Will We Ever Get the Greenway Right?

With the abandonment of plans for the New Center for Arts and Culture, the Rose Kennedy Greenway has claimed yet another victim. For those of you who are counting, that’s four different nonprofits that have tried to build structures on the Greenway only to see their plans wilt in the face of difficult fund-raising and engineering issues. The New Center joins the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s very dead, Garden Under Glass, the still-struggling Downtown YMCA, and the not-quite-dead-yet Boston Museum.

In the meantime, the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, a private non-profit group, has proposed building a pavilion on Parcel 21 – which could involve tearing out one of the gardens planted in 2008 by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society with thousands of hours of volunteer labor. Apparently, we need even less greenery in a site the current issue of Landscape Architecture calls “The Rose Kennedy Paveway,” thanks to the preponderance of hardscape.

There are also rumors that the planned redevelopment of the Dainty Dot building into a 261-foot condo tower will impinge on the Chinatown Park, widely recognized as the most successful landscape in the entire greenway.

The city can’t seem to support nonprofit institutions on the Greenway, the Boston Globe publishes articles criticizing the Greenway for not attracting enough people on a semiannual basis, developers want to construct skyscrapers that will shade the plants out, and even the group charged with maintaining the Greenway wants to tear out gardens. What is poor Boston to do?


We lived with a highway overpass there for nearly five decades; we can live with an open green space for another year or two. In that time, the hundreds of saplings on the Greenway will grow and start shading the parks. The Conservancy’s pilot project to add food vendors and tables and chairs to several parks will get underway.

Those two changes alone may be enough to start attracting the crowds to these parks. They may look like “oversized median strips,” now, but they aren’t any narrower than Post Office Square, an extraordinarily busy park

which is also surrounded by busy streets. What the place lacks is trees.

To attract Post-Office-Square size lunchtime crowds of people (there are already plenty of bees snacking on the Greenway’s native plants,) the Greenway needs a sense of enclosure, of protected space–a feeling that you are separate from the city. When the trees mature on Parcels 19-21 the feel of the place will completely change… if they’re not bulldozed for a pavilion, or a restaurant, or an ice rink, or a skate park, or some other quick-fix building. For Gaia’s sake, the old Combat Zone attracted plenty of people; does that mean we should build a peep show on the Greenway?

Let the Greenway grow.

  5 Replies to “Will We Ever Get the Greenway Right?”

  1. March 13, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    Look for Boston’s Gardens & Green Spaces by Meg Muckenhoupt in stores around New England.

  2. March 14, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Well said Meg! It saddens me that we don’t have parks and green spaces that showcase the amazing talent we have in this city. What is up with that? NYC has the most amazing waterfront parks and public gardens and parks all over the city and we just cannot seem to get our green space policy right.

  3. Charlie
    June 23, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    It’s a complete joke that a global city cannot build a tall tower, this global city has a huge celebration over a 393 ft tower on the waterfront. They build these towers in every other city, yes even in buffalo a very small city. I agree let the city flourish and don’t be afraid of change, let’s be an edgy city not a city that gets nothing done. The best skyscrapers r the ones that r tallest, don’t ever kid yourself.

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