Boston Parks/Green Spaces

mass88

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Curious what each of you think about the park and green space situation in Boston.

What is your favorite park in the city?
How does Boston compare to the rest of the US?
What cities would you look at for having great park systems and green space?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Well, Central Park alone kind of blows the majority of most cities' entire park systems out of the water unto itself. So I don't know if city-on-city is a fair comparison. A better way to look at it may be whether we're getting the most out of the parks we have.

The Common, Public Gardens, Franklin Park, and the Arboretum are iconic. The Harbor Islands are emerging as a nascent resource as they get cleaned up more and more. Where Boston is lagging is on park connectivity and the generally sorry condition of the state-run ex-MDC parks. With possible exception of the Esplanade. The Emerald Necklace and rest of the Charles Basin in particular. We have nearly all of them connected together as Olmstead intended, but the severely atrophied Muddy River and Allston-end Charles are extremely univiting as do all the parkways-turned-to-expressways lining them. Until they fix that it's not going to be the wholly integrated park 'system' it originally was intended to be.
 

choo

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Boston is tied for 3rd in its parkspace- ranked across an array of metrics.

http://parkscore.tpl.org/rankings.php

I think Boston has some great major parks and overall park system- Common, Esplanade, Emerald Necklace to Arboretum. These are classic parks that are truly world class and help define many other cities park systems. The Greenway is improving and will find its role, but never quite get to that level. The Boston Harbor Islands are incredible and increasingly accessible to all, but something you have to make a point to interact with, so a little different (You don't have to make a trip to the common to end up there)

I think issues come up more in the city's other parks. Boston's issue is that it can develop a fetish for parks/greenspace. Where just its existence becomes the goal. I think the focus for parks and new developments needs to be a much more holistic view of what the purpose of the park and how should it be achieved. Not every park needs to be gigantic. A pocket playground on an odd lot in a residential street will probably get more use than the giant green lawn at Fan Pier. A more enhanced and buffered walking/bike path is better for parks and utilization than a setback at a residential tower. Sometimes this board gets frustrated with the call for more parks (or the impact of a building on a park) and I think it comes from the fact that many parks/greenspaces are asked for and built without much thought as to how they will be/should be used in the larger context of the neighborhood.
 

mass88

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Well, Central Park alone kind of blows the majority of most cities' entire park systems out of the water unto itself. So I don't know if city-on-city is a fair comparison. A better way to look at it may be whether we're getting the most out of the parks we have.

The Common, Public Gardens, Franklin Park, and the Arboretum are iconic. The Harbor Islands are emerging as a nascent resource as they get cleaned up more and more. Where Boston is lagging is on park connectivity and the generally sorry condition of the state-run ex-MDC parks. With possible exception of the Esplanade. The Emerald Necklace and rest of the Charles Basin in particular. We have nearly all of them connected together as Olmstead intended, but the severely atrophied Muddy River and Allston-end Charles are extremely univiting as do all the parkways-turned-to-expressways lining them. Until they fix that it's not going to be the wholly integrated park 'system' it originally was intended to be.
Central Park is pretty good. It can get a bit too crowded at its most prominent areas.

I look at Stanley Park out in Vancouver as a model, or at least a gem of an urban city park.
 

FenwayResident

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The main problem with the Emerald Necklace is that it is disjointed. There is no seamless walking experience... there are multiple major roadway intersections that you need to cross in order to continue along the paths.

To be a truly world class park the Emerald Necklace should have a continuous path from the Esplanade to the Arboretum. The current major intersections (Beaon Street, Comm Ave, Boylston Street, Park Drive, Brookline Ave, etc.) need to be turned into bridges with walkways underneath, sort of how Longwood Ave is done now.

That and cleaning up all the gooseshit should go a long way.
 

Downburst

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Seconded regarding the gooseshit. The Fens in particular would be much improved if it was better cleaned and maintained.

I personally think that PO Square is very successful as a small, vibrant urban park. I make it a point to take a few minutes there when I'm in the area, and I understand it's a boon for workers at lunchtime.
 
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Semass

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Don't forget that Boston is physically smaller than many cities. To compare Boston with other cities you really need to look outside the city boundaries and include some of the remarkable spaces such as Middlesex Fells and Blue Hills. Between those two alone you are talking thousands of acres. That really makes Boston a standout compared to other cities.
 

davem

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The Esplanade, if you really look at it, is a piece of shit. The granite landings are collapsing into the Charles, the bike path is full of frost heaves, the grass is patchy and full of weeds, the trees are haphazard to say the least, and the banks are overgrown. It's just such a fantastically constructed piece of public space that it can overcome all that and still be excellent. It's basically the antithesis of the greenway. In fact, with only a few notable exceptions, most of Boston's parkland is treated like garbage, which is really a shame. It just doesn't show as badly as it should because the Olmstead parks were designed so well from the getgo.
 

Shepard

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^ that's an awesome point. Greenway has impeccable maintenance but awful design; Esplenade has impeccable design but awful maintenance. The good news is that the deficiency of each one can yet be corrected. I'm fairly certain that in the next ten years with the Greenway we will see some or all of the following: Atlantic/Surface/Purchase streets downgraded, some cross streets eliminated, some extraneously ramps closed. With the esplanade, there may be hope of seeing Storrow downgraded as well.
 

paperless paul

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I went on a bike ride today and ended up with something of a photo essay of public spaces as found in Boston on this July 4th weekend. I thought it best placed here and that it might provoke further discussion.

FWIW, I thought on the whole, as would be expected on a beautiful weekend day the public space was used very well, by a lot of different people, for lots of different reasons and programming.

Constructive criticism has it's place no doubt, and we all have our individual pet peeves. But I thought on the whole the weekend reflects pretty well on the city. I agree the Esplanade is not perfect, but I think the relatively new 'public docks' are great additions and are always crowded. I thought the Greenway looked pretty good, with more people in the North, but plenty of cross activity towards Aquarium and Russia Wharf. More public art would be great, and I think we have enough memorials, although I guess another is coming. Programming is always critical and the winter months are a challenge which should be embraced - see Stockholm for lessons.

I agree that quality over quantity is key. I don't understand some of the demands for more green space or the notion that some areas lack it. It's like public transit perfect what you have before adding more. There is very little in the South End, but what's there is well designed and cared for.

While it's not perfect, I think there should be a lot of respect and thanks for what Vivien Li of the Boston Harbour Assoc. does, the harbor walk is a great resource and it undoubtedly took a tremendous amount and force of advocacy for it to happen, not to mention the original legislation. It's definitely superior in execution and because of geography to the somewhat similar London section of the Thames Path, not to mention the highly fractured north bank.

I did not get to everywhere, such as the Emerald Necklace, Cambridge, Brookline, Allston, Charlestown. Perhaps tomorrow.

I apologise for the lack of composition as I really did not focus on that. I also took some other interesting photos which will be posted where more appropriate. Finally, I will split the photos here into several posts for convenience.
 

paperless paul

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Fort Point Channel -
A ventilation shaft building beautifully framed by a trellis unsullied by plants (see also Greenway).


Children's Museum and boardwalk - good space, picnic tables are good


No picture, but the park in front of the courthouse is very good.

Fan Pier Green - not always busy, perhaps needs more buildout, building shadows, hate the piped music. Frankly the Seaport location / restaurant popularity seemed pretty hit or miss. Outdoor seating at Innov Ctr restaurant was full.





Boardwalk and ICA - pretty good.


Harbour and public docking is good to have as well.
 

paperless paul

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General Seaport Area

Channel Center Park - definitely no one there. I imagine they are waiting for permitting.


East of BCEC - I hope they do something good here. Piles on south side and compacted gravel looks like a structure? I thought this was supposed to be a cheap green space with testing of various programming. It's also pretty disappointing that they have fence and trees up so there is no crossover with the convention center. Outcome will be a wait and see.



[whatever it's called] Pavillion - no picture, it's an ok place to see a show, but they really miss out by lack of access to the water.

Drydock - I will post more of these somewhere else, there are two naval ships in the port.
But here you see the boardwalk and park at the end of the dry dock, which isn't bad.

 

paperless paul

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Greenway - roughly south to north

The greenway sucks, there is nobody there, lots of trash and tons of ramps. \sarcasm (parcel 25 - supposed to be a building someday).



No pictures from Chinatown - I think this is a pretty good area for what it is. The wall of death stuff is a little silly. Not everywhere can be activated and the bamboo parklet is not bad.

I rushed by Dewey Square and the first two parcels. Very few people were there. As others have said this area does well during the weekday. Perhaps programming and infill or SST or whatever can improve it over time, but no big deal.

As I said, lots of good activity passing through to Intercontinental, Rowes Wharf, James Hook etc.

I would dearly like to see something better done with Northern Ave Bridge. At least open it up so the crossing is not too crowded. Perhaps when James Hook is redeveloped something better will come.

India St - starting to see good amount of activity


Fountain - has always been very popular. Definitely one of the more crowded spots.




Without the CA/T there would certainly be no street dining, nor as much biking.



Carousel - seemed to be doing well





National Park - here come the shadows. Not bad on a hot day. Good seating. Harbour Islands pavilion is ok. Never used it myself.




Quincy Market was packed as always. I'm sure everyone is aware. Frankly as I have said before, I hope the planned update by the owners improves this space for locals. I would not choose to go in there, even on a less crowded day.



Columbus Park - sorry no picture, but I think this is one of the jewels, a very good and well used space.
http://www.boston.com/yourtown/news/assets_c/2012/06/Christopher%20Columbus%20Park%202012-thumb-520x390-76067.jpg
More could be said about Long wharf, but I will leave it for now.

Armenian Heritage - not my favorite, but the fountain seemed well liked, if not as popular as the other one (but it is smaller). The obelisk is ok. But it is a pretty spot with the but end of the large brick building on the North End side.







The hated ramp parcels. I have no picture. But includes photography exhibit The Fence. Quite a few people were looking at it. I think placing this type of exhibit here should be applauded.

North End Park - The infamous trellis. Obviously a very successful part of the park as is well known.


And crane porn


Haymarket / Public market - I really hope the new market and building turn out well. I think Haymarket serves a good niche, but it would be great to complement it with other pieces as well.

North End - there are lots of good small parks in the North End and some great views from Copp's Hill.
 

paperless paul

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Continuing on, as I said Qunicy Hall and Haymarket were completely packed.




The Holocoast Memorial was pretty busy. Again, not my favorite, but the shady linear park is a nice respite from the rest of the area.



Tried to show business here, but trees have covered all the people.



City Hall Plaza was well activated today with music programming. I think it was a Cuban celebration, but I can't seem to find anything on it. Anyway, this type of event is perfect for this location. Lots of people sitting on the steps. I couldn't get a great shot of everything, and the crowd looks sparse, but it was actually several hundred people.



The problem is the plaza was still only a quarter full. And the programming don't see to keep the area that busy. The earlier plans about breaking up the space into smaller self-contained spaces would be really helpful.



 

paperless paul

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The Esplanade
Not super busy, perhaps everyone was already there on Thursday night. But a good turnout. Lots of boating, sailing, and kayaking. With further development, particularly on the Cambridge side, this could be an absolute crown. Programming, access, and infrastructure are probably the biggest things.

And the Charlesbank playground, near MGH was one of the busiest I saw all day. Granted hard to tell from this picture with Zakim in the background.



I absolutely love these docks which add some great access to the water and are a beautiful place to sit for much of the year. Not sure the status of the Adirondack chairs which I have seen before.



This reminds me, a great thing for the Esplanade, and perhaps some other places, would be to copy the lawn chairs from London's Green and St James Park ( see here and here). These allow people to sit in the Park when there is wet grass, goose droppings or just if they are in their suits after work. Basically there is an attendant who charges a GBP1.60 per hour and comes around to collect it. He also puts out and removes the chairs at the end of the day. This would be a great addition to the Esplanade, although I am sure it would require some upfront capital / subsidy.

Along the bike path, workers had not tied the fence covering for the fireworks and they were flapping in the breeze like a Christo meets the Esplanade event. Perhaps we need a Christo-style happening in Boston.



General scene



And finally, this is the oddest thing you will ever see. 30 guys carrying a humungous log through the park. Sorry I couldn't get a clearer shot, but hopefully it's clear. Looks like someone's shooting a youtube video, perhaps it can be found.

 

paperless paul

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Back Bay

Didn't make it to Common and Garden - but I am sure you know how well attended those are. I really don't think there's too much major that should be changed there. I even find the busking to generally be ok.

The treasured Commonwealth Ave Mall - pretty busy considering. And it is surrounded by a four lane highway where traffic generally moves faster than Atlantic.



The Mall is great - sort of quiet, good bench reading. But it's different that the Greenway, the Garden, Castle Island. Not better, just different. I think it's great that we have that diversity of spaces.

And of course Copley Square, which is one of may favorites. But there was nobody there today. Or at least not on the grass, everyone was one the benches at the side.



And the fountains are fantastic.



And just to mix it up, bottom of the Hancock. It doesn't work much as a public space, nothing there, too windy. But at the same time it does work, as just a simple pleasant space a bit separated from the cool blue tower above. Same thing on the south side with the tables.



No pictures from Christian Science Plaza - but here, basically a great space, a little spare. But maybe spare is good. The fountain is very well liked. I think the Mass Ave side could use some activation.

Or perhaps a farmers market along pool. Let's hope they don't mess it up.

Finally, a very local favorite. Great quiet spot, beautiful flowers and a well-used playground. But there was no one there today. Maybe everyone's gone on holiday from the South End, or maybe everyone was just enjoying green space someplace else. It doesn't lessen what is there. The South End has great 'pocket parks' and that's a charm sometime lost in the new developments.

 

BeeLine

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^^ PP, Very nice of photos and commentary.
 

Shepard

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Great photos, PP. Much appreciated.

Paperless Paul said:
The treasured Commonwealth Ave Mall - pretty busy considering. And it is surrounded by a four lane highway where traffic generally moves faster than Atlantic.
You're hinting at a point that, to me, ends up being a straw man argument: that the Greenway shouldn't be castigated as an unsuccessful "median strip" considering that other "median strips" can be quite successful.

On the surface that's absolutely true. And yes, Atlantic/Purchase/Surface Rd etc are not that much wider than Comm Ave (they are, but not by an order of magnitude).

But looking at your pictures, these are the differences I find - and it's the reason why Comm Ave Mall is a series of successful parklets, and why the Greenway, to me, remains a glorified median strip.

1) Adjacent scale and use: Fine-grained brownstone urbanism for which the Comm Ave Mall is a real front lawn, vs large scale buildings that are adjacent to, but yet largely removed from, the Greenway. Of course this is a legacy of the central artery and not necessarily a failure of the Greenway itself. Some buildings have been modified to have windows out on the Greenway, but they look like an afterthought. Same with outdoor seating. Even Rowes Wharf - probably the building that most engages the Greenway (and very forward thinking when it was built in doing so) is too poorly scaled at ground level to make much impact.

2) Peoplecentric vs autocentric: Nearly EVERY single shot you posted of the Greenway includes a hulking garage structure somewhere. Nearly every shot. Harbor Garage, Government Center Garage, Dock Square garage, etc etc etc... this does impact the pedestrian experience. Maybe not consciously, but there is certainly an effect. Combine that with the different ways the streets are experienced. Comm Ave Mall: short traffic lights. Small street signs. Quaint neighborhood street lights. Greenway: massive traffic light structures and overhead highway signage. Large hanging street signs to be visible to cars hundreds of yards away. And, of course, highway ramps (I need not say more). Greeenway oozes 20th century car culture. Comm Ave Mall reflects 19th centure artistocratic pedestrian-stroll culture.

These distinctions are, to me, why a place like Copley Square works when you face three of its corners - and fails abjectly when you face the dreaded amorphous "empty corner" by Copley Place and the bizarre NEW YORK highway entrance. Copley Square is Comm Ave Mall on three corners, and Greenway on one corner. And to me, that makes Copley a lesser space than it could be.
 

paperless paul

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Great photos, PP. Much appreciated.
You're hinting at a point that, to me, ends up being a straw man argument: that the Greenway shouldn't be castigated as an unsuccessful "median strip" considering that other "median strips" can be quite successful.
I appreciate your comment. I guess what I am trying to do is to put some context on a lot of the negativity that frequently comes up. It feels as if some people wanted the Greenway to be another Comm Ave. I think even as an objective this would be a mistake.

More broadly I am saying that not every park/space is going to be the same. It's possible to have different uses, different character and different landscapes that all lead to good spaces. That doesn't mean that one of those spaces isn't by consensus or from an individual's perspective the better than the others. But calling it a failure just doesn't seem to capture the reality.

Perhaps my perspective is partially a result of my experience leaving Boston for 12 years towards the middle of the Dig and returning to find much transformed and completed and all without having to endure at least all of the interim struggle of construction and debate over the future, failed plans and lost opportunity.

Perhaps from some points of view this makes me an outsider or unworthy of an opinion. Similarly, like a visitor with no historical context, I am able to view what is there, not how it was arrived at, and put it into context of other places I have been.

I agree that the nature of the neighborhood, it's context, the more car-dependent environment etc, impacts the experience of a visitor to the space. So while there is an 'effect' and an altered 'experience' as a result on the Greenway, I think it would be worth reflecting on the experience at Comm Ave as well. Some of the opinions seem to ignore it's automotive context as well which certainly functions much like a highway.

Finally, in support of your point about the context affecting the experience, I would point out that it also impacts who visits and the types of use. Here we see many more visitors, with more diversity and more kinds of use on the Greenway than Comm Ave.

In conclusion, they are both good, just different. Let's celebrate the diversity of experiences.
 

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