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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.


Balance over the Artery


BIG QUESTIONS OF "What" and "How" still surround the surface corridor to be created when the Central Artery comes down despite more than a decade of planning. What parks, structures, and programs will go in the mile-long string of parcels? And how will they be built, financed, and maintained?

Still, some gains are beginning to appear.

Boston Parks Commissioner Justine Liff is one who feels that on design issues, at least, it is time to celebrate - "celebrate the progress that has been made and consolidate the forward motion," as she said this week.

In particular, open space advocates are expressing interest in some structures, including a visitor center and gateway to the waterfront at the foot of State Street. Liff believes agreement may also be reached that the parcel in front of International Place should accommodate a building of modest size rather than the tentatively planned rows of trees.

At the same time, proponents of more active development up and down the corridor are scaling back their proposals.

The most visible advocates of each position, the Boston GreenSpace Alliance and the Artery Business Committee, are not as far apart as they once were, according to their respective heads, Patrice Todisco and Richard Dimino. "We've been trying real hard to find some common ground among the different perspectives," Dimino said.

Fred Yalouris, director of architecture and urban design for the Central Artery/Tunnel project, goes one step further: "They're closer than they're willing to admit," he says.

Despite this heartening evidence of genuine progress, there is much uncertainty still - too much as the time nears for demolition of the elevated structure.

The process for picking designers for these parcels has been stopped in its tracks by differences among advocates, the changing leadership at the Turnpike Authority, and uncertainty over who will be in charge eventually - a big part of the "How" question.

As Todisco points out, much more needs to be done to coordinate open space planning with the housing and other development that is slated for several parcels, including ones near North Station.

And there are too many ideas for activities - ranging from a skating rink and wading pool to a carousel to restaurants to a performance space to various other cultural amenities to harbor-related activities to a community center for the North End - to fit on the limited space.

More attention needs to go to the edges so the open spaces are enlivened by activities in adjacent areas, such as first-floor retail space in abutting buildings.

With continued hard work, bold ideas, and community input, there will be much more for Liff and others to celebrate.

This story ran on page A14 of the Boston Globe on 2/23/2002.
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