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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.


For A Wide-Open Artery Space Plan

By Patrice Todisco, 07/26/1999

Open space versus development. It is a simple and unproductive dichotomy in which to frame discussion about the future design of the parcels being created in the downtown corridor as a result of the Central Artery project.

Yet almost 10 years after a land-use plan was approved for the project and a mandated 75 percent open-space commitment was agreed upon by city and state agencies, the open-space community is being maligned for expecting what the public was promised: a system of parks, plazas, park buildings, and sidewalks knit together by a tree-lined boulevard and anchored by gateways that are uniquely landscaped and punctuated by public art.

The Boston GreenSpace Alliance, a private, nonprofit open-space advocacy group that has worked on the project since its inception, refuses to be typecast as a group of obdurate ``environmentalists'' who cannot see the forest for the trees. Instead, we advocate for the creation of a visionary open-space plan for the Artery around which every community can rally and from which complementary uses can evolve.

While recent conversations about the Artery have resulted in a spate of finger pointing, the time has come to move the project into a new arena of public discourse, where all of the city's residents and supporters have a seat at the table.

A vision for the Artery cannot be developed in isolation. It must be integrated with plans that are being developed for the city and region, including the seaport and the waterfront, turnpike air rights, the Harbor Islands, the Charles River Basin, the Emerald Necklace, the Boston 400 open-space planning process, and the neighborhood park system.

The potential for open spaces and civic structures that serve local as well as regional functions must be fully explored and evaluated within its broadest urban context.

The creation of a system of public spaces and civic structures that are integrated within a landscape plan that anticipates the future while acknowledging the past will serve as a powerful emblem for the region. The use of sustainable design and green architecture is critical to the success of a system that is unique, modern, and revolutionary in design. The same high standards and care that are being ably applied to the engineering portions of the project should be replicated for the surface elements.

If the city is unable to orchestrate and oversee this work, it is a role that the Turnpike Authority should proudly assume. In past public works projects, city building was seen as the ultimate expression of civic engagement. Instead of spending time counting trees and ruminating over unkempt planters, a task that is sadly necessary if we are to be certain the project delivers what it has promised the public, we should be working together to solve the difficult but ennobling task of creating the best possible physical environment on the surface.

Since its inception, the Artery project has been about city-building. Early design principles stressed the need to anticipate the growth of development in the downtown and the accompanying need for the creation of additional open space to support that increased density. This need was supported by an acknowledgement that well-designed and maintained open space is truly a public benefit that will improve the environmental quality while enhancing the economic vitality of the downtown.

We must not lose sight of the public benefits that the project promised and encourage the city and state to reexamine the value that a high-quality open space will add to the downtown.

We need a We do not believe the discussion should be polarized by pitting the open-space constituency against the housing or development community. We acknowledge the fine work that each has done and believe it is together that we can create and finance a plan that will assure Boston's design as we move into the 21st century.

Patrice Todisco is executive director of the Boston GreenSpace Alliance.

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