Growths on the Greenway

Haven’t you always wanted your own pre‐cycled modular bioreactor? If not, you can see a picture of one bulging over the Filene’s Basement hole in Downtown Crossing over at  Transportbox. You can view the “Eco-Pod”, as it is bafflingly known, free of familiar surroundings at the Archello site. Created by the architects Howeler + Yoon to… well, it’s supposed to be an algae farm, but those robot-arm appendages look a lot like blasters to me.

But how do I know what an algae farm should look like? It hasn’t been built yet—which brings me to Boston’s other great expensive unbuilt site, the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. A commenter on my last post pleaded for a more moderate approach to the Greenway, and wrote:

“Why is it always assumed that the Greenway needs to be a “landmark destination?” It is not particularly suited to that given its shape, nor location… Urban residents need open space, not tourists, office buildings or food carts. The Greenway can be beautiful neighborhood parks.”

First of all, the distinction between landmark destinations and neighborhood parks seems artificial to me. Can’t we have brilliant, distinctive neighborhood parks? I’d hazard that Boston’s Chinatown Park fits the bill.

The shape and location aren’t limits; the Greenway isn’t any narrower than nearby Post Office Square Park, a mere 1.7 acres on top of a parking garage (which pays for the park). The location? The Greenway’s parcels directly across from South Station, the New England Aquarium, and Rowe’s Wharf seem like fine tourist destinations to me.

No, what the Greenway is lacking is inspiration—and the money to make permanent improvements. Nobody wants to make a commitment, so why not have some fun with temporary installations? Last year’s Big Hammock was a great start. I’d love to see a giant shiny purple jelly bean across from the Federal Reserve Building, or  a couple of edible-walled Eat Houses near Haymarket.

There is one group that isn’t afraid to make a commitment to the Greenway. The Boston Tree Party is going to be planting a pair of heirloom apple trees on the Greenway on Sunday, April 10, to kick off their campaign to plant 100 pairs of apple trees in civic spaces all over Boston. I wish them patience; in my limited experience, New England’s apple trees are attacked by every insect and fungus known to humanity. But if they give up on vulnerable fruit, I bet they could replace it with a nice, clean, slightly used algae farm, cheap.

  4 Replies to “Growths on the Greenway”

  1. April 8, 2011 at 9:26 pm

    Thanks for the follow-up. You are doing such a great job of making my points for me. You say, “what the Greenway is lacking is inspiration—and the money to make permanent improvements.” How does $4.4 million sound as an annual budget? Half of that is from the State … too bad about those other public programs being cut. Regular maintenance is probably about $500,000/yr. With only 13.2 acres, you will be hard pressed to find any other park in the State that receives as much money per acre. And the last I saw, there was another $13 million+ in reserves, also mostly from taxpayers. The Executive Director of the Conservancy made $223,000 last year, according to IRS filings. And that’s just the start of a very well paid, extensive staff (not too mention the consultants). Money is only a problem to the extent the Conservancy has failed to raise private funds, leaving you and me to foot the bill.

    I have not seen you at any of the Greenway Conservancy meetings, but you seem to be an expert. Perhaps you’ll come sometime to see how the private Greenway Conservancy operates in a very different fashion than you might think. The GC needs to reach out to its neighbors, not shun them in favor of out-of-state tourists. That hasn’t happened in Chinatown, nor the North End. These are public parks, just like the Common, Esplanade, Public Garden and Christopher Columbus Park. They need to be run like public parks, not like a commercialized tourist exhibit.

    The problem is so bad that State Representative Aaron Michelwitz has proposed new legislation to give the citizens slightly more say in how the Greenway is managed. The powers-that-be are fighting it tooth and nail, because their interests are not aligned with the public. Hammocks are great, but I hope you won’t trade a purple jelly bean for our public parks.

  2. Meg
    April 8, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    Matt- I don’t claim to be an expert on the Greenway Conservancy, and I’m not trying to argue with you.

    I’ve written about the Conservancy’s money issues in other posts. In this one, I’m talking about how the Greenway Conservancy, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem to be investing money in design. I’m sorry I wasn’t clear enough on that point. We’re settling for acceptable design, instead of great design, because no one wants to pay for design. It might be risky! Someone might get upset!

    And by the way–the GC needs to consider the needs of neighbors, and out-of-state tourists, and folks who come in from the suburbs and spend the day in Boston, and the people who work in the office towers next door, and the commuters who walk out of South Station. They all use places like the Common, the Esplanade, the Public Garden, and Christopher Columbus Park, too.

    Take a look at the parks in some other cities, like High Line in NYC. Boston can and should do better. And frankly, I’d *love* to see something wacky, fun, and ahistorical on the Greenway–like the purple jelly bean. At least it would get people talking about the Greenway’s possibilities instead of its limitations for once.

  3. Meg Muckenhoupt
    April 9, 2011 at 8:44 am

    Matt – I don’t claim to be an expert on the Greenway. You can look at my two previous blog posts on how Greenway’s finances are out of line with other Massachusetts parks if that’s your concern; that’s not what I was trying to talk about here.

    Apparently my point wasn’t clear. Let me elucidate. We have several Greenway parcels with what was supposed to be temporary landscaping, pending installation of several buildings. Those buildings are never going to be built, and no one seems to be investing in a permanent park design for some of the most visible public areas in Boston. *That’s* the aspect of the Greenway that needs more investment, not day-to-day operations.

    Again, I think your distinction between parks that serve neighborhoods and out-of-towners is artificial. All the public parks you mentioned accommodate large numbers of people who don’t live in the neighborhood including commuters, office workers, suburbanites spending a day in the city, residents of other areas of Boston, and, yes, tourists. Right now, several parcels on the Greenway aren’t serving any of those groups effectively.

    Frankly, I think everyone, townies and tourists alike, could benefit from seeing some more interesting, risk-taking temporary installations on the unbuilt Greenway parcels. You may not like the purple jelly bean, but at least it would draw some attention to the space — and help people start thinking about is possibilities, instead of its limitations.

  4. April 10, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Meg, I very much appreciate your response. Regarding the need to do something with the unbuilt ramp parcels, I 100% agree. I feel we were bamboozled by promises of features someone knew would never be possible. And I also agree with you that more public art is appropriate, and frankly, there should be more attractive gardens on certain parcels. But, I am sure you will agree, that a huge purple jelly bean attracts more tourists than a tot-lot, exercise stations, bocce courts or a dog park which all be more useful to neighbors. There is nothing “artificial” about that. All the noted public parks in Boston have features for local residents (tennis courts on the Common, tot lots/fields on the Esplanade, etc.)

    I find it interesting that the Greenway is being criticized from all angles. Folks like you, the Globe, the neighbors, the businesses … no one likes what is going on. You effectively make the point that the parks are not serving anyone effectively. That is where you need to realize the problem is not with the Greenway, but the Conservancy, the private, well-paid politically appointed group that serves as the steward and gatekeeper.

    I reiterate my point, the Conservancy constrains the use of the parks by the abutting neighborhoods in favor of out-of-towners. I go to many of their meetings where this is discussed. These are public parks and this is setting a dangerous situation where public land is being controlled by a private group with no checks or balances.

    For example, a group of neighbors are planning a weekly outdoor movie series this summer at Christopher Columbus Park, a public city park, organized by a Friends group and a local teen recovery non-profit, with regular city event permits. That would never be allowed to happen on the Greenway because the Conservancy won’t allow it. They charge large fees for anyone, including local non-profits. Instead, they bring in a nationally known rock band once a year on Earth Day, that attract thousands of out-of-towners for a few hours each year and they take lots of photos to prove there are people on the Greenway. That is what I call artificial.

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