The Kennedy Greenway: Less is More of What, Exactly?

Every once in a while some teen-lit writer resurrects the story about the Girl Who Wasn’t There, a pathetic young waif who is so neglected and ignored that she ceases to be visible. While Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway is still in view, as far as I know, there are signs that it’s becoming a bit less prominent. Mayor Tom Menino has declared that he would be “happy if there were no further building inside the city’s Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway,” and the Boston Globe reports that abutting property owners are resisting paying new taxes for a Business Improvement District (BID) to support the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. If we don’t build anything we planned on the Greenway, and we don’t pay for the Greenway, will it go away?

Menino made his remarks as part of his announcement that the city would be conducting a local search instead of a nationwide hunt for the new head of the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), Boston’s planning and economic development agency. Menino did specify one group outside Boston which could produce viable candidates, according to the Boston Herald, Menino said “It could be a professor from MIT.”

But back to the Greenway! That same Herald article quotes Menino saying about the Greenway: “All the projects they wanted to build there were a dream, but there was nothing behind the dream,” Menino said. “Why do we have to build on it? It’s spectacular the way it is, as open space.”

Nothing behind the dream? Nothing except years of work and planning. There were even videos of what the Greenway was supposed to look like.

As I observed in an earlier blog post, the problem wasn’t a lack of work, but the fact that building on top of eight lanes of traffic turned out to be astonishingly expensive, and no one raised enough money to do it—not even the YMCA, one of the most popular organizations around.

…which leads us back to the Greenway tax plan. According to the Boston Globe, some property owners are objecting. It’s not clear why they’re bothering. None of them were willing to be named in the article, and the same piece goes on to mention that thanks to “a peculiarity” in state law, property owners can opt out of BID taxes. In short, they could just quietly ignore the tax, and it really would go away! Someone must be very, very mad at the Greenway Conservancy to go to the trouble of objecting to it.

Not that there aren’t reasons to object to the Conservancy. I’ve written before about the Greenway Conservancy’s high costs, and various writers have complained about the Conservancy’s lack of accountability and compliance with public records and open meetings laws—including the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

But frankly, it’s our own fault. The City of Boston, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, and the state all agreed to hand the Greenway’s operation over to a Conservancy. Where were the abutting property owners when our public servants were all agreeing to shirk responsibility for maintaining public land? Why didn’t they fund at least one of the pretty buildings in the video?

The Globe ruefully concludes:

“While the parks are a vast improvement over the highway, they are also incomplete and do not have a permanent funding source to help realize a world-class public space that everyone seems to want, yet no one seems willing to pay for.”

Strangely enough, if you don’t pay for a world-class public space, you don’t get one. The Greenway isn’t going to disappear, but it also isn’t going to become a landmark destination without some serious work. But, so far, subsidizing the Greenway Conservancy hasn’t made the Greenway a world-class public space, either. And the park and the Conservancy won’t simply disappear if we ignore them for a while.

The tax-resisting property owners should come up with some ideas and money to actually serve the public interest—not just to provide a pretty front lawn for high-rise condos, but to create the kind of space our city deserves. That we deserve. We’re all in Boston together, after all. Attention must be paid.

Meg Muckenhoupt is the author of Boston’s Gardens & Green Spaces.  She is a freelance environmental and travel writer. Her articles have appeared in The Boston Globe, the Boston PhoenixBoston Magazine, the Time Out Boston guide, and many other publications. She holds a certificate in Field Botany from the New England Wild Flower Society. 

  3 Replies to “The Kennedy Greenway: Less is More of What, Exactly?”

  1. April 5, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    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.

    These are public parks that line several neighborhoods. Urban residents need open space, not tourists, office buildings or food carts. The Greenway can be beautiful neighborhood parks.

    The Common, Public Garden, Esplanade, Christopher Columbus Park are all examples of great city and state parks that do very well for a fraction of the cost the Conservancy spends, much of it on salaries and administrative expenses.

    Please, let us live here. Give back the Greenway parks to the neighborhoods that so desperately need them.

  2. April 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    You’ve hit the ball out the park! Incredible!

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