Is the Boston Common a private park?

Is there nothing that private investors can’t do? According to the Boston Globe, the Friends of the Public Garden are employing a hoity-toity New York consultant named Daniel A. Biederman to court corporate sponsors to, well, pay for stuff on the Boston Common. In exchange, these generous firms get their names into prime historical Boston real estate. Biederman was one of the folks responsible for getting corporations to shell out to revive New York City’s careworn Bryant Park in the 1970’s.

As the article notes, these sorts of parks-for-rent arrangements have been going on in the Common for while. In sight of a guide in ever-fashionable tricorn hat and knee breeches, the Globe notes, “At the foot of a nearby pin oak, a small plaque noted that the tree had been donated by Paper Mills Inc. honoring the ‘environmental excellence’’ of Staples.” (It’s nice of paper companies to plant a tree every once in a while. I wish they’d do so in an actual forest.)

So what is there to talk about? Remember the old joke about the woman who would sell her virtue for a million dollars, but not for a penny? We already know what the Boston Common is; now we’re just haggling over the price.

What bothers me is, why now? Who are we trying to please by renting out bits of the Common? The Friends of the Public Garden won’t say how much they’re paying Biederman to court big spenders, which is a bad sign in and of itself. But what will corporations really want to do? Are the interests of corporate executives looking to serve the public good and their public relations agendas really the same as the interests of the Bostonians who actually *use* the park? And are they the same as the interests of the Friends of the Public Garden?

We already have three groups that can stake a claim on the Boston Common: the public (including the homeless people who snooze there); the government of the City of Boston; and the Friends of the Public Garden. Do we really need to add a fourth set of opinions to the mix?

Two of the players here already seem to be, shall we say, incompletely aligned. The City has already eliminated the Common’s mounted police patrols to save money this year–even after the Friends of the Public Garden raised the funds to maintain the program. What fun it must be to watch the Friends of the Public Garden carry out a successful fundraising campaign, then reject their money! (I’m sure there were very good reasons for the whole unfortunate interaction. Very, very, good reasons.)

As the Globe piece notes, decisions on changes to the Common must be ratified by Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department and the Landmarks Commission. Absolute power makes for amusing headlines. Mr. Biederman may be a master money-raiser, but, as hizzoner Mayor Tom Menino ominously states in the Globe piece, “Boston is not New York.”

The Friends of the Public Garden want to bring in Big Money to revive the Common? Let’s watch them try.

  One Reply to “Is the Boston Common a private park?”

  1. September 24, 2010 at 1:40 pm


    But I am less optimistic about the effectiveness of the Mayor’s “ominous” warning to the corporations. The virtue of this park is going, going, gone. The corporations get what they want from the City already, in terms of tax breaks and permission to build whatever the heck they want. Now we’re starting to get Business Improvement Districts. I don’t see Menino fighting about advertising in the park. You should see how the park looks during the big company events. We have pavement ads at City Hall Plaza.

    The circus banners and balloons are already there. Send in the clowns.

    “…..don’t bother, they’re here.”
    (with apologies to Stephen Sondheim)

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