Four things to know about Boston’s vision for Franklin Park

“With this money, we’ll be able to make the investment that this park has deserved for years.”

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
Franklin Park, with distinct pockets of personality nestled within, serves many different purposes for many different people.

A revamped stage, improved pedestrian safety, and reimagined bear dens are just a few of Boston’s plans for Franklin Park’s $28 million facelift.

Released Tuesday, the 230-page Franklin Park Action Plan covers city leaders’ vision for revitalizing the park, considered by many the crown jewel of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace. At 527 acres, it’s also Boston’s largest park. 

The city committed funding for the project — including a $5 million maintenance endowment — after selling off its Winthrop Square garage. The action plan will guide investment in Franklin Park over 20 to 30 years.

Park plans:

“The truth is that there has been underinvestment in this neighborhood for years,” the Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, the city’s chief of environment, energy, and open space, said during a press conference Tuesday. “With this money, we’ll be able to make the investment that this park has deserved for years.”


Parks bring the city together, Mayor Michelle Wu said during the press conference.

“Whether it’s over a game of pickup, making new friends while out with your kids, or sledding right after a snowfall, parks are spaces that build community,” Wu said. “And so it makes sense that we will turn directly to our communities when it’s time to improve our parks.”

Community members can share their thoughts on the plan during the comment period, which ends on Feb. 10. 

Wu acknowledged that the comment period may feel short to some, but added, “Our goal in setting these timelines is to have immediate first steps ready to feed into this next year’s city budget.”

The full plan is available online. Here are a few highlights: 

A permanent home for the Elma Lewis Playhouse

The recommendations include returning the Elma Lewis Playhouse to the “Overlook,” the ruins of a building that once housed changing rooms and a viewing area for sporting events, according to the National Park Service. It was the only building that Olmsted ever designed. 

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Overlook also hosted the Elma Lewis Playhouse, which offered free musical education and performances for the surrounding African American community, the action plan noted. Duke Ellington was among the musical greats who graced the stage, per the Franklin Park Coalition


The Playhouse continues performances in a temporary location, but the city’s vision includes a permanent home at the Overlook with a stage, vending, and restrooms.

The former bear cages, now in disrepair, may receive improvements. – Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Splash pads in the bear dens

When the Franklin Park Zoo opened in 1912, its first official exhibits included bear dens, according to the National Park Service. Tucked away in the woods, the exhibit shuttered in 1954 and the former enclosure sits empty — until now. 

The plan proposes restoring the dens for flexible public use, such as splash pads for water play. 

A safer Franklin Park

The city also envisions a safer Franklin Park, tackling inconsistent lighting throughout the park, pedestrian and cyclist improvements, and more. 

“At every turn, the goal is to ensure that we are digging in with community for safety for all, rather than having to respond and react after incidents occur,” Wu said at the press conference. 

The city’s plan, she added, “takes a preventative, community-centered approach to addressing the root causes of violence and centering the safety and stability of surrounding neighborhoods in conjunction with all of the resources across every single department.”

The statement came just months after 91-year-old Boston civil rights icon Jean McGuire was stabbed multiple times while walking her dog through the park. McGuire said after the attack that she would never go to the park alone again.


In addition to lighting and wayfinding improvements, Boston is considering emergency call boxes for Franklin Park, White-Hammond said.

The Front Porch in Franklin Park. The City of Boston released its Franklin Park Action Plan Tuesday. – Rendering By City of Boston via The Boston Globe

Wu added: “The best way for any space in the city to feel safe is for it to be active and used, and for people to be there together.” 

‘Front Porch’

In Peabody Circle, the city is looking to transform a portion of the perimeter wall along Blue Hill Avenue into a pedestrian-friendly “Front Porch” with long, wide steps. 

The plan would swap parking at Peabody Circle for a shaded plaza that could host larger gatherings, including outdoor fitness classes, markets, and festivals. Nearby, the city envisions a hillside seating grove for community and zoo programming. 


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