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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.


Parc Andre Citroen, Paris


Parc Citroen Parc Citroen was built on the site of a former automobile manufacturing plant.


* Commonwealth Avenue: Back Bay's elegant boulevard is one of the city's most successful streets.
* Piers Park: Successful in large part because of the designer's sensitivity to the requests of the East Boston community.
* Post Office Square: A lovely oasis in the heart of the city's Financial District that's a good example of public-private partnership.
* South Boston Marine Park: This not-yet-completed park recognizes that open space alone is not enough to attract people.

* Parc de Clot: Interesting reuse of an old industrial site on a scale similar to many Central Artery parcels.
* Porta Vell: A mostly successful project that reconnected a port city with its waterfront.
* The Ramblas: An outstanding example of a main thoroughfare with a people-friendly scale.

* Parc Andre Citroen: Reuse of a huge industrial complex to create a park that is an urban work of art.
* Viaduc des Arts/Promenade Plantee: Innovative reuse of an old elevated railroad viaduc to create a much-needed urban park.

San Francisco
* Crissy Field: An obsolete military base was redeveloped into a vast and successful public open space.
* Ferry Building Plaza: A not-altogether-successful attempt to redevelop the land formerly occupied by an elevated downtown expressway.
* Rincon Park: Public-private partnership use to build and maintain a waterfront public park.
* Yerba Buena: This combination of park and civic space is a testimonial to the power of careful urban planning and careful event planning.

Citroen is a new 35-acre public park in Paris that replaced an automobile manufacturing plant. Larger than Boston Common, the park is an example of a new generation of civic spaces in metropolitan Paris. Citroen is an exercise in post-modernist geometry embellished with two greenhouse pavilions that stand at the urban end of a vast lawn, separated by a paved area featuring dancing fountains. On sunny days, children rush the basins, called here "lisières," dodging the waterspouts despite signs warning them away. The River Seine flows at the far end of the park, which opens to an expansive view of the Parisian arrondissement beyond as well as the river boat traffic. One edge of the lawn is bounded by a monumental canal -- the "Jardin des Metamorphoses" -- composed of an elevated reflecting pool that reaches through granite guard houses. On the other side are two sets of small gardens: the six "Serial Gardens" and a "Garden in Movement" that presents wild grasses selected to respond at different rates to wind velocity.

In 1915, André Citroën built his factory on the banks of the Seine, operating it until it closed in the 1970s. The 23 hectares (about 57 acres) which were thus freed up were included in the capital's "urbanization" policy and gave rise to the Parc André Citroen. Expensive blocks of new housing flats line the exterior boundaries. Like the Champ de Mars and the Trocadéro gardens, Park Citroen perpetuates the Paris tradition of siting prestigious parks perpendicular to the Seine.


Alain Provost and Gilles Clément conceived of Parc Citroen as a place of transition from urban to rural. It is based four themes: artifice, architecture, movement and nature. Magnolias pruned in a column border the two green houses. The central lawn opens on the river, permitting visitors to eat, run, frolic, play games or read books. In "Le Jardin en Mouvement" -- the wild garden -- the rigid geometry of the design gives way to rose bushes, corn-poppies, bamboos, balsamines, digitals, thorns, and weeds growing freely. Following in order along the edge come a series of intimate garden rooms -- the "Jardins sériels" -- each presenting in a dominant color: red, orange, green, blue, gilded and blue and silvery. The use of water and clipped plants echo the French Baroque.


Parc Citroen's main elements that are designed to attract people:

  • White Garden, conceived for play and strolls with a central enclosure filled with white flowers.
  • Black Garden, for a quiet respite, full of dense vegetation in darks greens.
  • Central Park, dominated by two large greenhouses harboring an orange grove and Mediterranean garden.
  • A reflecting moat surrounds the central green and makes arrival on the grass a ceremony.
  • Changing garden, which evolves with the changes of the seasons.
  • Serial Gardens, representing each of the five senses, each with a different, dominant color symbolizing a different metal.
  • Garden of Movement, like the open prairies, so different from the sophistication of its neighbors.


If Boston were to adopt a park development approach for the Central Artery exemplified by Parc Citroen, the required capital and leadership would dwarf anything so far considered. Parc Citroen represents a level of design, construction finish, and maintenance that exceeds Boston standards. As Robert Campbell of the Globe has pointed out, Paris spends as much as eight times more per park than other French cities. Boston won't do this. There are too many competing political constituencies whose influence exceeds that of public open space advocates. Also, Citroen -- for better or for worse -- represents high-concept triumphant over public participation. The American style of review that imposes constraints on the creative process has not yet reached Paris. Whatever else can be said, Citroen is not an example of lowest common denominator design.

These case studies were researched and written by Zhan Guo and Alex-Ricardo Jimenez of MIT, under the direction of Thomas J. Piper of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. They examine a series of urban open space projects with particular lessons for Boston as it decides the future of the land freed up when the Central Artery moves underground.

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