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.
BEYOND BIG DIG TOWN FORUM
Public-private trust urged to oversee greenway design
By Raphael Lewis, Globe Staff, 5/31/2001
national panel of experts in governance, landscape architecture, and design yesterday called on the Legislature to create a public-private trust by year's end to design, build, and operate the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the 30-acre ribbon park to sit above the Central Artery tunnels in downtown Boston.
The proposal was one of nine ideas debated at Faneuil Hall last night in a panel discussion titled "Beyond the Big Dig," a four-month exploration of the future of the Surface Artery, sponsored by the Globe, WCVB-TV, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
"Only the mobilization of substantial public and private resources will result in the capital investment and leadership necessary for Boston to fully realize the potential of this Central Artery land to transform downtown Boston," a statement released yesterday said.
The proposal, unveiled on live television at the panel discussion, which was attended by about 250 members of the public and power brokers including US Senator Edward M. Kennedy, was greeted enthusiastically by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who said the recommendation "is exactly in line with what we've discussed for over a year."
"I think the legislation will be formulated in the next three weeks, put on a fast track, and on the governor's desk by July," Menino said in an interview afterward.
The event took place as debate on the Greenway has only just begun in earnest, nearly 12 years after the Big Dig commenced. The land, which runs more than a mile from the Charles River to Chinatown, is owned by the Turnpike Authority, but several lawmakers and observers have lately called for a new body to take control.
Earlier this month, Turnpike Authority chairman Matthew Amorello rankled Acting Governor Jane Swift, Menino, and House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran by unilaterally beginning the process for accepting designs for the key Wharf District parcel of the Artery, rather than waiting until a new governing body could be created. A similar "request for qualifications" was sent out by Amorello about a month ago to solicit designers for the North End parcels. Swift, Menino, and Finneran have been negotiating the creation of a trust very similar to the one the independent panel proposed yesterday.
Amorello, who attended the panel discussion, defended his recent decisions in an interview earlier in the day, but said he would fully support the creation of a public-private trust to design, build, and maintain the corridor. However, he said he will push hard to ensure that the cash-strapped authority, which is gearing up for a July 1 toll increase, receives any revenue generated by the development of Artery parcels.
"At the end of the day, the Turnpike Authority will work to implement whatever the Legislature and the governor pass, but we have to look at those [parcels] as income generators for the roadway beneath [the Greenway]," Amorello said.
Finneran could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham, Alison Franklin, said Birmingham "supports the trust that unites public and private support to attract the talent, resources, and vision we need."
Richard Dimino, president of the Artery Business Committee, said the panel's recommendation should strengthen the push for the creation of a trust: "Their objective views and expertise have concluded what we at the ABC, and many others, believe is an essential element of getting this thing right.''
The panel, which included Jill Ker Conway, chairwoman of Lend Lease Corp.; Hubie Jones, co-director of Boston's City-to-City program; M. David Lee, partner with Sull and Lee Architects; Laurie Olin, partner at Olin Partnership; and Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, author of "Landscape Design," made eight other recommendations.
They included: that a "Common Ground Task Force" of neighbors, businesses, and cultural leaders be formed to produce and manage major public events on the Greenway; that the "Garden Under Glass" greenhouse proposal be adopted "as a critical anchor" to the Artery park, but that the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, the presumptive creator of the structure, present a master plan and funding no later than Jan. 1, 2004, or risk losing its place on the Greenway; that at least one additional "major public attraction" be located on the Greenway; that the two parcels containing highway ramps be covered with "imaginative structures"; and that at least 2,000 units of new housing, a quarter of which would be affordable, be built on the perimeter of the park.
The panel also called on the city of Boston to create at least 1 million square feet of "cultural and commercial activities" along the park's edge, and that streets that cross the Greenway "become elegant tree-lined promenades" such as those in Barcelona.
Raphael Lewis can be reached at email@example.com.