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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.


Crissy Field, San Francisco


Crissy Field Crissy Field is more than 100 acres of meadows, marshes, and dunes frames by spectacular views. It draws more than 2 million visitors a year.


* 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
* 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.

Crissy Field was the air field for San Francisco's Presideo, an Army installation that once was at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. Today, it's the gateway to San Francisco -- 100 acres of spectacular open space where the city meets the bay. Visitors can stroll the promenade, have a picnic, inspect the meadows and marshes, participate in programmed activities, or enjoy spectacular views of San Francisco. Restored with community support, Crissy Field's construction cost was $34.4 million. This included restoring the Crissy Field Center and Warming Hut, as well as the field itself. The money was raised through private donations, with a lead gift of $18 million from the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund and the Colleen and Robert Haas Fund. (The Haas family is one of San Francisco's most active philanthropic families.)

Attendance for the opening of the park on May 6, 2001, was 75,000. A sunny, warm 4th of July will bring 100,000 people, while a foggy one could bring only 10,000. Crissy Field is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the largest urban national park in the world. The total park area is 75,398 acres of land and water. Approximately 28 miles of coastline lie within its boundaries. It is nearly two and one-half times the size of San Francisco itself.


Crissy Field is a major new public park and seashore that replaces an obsolete military air field on a former army base at the edge of San Francisco Bay. As such, it is an example of environmental reclamation in which an obsolete industrial use is replaced by public open space. An entirely man-made artifact designed by Hargreaves Associates of San Francisco and Cambridge, Mass., Crissy Field comprises three landscape domains -- a constantly changing tidal basin shaped by sea action and wind, a gently domed lawn, and a picnic area sheltered by newly-created dunes. The materials employed are sand, earth, native grasses, tides, and wind.


Located adjacent to San Francisco's Marina District residential neighborhood, the park draws 2 million to 4 million people per year, depending on San Francisco's quirky weather and wind conditions, as well as programmed holiday events. It features:

  • A tidal marsh inlet scooped out by bulldozers and opened to the ocean in 1999 (the dozer barely escaped the in-rushing water once the outer dune was breached).
  • A huge public lawn that replaced the Crissy Field runway. Some 87,000 tons of debris was removed to make way for grass.
  • A public beach offering respite from the city and the best para-sailing launch site on the west coast.
  • A running path to mark the runway alignment, sliced through the domed lawn (as runners make their way they're visible at the start, vanish in the middle, and reappear at the finish).
  • A Warming Hut offering appropriate food, and hats for protection from the sun.
  • Parking.


Crissy Field is an example of an obsolete former industrial use reclaimed as public open space to enhance the region's quality of life. Similar projects are happening in Boston, Barcelona, Paris, Sidney, and other advanced-economy cities.

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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