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Boston’s City Hall Plaza is reopening: What to know

The renovation includes public art, communal space, plenty of trees, and one very long slide.

City Hall Plaza in Boston in June 2019. Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe

Boston’s City Hall Plaza reopens Friday following a major renovation, ushering in a new era of communal spaces, public art, and accessible features for the city’s “civic front yard.” 

There will be a family-friendly celebration from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., as well as an evening event from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., to mark the occasion, Mayor Michelle Wu announced earlier this month. 

“City Hall Plaza is a space to bring people together and build community,” Wu said in the statement. “I’m grateful for the work of all our City workers and partners to transform the plaza into a welcoming, resilient, and accessible space for residents and visitors to enjoy.”

Boston-based global design firm Sasaki led the plaza design and implementation. 

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“A robust community engagement process helped us transform the Plaza from a harsh outdoor environment into a new green space where all are welcome,” Sasaki principal and architect Fiske Crowell said in the statement.

Here are some of the changes visitors can expect to find:

Room to play

The new design features 12,000 square feet of play area, with Sasaki calling the playscape “a destination for the region’s families and visitors of all ages.”

The playscape “invigorates fourteen vertical feet of existing granite steps between City Hall’s north entry and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) terrace with active play opportunities that sculpturally reinterpret the modern-era concrete forms of the building,” the firm’s website notes.

Boston City Councilor At-Large Erin Murphy offered a demo of the slide earlier this week:

Accessibility features

The renovation also brought universally accessible pathways to the plaza. 

“Before this renovation, it was extremely difficult for disabled people to navigate the expansive brick Plaza, which provides a vital connection between Congress Street and Cambridge Street,” Boston Disability Commissioner Kristen McCosh said in the statement. “But the uneven brick and numerous stairways have been replaced with smooth unit pavers and gently sloped walkways.”

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Now, McCosh continued, “when people with disabilities ask where the accessible route across City Hall Plaza is, I can say, ‘You don’t understand — the whole plaza is accessible now, not just one route!'”

Public art

The city put out a call for public art to complement the renovation, outlining opportunities for a short-term piece at the building’s north entrance, as well as a graphics display for City Hall’s exterior, according to the release.

Redesigns

The city selected Rhea Vedro to create a sculptural installation for the north entrance and commissioned Yuke Li to create the 2D graphics. The graphics have already been installed, and the sculpture is expected in the spring. Both works will be installed for one year. 

“Through activating City Hall Plaza with public art and cultural events, we’re cultivating a more inviting space that celebrates the communities that make up the city,” Boston Chief of Arts and Culture Kara Elliott-Ortega said in the statement. “We’re excited to be able to showcase Boston’s creative community while also transforming a historic civic space.”

Going green

Also included in the design were 100 new trees, according to the city. Not just for show, the increased tree canopy will also help improve the plaza’s resilience to rising temperatures and intensifying storms, Sasaki noted. 

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The renovation also replaced 50 lights with efficient LED technology and reused or recycled 22,500 feet of granite and brick paving, per the city’s release.

Room to gather

The makeover included seven new “plug and play” locations for community groups to use, with space for 10,000 to 12,000 visitors on the main plaza and room for 20,000 to 25,000 people to gather on the entire plaza, according to the release. 

On its website, Sasaki touted “21st century civic amenities like shady seating and gathering areas,” among others.

“City Hall plaza is the people’s plaza, and it is now a civic front yard that ALL can access and take pleasure in,” Boston’s Chief of Operations Dion Irish said in the statement.

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