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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 Greenway fumble


WHEN STATE legislators failed this week to provide a home for the Rose Kennedy Greenway, they set back a project that will do more than any other to shape the heart of downtown Boston for decades to come.

With the proposed greenway trust in limbo, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority will resume the process of picking designers for the milelong string of parks to be created at street level when the elevated Central Artery comes down starting next year.

But the Turnpike Authority is a road-building agency, not a city builder. It is crucial that it augment its urban design capacity, possibly by naming a panel of internationally known advisers, and that it further strengthen its relationship with the Boston Redevelopment Authority. These steps would help overcome doubts and give the authority the credibility it needs to encourage proposals from teams of the world's leading designers.

In addition, state and city officials need to provide assurance that this designer selection process will stick.

One criticism of the draft legislation was that it did not require the proposed trust to honor the first phases of the designer selection process already undertaken by the Turnpike Authority.

Such uncertainty can be fatal. As William J. Mitchell, dean of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning, put it yesterday, top designers "want a client group that is decisive."

The failure of the trust bill provides an opportunity to consider other options, such as a stronger city role and dedicated funding to assure high quality.

The idea of a strong, single-purpose agency with adequate public accountability and not hamstrung by political connections has wide support. The idea has been discussed in countless neighborhood meetings and legislative hearings, but when actually proposed in draft form it contained specifics that should get more airing.

The Legislature's Transportation Committee has scheduled three more hearings this fall. This will be the time, before next legislative session convenes in January, to resolve major questions. Should the trust administer only the parks, a significant number of development parcels as well, or - as Mayor Menino suggested in an interview this week - only the development parcels adjacent to parks? Questions of finance, federal approvals, and City Council concurrence should also be resolved in advance.

A wider circle, including local legislators and the mayor's "completion task force," needs to be heard. As adversaries with questions they can derail legislation. As allies they can help produce good governance and world-class design.

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