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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.


Three key issues for designers of new Artery space

By Bob Durand, 3/25/2002

AS THE DEPRESSION of the Central Artery nears completion, the restoration of its scarred surface provides us all with an extraordinary opportunity to reclaim a critical piece of downtown Boston and create the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

The green metal and suspended asphalt that hangs like an albatross above our great city will be replaced by a mile-long swath of beautiful and active parks, boulevards, and plazas, framed by new buildings containing apartments, offices, shops, and cultural institutions.

Extraordinary opportunities like this naturally generate extraordinary interest. This project is no different, stimulating a spirited civic dialogue and debate over every detail. Numerous commissions and boards have been formed to advise decision makers and help bring the project to completion.

State and city leaders, from Acting Governor Jane Swift to Mayor Thomas Menino, continue to embrace the restoration of the surface artery as a top priority. As we work to bring the project to completion, three critical issues need to be resolved.

First, commitments made must be commitments kept. In 1991, the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs attached a legally enforceable condition to our environmental approvals of the Central Artery construction project. The environmental commitments include the requirement that at least 11 parcels of land will be set aside for open space, including the Massachusetts Horticultural Society's botanical garden project. Any weakening of an environmental commitment would set a terrible precedent for future environmental review.

For more than 10 years we have all lived with the burdens of this project. Soon we will be able to realize its benefits. We must ensure that the open space commitments are fully realized and that they remain permanently protected and open for the public to enjoy in perpetuity.

A conservation restriction on the parcels will supply this level of assurance. Putting such protections in place will provide us all with the confidence to move forward.

Second, the parks should be considered as a distinct jewel of Boston's green urban ring. The design and programming of the parks and plazas should tie together Boston's existing open space network and respect Boston's rich culture and history. This means creating vibrant open spaces that follow Boston's open space tradition, while introducing contemporary design elements that bring vitality to the area.

In the tradition of Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles Eliot, the open spaces created will become part of a world-class regional system that includes the Public Garden, the Common, the Esplanade, and the Emerald Necklace. The surface artery will help reconnect downtown with one of our greatest assets, Boston Harbor. These open spaces will also serve as the gateway to the 34 Boston Harbor Islands of the National Park Area, the last urban wilderness on the East Coast.

Third, continued maintenance of the parks needs to be addressed. Conservative estimates for the public investment in construction of the surface artery exceed $60 million. Such an investment, coupled with the intensive use the parks will receive with millions of users annually, underscores the need for appropriate maintenance funding.

Mayor Menino and House Speaker Thomas Finneran recently outlined a plan to provide a dedicated revenue stream for maintenance of the surface artery. Their leadership should be applauded, and their plan deserves full review when its details are ultimately released. In moving forward with such a proposal, we need to ensure that private funding to support the parks will not infringe on the public's rights to use and enjoy them.

Long after the cranes come down, the bulldozers go away, the traffic congestion subsides, and the noise and dust settle, the Central Artery parks and open spaces will stand as a true testament to the civic vision of the project. These public spaces are an integral component of the environmental commitments that allowed the largest public works project in our nation's history to move forward. They will serve as a lasting legacy for future generations to enjoy.

Bob Durand is the secretary of environmental affairs for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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