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New seating, shade for Chinatown Park

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  October 12, 2011 12:21 PM

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(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

As soon as the new tables and umbrellas were installed in Chinatown Park, residents began putting them to use.

Visitors to Chinatown Park now have more places to sit, more shade, and more elbow room to eat lunch, read a newspaper, or play a game of mahjong, thanks to a partnership between the conservancy that maintains the park and a group of local organizations and residents.

The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy recently installed nine new umbrellas and 13 tables with built-in seating for four in the park, all paid for by the Chinatown community.

Conservancy staff and Chinatown leaders say bringing the new amenities to the park was a partnership every step of the way, from the decision to add furniture to the selection of the finishes to raising the funding.

“What’s exciting for us is it was very much a collaborative effort, with the ideas coming as much from the community as from any of our professional staff,” said Linda Jonash, director of planning and design for the conservancy.

Kye Liang, project coordinator for the Chinatown Gateway Coalition, said the project began when he was asked to help bring public art to the park. Liang held a series of community meetings that, to his chagrin, turned into forums for residents to share their criticisms the park.

“I got beat up in those meetings all the time,” Liang said, laughing. But the meetings showed him what people really wanted to have in the park: more seating and more shade. He told Nancy Brennan, executive director of the conservancy, and she said, “Let’s get the furniture out there.”

Liang worked with with James Chan, Chinatown’s representative on the Greenway Leadership Council, to discuss the improvements with neighborhood residents and get input on the kind of furniture they wanted to see in the park.

The Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center contributed funds left over from the park’s construction to buy the initial three tables and two umbrellas that were installed last March, with the goal of serving as a catalyst for bigger improvements.

“It was pretty cool when the flatbed truck came to drop them off,” Jonash recalled. “There was one truck unloaded, and [the table] was full of people before the second unit was even unloaded.”

After that immediate response from the community, Liang set out to raise the money for more tables. He first approached Frank Chin, the community leader known throughout Chinatown as “Uncle Frank.” Chin asked Liang what he needed and said he could get it. Liang then went to Sherry Dong, director of community health improvement programs at Tufts Medical Center, to get the Chinatown-based teaching hospital on board.

Tufts contributed to the drive for new seating and also agreed to fund the purchase of 18 planters to add more greenery to the park. With additional donations from the Gee How Oak Tin Association of New England, board members of the Asian Community Development Corporation, and other individual donors, the conservancy soon had the $40,000 it needed for a full complement of tables.

But Liang and his partners at the conservancy aren’t resting. They now hope to raise money to add a small pavilion to the park that would provide additional shade and offer a venue for small musical or theatrical performances. They also hope to add a canopy of lanterns that will provide additional lighting, and to eventually replace some trees that are not flourishing with a new, raised planting bed similar to those already in the park.

Liang said improving the park is something the community could easily have been apathetic about and waited for the effort to come from outside, but he’s glad to see the way residents and organizations pitched in to make the change. He hopes other neighborhoods will see their results and be inspired to partner with organizations or local government to make improvements in their public spaces.

“I think the story is that if community members work with city agencies, or the conservancy in this particular case, we can get things done,” said Liang.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com.
Follow Jeremy C. Fox on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow Downtown on Twitter: @DowntownUpdate.

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(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

Nancy Brennan, executive director of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, cuts the ribbon at a Sept. 30 event celebrating the placement of the new furniture, with help from Paul Chan, president of the Gee How Oak Tin Association of New England, and Deborah Joelson, senior vice president of strategic services at Tufts Medical Center. Looking on are Sherry Dong, director of community health improvement programs at Tufts Medical Center; and James Chan, neighborhood liaison for City Councilor Bill Linehan and Chinatown’s representative on the Greenway Leadership Council.

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