Boston Common Overhaul


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May 25, 2006
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Boston Globe - November 18, 2008
Councilors craft ideas for Common's amenities, funding

By Matt Viser, Globe Staff | November 18, 2008

City officials are exploring a massive rehabilitation of the Boston Common, considering whether to carve out portions of the country's oldest public park for a dog park and a full-scale commercial restaurant.

The City Council's special Committee on the Boston Common might also recommend that the city get help in operating the park by forming a conservancy that would do private fund-raising and some maintenance of the park, according to a draft report of the recommendations.

"The park needs some help right now; financially it needs more money," said Councilor Salvatore LaMattina. "The question is, how can we make this the best park in the city, if not the country?"

The recommendations would probably be implemented only with the support of Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who likes some ideas (installing a dog park) but opposes others (a full restaurant).

"I would like to see some real nice little refreshment carts out there where people could pick up food," Menino said in an interview. "But I don't want to see liquor at the Boston Common at all. You've got kids playing there; it's a family atmosphere, where people can walk through."

For nearly a year, the City Council has been looking for ways to improve the Common, which they say has been underfunded, ill-maintained, and riddled with brown-bag drinkers and drug users. In June, a delegation of about 20 city officials and civic leaders toured several New York City parks in an effort to study what has and has not worked.

Councilors are looking at setting up a dog park at the corner of Charles and Beacon streets, putting boundaries around an area where dog owners currently congregate.

The draft report says a full-scale restaurant serving beer and wine could be located at the corner of Tremont and Boylston streets. In order to make room for the restaurant, maintenance facilities currently at the site would be moved underground. The city would then auction a lease on the location.

Another possible site for a restaurant would be near the Frog Pond, the draft report noted.

There has been talk for years about opening a restaurant on the Common - a Boston version of Tavern on the Green in Central Park - but the idea never gained traction.

The City Council's planning is still incomplete and is based on the work of three councilors, Michael P. Ross, Bill Linehan, and LaMattina. Councilors stressed that the draft is still in flux before a final version is put before the full council by mid-December.

Menino, while opposing some aspects of their plan, said he appreciated the councilors' work.

"We're always looking to make the Common cleaner, more attractive for folks," Menino added. "It's good to have some other eyes to look at it."

One of the plans being floated by the City Council is setting up a conservancy composed of area institutions and properties that abut the Common to help raise private money and oversee care of the park.

"They'd be eyes and ears for the park," said Ross, who is chairman of the committee. "It would be a group of people who meet regularly and are self-governed . . . and want to make the Common a better place that looks to private dollars instead of nonexistent public dollars."

He said the park would still be owned and operated by the city.

Menino did not seem supportive of setting up a conservancy, saying it would only duplicate the efforts of the Friends of the Public Garden, a nonprofit that works to improve the Public Garden, Boston Common, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

"They have that now," Menino said of a conservancy for the park. "If they want to raise money for it, I'm all for it. But let's not have 14 fund-raisers."

Councilors are also looking at making a grand entrance to the common, perhaps with a redesigned visitor center and a parade of international flags leading to the site. Ideas include extending ornamental fencing along Tremont Street to delineate the park's boundaries from Downtown Crossing.

Matt Viser can be reached at
Interesting comments on

The insightful:
Here in Paris, the parks are USED by Parisians--and that includes the cafes that each park has within its boundaries. Attracting users to the Common, and offering a place to get a hot chocolate or a glass of wine would make the Common safer. And adding some more chairs/benches and places to sit would encourage families, couples, everyone to take advantage of the Common.

And the insipid:
No offense skeptic2008 but the people in Massachusetts USA that are paying for this proposed project are working five jobs to make ends meet. Ironic how the people paying for the park will never have a chance to enjoy it.

If I could speak French I'd be on the first plane to Parisdise.

Do people not realize that the restaurant will generate revenue for the city which will keep the remaining 99.9% park nicer, thus saving the city (and taxpayers) money in the long run? But no...the leasing (not selling, not giving) of the remaining .1% is somehow theft of public property. Ugh.
A full-scale restaurant will occupy way more than .1% of the common. Unfortunately, there's only so much that can fit in. I still think it's a good idea, though, as it would help keep some unwanted activity out of the park. What I would do is give up the baseball field and plant some more trees instead. There are already two baseball fields in the esplanade.
Yeah, I was exaggerating a bit with .1%, but the point stands.
The entire common always seems like it was just sort of random stuff pushed together. The baseball fields, the tennis courts, the paths...and I feel like having a separate dog park would contribute more to this. I'd rather see money spent on having a master plan. I like the restaurant idea, I'd support it going over on the Frog Pond area. Keep it in the architectural style that already exists here (the granite, I think it is). Then, worry about cleaning it up, repaving the paths, landscaping a little bit (there are so many dirt patches and crabgrass...), organizing the sporting fields a little bit, I don't know-anything to make it seem like we had an idea what we were doing when we built it (I know it used to be a cow field, but it isn't anymore).
Does anyone know when the Common was changed from an open pasture to a park? Was it just a series of gradual changes over the years or was there a master plan at some point?
I wonder if there's not some old statute continuing to prevent commercial uses like a restaurant.
Does anyone know when the Common was changed from an open pasture to a park? Was it just a series of gradual changes over the years or was there a master plan at some point?
History of Boston Common
September 30, 2007

1634: The Puritans bought much of the 48 acres of the Boston Common from William Blackstone, a clergyman from England who was the city's first settler.

1756: The first bodies were laid to rest in the Central Burial Ground, which became a part of the Common in 1839. Composer William Billings and artist Gilbert Stuart were buried there.

1775: After residents protested the Stamp Act and the infamous taxes on tea, the British set up a garrison on the Common with 1,750 men, who burned the fencing around the Common for firewood.

1776: General George Washington reviewed his victorious troops on the Common.

1780: John Hancock planted a row of elms on Beacon Street opposite his home, the last of which survived until 1975.

1822: The city banned any sale of the Common's land for private development.

1830: A city order banned cows from grazing on the Common.

1836: The city built an iron fence around much of the Common.

1860s: The Common was the site of antislavery protests and rallies to recruit troops to fight in the Civil War.

1868: Paul Lienard completed work on the Brewer Fountain, which hasn't spouted water in recent years.

1877: Martin Milmore completed the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Flagstaff Hill, the site of a British redoubt during the Revolutionary War.

1897:The entrance to the Park Street station opened, marking the nation's first subway system.

1912: The city completed the Parkman Bandstand to commemorate George F. Parkman, who bequeathed $5 million in 1908 to maintain the Common.

1924 and 1925: The city erected monuments to Lafayette and the Declaration of Independence.

1960s: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on the Common, and tens of thousands of people protested the Vietnam War.

1979: Pope John Paul II spoke on the Common.

Oct. 21, 2006: A new world record was set on the Common when residents lit 30,128 jack-o'-lanterns simultaneously around the park.

SOURCE: The Boston Parks and Recreation Department and The Boston Globe

? Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.
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You forgot:

September 17, 2008: Bruce Jenkins asks me for spare change, calls me derogatory name when denied.
Maybe I'm alone in this opinion, but I?m really tired of hearing about the lack of programming for our open space. Have our collective attention spans really decreased to the point where we need someone to suggest to us how to use every square inch of open space??? There's already cafe space at the Emerson corner of the common. Just improve that one location, and, a dog park...really??? Don't the dogs enjoy the park as it is already - they don't seem to be stymied by the lack of a designated dog zone.

I?m not suggesting that it couldn?t use some clean up. But, gosh a?mighty! Stop with the programming!
What, you don't like Shakespeare and outdoor movies and concerts? Why not?
I don't really get the argument either. It not like the restaurant will somehow inhibit your ability to enjoy the park as park, it just adds an extra dimension. Park and restaurant aren't mutually exclusive.
Sorry, toby, your kind aren't welcome around here I guess.
A sun room style setup for the restaurant wouldn't be a bad idea. It could be open-air during the nicer weather and closed for climate control in the winter and rainy days. I really like the thought of a restaurant on the Common.
What, you don't like Shakespeare and outdoor movies and concerts? Why not?

I can see how you might misunderstand my post. I should have added that I DO LIKE this type of non-permanent programming ? which is different than full scale restaurants and dog parks. The current layout of the Common lends itself to this type of changeable programming?and it?s this inherent flexibility that creates a better medium for a variety of programming types; plus when it?s not in use for Shakespeare, etc, it?s a great spot to throw a Frisbee, free-range-run for dogs, etc. It?s the permanency of creating zones and adding stuff for stuff?s sake to the Common that makes me rankle.

I know this will ruffle some feathers, but, IMO, Chicago?s Millennium Park is way overcooked. Talk about sensory overload. You can?t swing a dead cat without hitting something of ?significance?.
^I totally agree. We are not talking about something the size of Central Park. The Common is very small relative to the downtown area. There are already plenty of places to buy good food on Tremont and Boylston Sts.. How about more trees around the bandstand with lots of benches under the shade? This area was beautiful when populated by majestic elms in concentric circles. The cafe run by Emerson College is entirely enough regarding additional eating places. I'm also wondering when the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument will get back it's four bronze figures. The Common does not need a complete overhaul, just proper maintenance of it's fabric and the monuments presently there.
Post Office Sq is much smaller than the Common and the it manages to host a sit down cafe.
Rather than thinking of this as scaling down Tavern on the Green, thinking of it as scaling up the P.O. Sq cafe.
Most visitors I've taken to see Boston Common think it's no great shakes. The part that's on the garage roof is positively barren. It can use all the help it can get. The restaurant's a great idea. Compare with Bryant Park to see how far the Common falls short of its potential.