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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.


Getting to 'aha' on Artery parks

By Rebecca G. Barnes, 2/25/2002

With unheralded drama and an unfamiliar beauty, the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge has grown into the Boston skyline and into our hearts, forever altering our sense of this city and its relationship to the world. This is the job of great urban design -- to add meaning to the city's life by giving form to our unarticulated hopes and civic aspirations.
Remember Boston without the bridge; imagine Boston before the Emerald Necklace and the Public Garden; now picture the future without the Central Artery's elevated structure. Together we will watch the dismantling of the highway viaducts reveal a new landscape that links North and South Stations and connects neighborhoods to the city and its harbor.

If we do the job right, Bostonians will again experience the thrilling jolt, the "Aha!" when the sun illuminates the wonderful series of colorful outdoor rooms, storytelling walkways, and playful gardens that have grown up out of the Central Artery's dark shadows.

In this unique opportunity lies our responsibility for shaping Boston's future face, its heart, and the meaning of its future.

Important questions separate us from this future. Questions of governance and finance: Who will care for these new parks and with what funds? Questions of design: What activities will the parks be designed to host? What will they look like? How will they bring us together in new ways with people, with history, and with the natural world?

We are a city shaped by deep roots in many countries and cultures - should we not expect the Artery to allow us to celebrate and share the sources of this strength? We are a city shaped by our special role in history - let us ask how these parks might become a place to honor and interpret where we've been and where we are going. This new Boston will be shaped as much by our questions as by the answers.

Ten years have passed since the City of Boston prepared a plan and zoning for this park corridor and since the Artery project's environmental permits decreed it was destined to be public open space. Five years have passed since a study proposed creation of a commission of city, state, and community representatives to take responsibility for funding, programming, and maintenance, ensuring a bright future for this special place. And more than a year has passed since the completion of a master planning process for the park parcels, a public process that brought together hundreds of Bostonians' ideas and hopes, articulated sound design principles for the final design.

Today we find ourselves only a handful of years from the Artery's demolition with many ideas on the table and with a forum for participation - the Mayor's Central Artery Completion Task Force - ready to facilitate the public dialogue about the corridor's design with the soon-to-be-selected design teams.

As we pause before the exciting, tumultuous, joyful, messy, and important process of finally designing these parks and open spaces, we can distinguish the challenges of great design from those of great politics and make sure that those challenges are met. Great design, at its most complex in a participatory, urban culture, requires a design vision that takes the views of many into account and responds with the sensitivity and courage needed to guide us into uncharted, awesome territory.

Commitment to a great outcome is the necessary first step to be certain that the once-in-a-century opportunity of the new Rose Kennedy Greenway is realized. And great design requires a visionary partnership between a strong client and multitalented designers. Because the Artery parks mean so much to so many, it requires an open process that invites the public to share in the imaginative stretch that will grasp the opportunity to shape the city's future.

The first steps toward a great result have been taken by neighbors, public agencies, civic and business organizations through the Mayor's Central Artery Completion Task Force's ongoing forum for public dialogue about the open spaces' design. We must all take the next steps together - to demand and support great clientship to keep the way clear, to support great designers' imaginative explorations, and to host a public dialogue that asks the right questions so that amazing possibilities are revealed - "Aha!" - in the new Artery landscape.

Rebecca G. Barnes is chief planner for the City of Boston at the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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