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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.


Five days to go


IT WILL TAKE a rare combination of flexibility and steady resolve for the Legislature to approve a bill that will advance the Rose Kennedy Greenway. But it is worth the effort. Failure to achieve passage in the next five days will mean an uncertain future for the project, discouraging many first-rate design teams from participating.

Flexibility is needed because some criticisms of the draft legislation are valid. For instance, in creating the Massachusetts Millennium Greenway Trust to oversee the milelong corridor to be left when the Central Artery comes down, the draft would allow the trust to acquire real estate adjacent to the corridor. The object here is to allow small-scale property changes, not empire building, and the legislation should make that clear. Similarly, language about limiting public access should be scrapped. These will be public spaces, and they must remain so.

Resolve is needed because the basic concept - creating in the trust a strong and independent entity dedicated to making and maintaining a world-class park system - is the best that can be achieved. Further refinements to guarantee that the trust operates openly and with a significant public role are warranted. But the drafters should stoutly resist efforts to dissipate the trust's strength.

For instance, suggestions that neighborhoods such as the North End and Chinatown should have a veto over the trust's design decisions for nearby parcels make no sense. Neighborhoods can work through normal channels, including zoning. They should not have a veto over specific designs any more than residents of Arlington Street do over the Public Garden or of Seaver Street do over Franklin Park.

In a perfect world, management of the Greenway might be lodged in a branch of the Boston Parks Department with a reliable funding source. But questions of ownership and finance make this politically impractical. A new, single-purpose entity is the sound alternative.

And the independence of the trust is its greatest strength. The trick is to give the trust sufficient public accountability without binding it to political powers in a way that will surely compromise it in the end.

One thing that needs quick resolution is how federal highway regulations can be negotiated so they don't jeopardize a major funding source for the trust - the corridor parcels, mostly at the northern and southern ends, slated for development. Some critics say control of these parcels makes the trust a development authority rather than a parks agency. But another agency would have an incentive to maximize the income from the development parcels rather than concentrate on their compatibility with the parks.

Time is short. But the goal is great.

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