, 2010

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Maybe it’s the pea soup talking, but I think I’m falling in love with the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

I’m standing by the new Clover Food Lab truck in Dewey Square, shoveling down a gorgeous chilled green soup with pistachios. If I could put down my spoon for a second, I would kiss Enzo, the delightful guy in the big glasses and orange Crocs who takes orders at the food truck with the cult following. A dozen people are lined up for Clover’s cheap chickpea sandwiches and rosemary fries. Nearby, a farmer’s market is buzzing, with people strolling around, buying heirloom tomatoes, lemon curd cakes, hot sauce.

Office workers and others hang out at tables in the center of the market, eating and chatting. A few loll about on the lush grass by a garden bursting with bee balm, tickseed, and hydrangeas. A cheery group from the Steppingstone Foundation arrives, setting up cones on the grass for staff training exercises.

Eating the soup, watching the people, I feel emotions for the Greenway I hadn’t expected.

Sure, I’ve had a thing for parts of the mile-long string of open spaces for a while. The Chinatown and North End parks — beautiful, lively extensions of the city’s two best neighborhoods — feel like they’ve been around forever.

But I’ve despaired at almost everything between those two lovely bookends. I’ve lamented the disconnectedness and emptiness of the spaces, the dearth of people and food.

I’ve looked at that chain of parks and seen only the ways the Greenway has fallen short: The museum and the YMCA that didn’t materialize; The Garden Under Glass that couldn’t get off the ground.

It was impossible for me to walk that mile without wanting to throttle the people responsible for it. After all, this open space was the whole point of the ridiculously expensive and disastrous Big Dig, and everybody acts as if the Greenway suddenly fell from the sky. There is no money to make it great, and nobody wants responsibility for it. I thought of it as a giant monument to our own limitations.

Now here I am, standing where the indoor garden was supposed to be, thinking: This is pretty cool. Maybe, despite all the screw-ups, this place isn’t going to be a dud after all.

But I want to be sure, so I visit again on Friday.

Clover is packed again. Further up the chain of parks, people are lying in the sun. Wherever there is shade, there are happy lunchers, readers, and sleepers.

Office workers toss bean bags, and play tetherball and croquet. A couple dozen kids squeal at the flirty Ring Fountain. Two new food stands — part of the group of vendors opening up on the Greenway for the first time this month — dispense supremely tasty slaw dogs and steak burritos nearby.

I’m not the only one developing feelings for this place.

“It’s sad that all those plans fell through, but it’s delightful,’’ says Helen Russell, of Steppingstone, who is back on the Greenway, this time for rosemary fries, on Friday.

So much has gone wrong with the Greenway. It’s nowhere near what it could have been. But despite all of the missed marks and dashed hopes, a new Greenway is taking shape. Lousy planning is leaving room for a more organic process, as people are starting to make little pockets their own.

They could use more food (not just more tasty food trucks, but some permanent cafes), and they definitely need more seating, and more shade until the trees grow (Greenway chief Nancy Brennan says both are coming). Some bubblers and bathrooms would be lovely, too.

Still, I can’t fight this feeling any more. With or without pea-goggles, the Greenway is a hottie.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com.

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