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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.


A single authority to design, run artery

By Jane M. Swift, 6/3/2002

THERE EXISTS WIDESPREAD agreement that the way we use the land exposed by the removal of the elevated Central Artery will be one of the most important decisions ever made in Massachusetts. As I said in my state of the state address, we have a unique opportunity to transform this scarred surface into a sparkling jewel for generations to come.

As with all large public policy issues, the devil is very much in the details, and the challenge for public policy makers today is to assure that there is a process in place which will assure us of the greatest opportunity to inspire genius in the utilization of this land. In concert with Mayor Thomas Menino and his proposal for a Millennium Greenway Trust, there are five organizing principles for the process going forward which are of critical importance:

  • Transfer control of the design, implementation, and operation of the Surface Artery Corridor to its ultimate steward, the Millennium Greenway Trust, immediately.

    The staff at the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority have done a creditable job of organizing the predesign selection process to date; however, it would be ill-advised to have the design of these priceless parcels be done under the direction of a highway agency rather than by a community trust designed specifically for this specific purpose.

  • The trust should have design control over the entire corridor, both development parcels and open space parcels. Revenues generated by the development of the parcels have been previously committed to cover construction and operation deficits for the Big Dig; while those commitments must be honored, the new trust must have the authority to develop and enforce a vision and strategy for this entire corridor.

  • The governance and finance structure of the trust must protect the operations, maintenance, redesign, and construction of the open space parcels from the unpredictable nature of the annual appropriations process. Whether it is by endowment, fees from a betterment district, contributions, or other, the financial stability of the parcels must be assured.

  • We must not alter the fundamental underlying commitment of the 75-25 split between open space and development. This formula was a critical element of the initial plans to proceed with the project, was negotiated and agreed in good faith and represents a healthy balance for the use of the corridor.

  • Within that 75-25 split, we are fortunate to be able to maintain a "creative ambiguity" over the definition of open space.

    By leaving the definition of open space flexible, we have the opportunity to induce the most creative and innovative designs and to empower proposing designers to think as far "outside the box" as possible to reintegrate the waterfront with the city, enhance the quality of life in the North End and Chinatown, and create vibrant, friendly space which promotes the economic, social, and cultural health of the city. The selection of the final design should determine the final definition of open space - within existing environmental, zoning, and other commitments.

The issues of design, governance, and finance of the Surface Artery Corridor have been debated for years. The Speaker, the Senate president, the mayor, and I are working together to pull the best of these ideas into legislation to create a community trust structured to maximize the wonder and constructive impact of the park and development parcels.

Jane M. Swift is acting governor of Massachusetts.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company
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