By John F. Fish
In the 1940s, a vision for a futuristic raised highway that would alleviate traffic congestion led to the demolition of 1,000 buildings, and eventually the somber realization that a raised Central Artery slicing through the City of Boston was a big mistake.
Today, years after the rusty "highway in the skies'' was dismantled, the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway has literally blossomed in its place, offering an opportunity to cement our city’s reputation as a world-class city.
The Greenway has created a necklace of linear parks connecting whole neighborhoods, reconnecting the city to its lifeline, Boston Harbor, and allowing easier access to Boston’s most appealing destination spots and attractions. The Greenway has helped make Boston whole again, in geography and in spirit.
The Greenway has provided over 15 acres of green space and hardscape, including gardens, fountains, plazas, and tree-lined promenades. Food trucks, free wi-fi, rotating art exhibits, open markets, and the carousel have added attractions and amenities that have lured more than 1.5 million visitors to the Greenway in the past year alone.
The daily pedestrian traffic on the Greenway has strengthened the local business environment by filling hotels and restaurants, increasing property values along the edge, spurring new development opportunities, and enhancing the quality of life for people working and living in the Financial District.
There is no question the Greenway has been a game changer for Boston. But our collective efforts are far from finished.
The most significant challenge facing the Greenway is long-term financial stability. Financial constraints are already prohibiting the Greenway from providing stronger seasonal programming, such as ice-skating, public art and new recreational opportunities, but even the status quo might not be sustainable. Maintenance costs for the Greenway will continue to rise while critical revenues accumulated from past years will soon be exhausted.
So, what can we do to help? We obviously need more funding, but we also need to develop a sustainable financial model for this local treasure. We must strengthen the collaboration between public, private, and civic leaders, and the Greenway Conservancy, to establish a strong foundation for future financing so that this unique space can truly live up to its full potential. The good news is that many have already heard this call to action.
Fundraising and raising awareness of the benefits of the Greenway will continue to be critical factors in the next phase of our Greenway renaissance. William Van Fassen, Chairman of the Board of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and I co-chaired this year’s Greenway Gala. The Gala raised over $500,000 that will be leveraged to support the Greenway Conservancy’s mission and expand the reach of the Greenway.
While some Greenway initiatives are made public through high-profile events, other noble efforts are happening behind the scenes. The Greenway Conservancy recently proposed a Greenway Business Improvement District (BID) that would ask for financial support from property owners along the Greenway, who benefit from having a world-class urban park just outside their doorstep. This added financial support will create new and consequential sources of reliable revenue and a stronger financial platform to help further enhance and maintain this world-class urban park now and into the future.
And let us not forget the strong leadership from Governor Deval Patrick, Mayor Thomas Menino, and Peter Meade of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Their longstanding vision and appreciation of the importance of green space in our urban areas was really the driving force behind the Greenway, long before the first trees were even planted on our beautiful ribbon of Greenway parks.
We know that strong leadership and the right strategy can have an immediate and positive impact on an urban park and city neighborhood. In fact, we do not need to look any further than our neighbor to the south, New York City, and its development of Bryant Park to find an example of how leadership and thoughtful planning can create a dynamic outdoor space worthy of a world class city.
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy once said, "Life is not a matter of milestones, but of moments.'' This is our moment. I believe we are ready to take on the challenges facing the Greenway, but we must work together and put in place a strong foundation and system of financial support that will be sustainable for generations to come.
The Greenway is much more than just an urban park.This unique space has the potential to transform our city from a first-class city to a world-class city. And if it lives up to its potential, the Rose Kennedy Greenway will serve as a symbol of what can be accomplished when leaders with shared values come together to make a positive impact on the city they call home.
John F. Fish is co-chairman of the Greenway Conservancy Gala and
CEO of Suffolk Construction.