Friday, January 22, 2010

Greenway Gardens at risk

These past couple of weeks have been marked by acts of generosity and community activism in the face of disastrous and threatening events. Many of us have opened our wallets to aid victims of Haiti's earthquake or picked by phones or signs in an attempt to sway the results of an uncomfortably close Senate election. These news items had been keeping me occupied when I received a request from a fellow Steering Committee member to become a fan of the newly-formed Facebook page, "Save Boston's Greenway Gardens."

I was a little surprised to learn that the gardens were at risk. After all, they were completed less than two years ago, thanks to a team of volunteer master gardeners, and, according to this LiveJournal entry, $850,000 provided by the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. The Rose Kennedy Greenway Gardens occupy three parcels of land in downtown Boston that was once shaded over by the elevated Central Artery, before the "Big Dig" rerouted the expressway underground.

Winding paths take pedestrians past an impressive arrangement of annuals and perennials, complete with discreet identification signs staked into the flower beds. The landscape of native perennials serves as a refreshing alternative to the typical public-space mass plantings that feature monotonous rows of petunias, impatiens, or other annuals that get ripped out at the end of a season. And the natives may inspire gardeners to give them a try in their own beds. I have only had a chance to rush down the path on my way to other destinations (hence the embarrassing lack of photos); now I'm concerned I may not get a chance to make a proper visit.

A different group, the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, was in alliance with MassHort, but now has other ideas. A non-profit that leases the land from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, its plans call for more "active use," with a pavillion, a paved-over area for a farmers market, and even a skating rink.

Ripping out these lovely plantings would be a waste of all of the money and community effort put into this project. The Conservancy argues that the gardens would be expensive to maintain. There are other green spaces in the city that are watered regularly, and plants growing in their native habitat are more adapted to the climate and would presumably require less care. Would maintaining a building or a rink of ice that needs constant temperature control be cheaper? I don't think so.

Do we need these new facilities? There's already a skating rink on the Boston Common, and farmers markets in nearby Dewey Square, Copley Square, and other places. A public toilet somewhere on the Greenway might be nice, since they are scarce anyway, but there is already enough concrete. I think the fountain and seating in the nearby parcels will suffice.

Who knows what will get slipped by us before the gardening season begins. As I write this the Facebook page only has about as many fans as I have friends, with a little overlap, a number that's okay for an individual but not a cause. If you have any investment in this issue become a fan (if you're on Facebook), write to an official, or follow some of the other suggestions on the organization's web site.


Bryan Bunch said...

This is clearly a fight worth fighting. Go to it, Sally.

Sally said...

Thanks. I think issue has gone dormant for a lot of folks, for now. I recently read somewhere that the reason we didn't have the regular flower show last year was that the gardens nearly bankrupted MassHort. I wrote a letter...we'll see where things go...

Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that many of the public comments in cybersphere don't actually reflect a full understanding of the issues and the facts.

All this whining is such a contributing factor to Boston not being able to achieve a vision of a wonderful city with well designed civic spaces.

Sally said...

I don't really see a connection between free speech and poor planning. I along with the many other gardeners who care about this issue are not happy that about all the time and effort to create a beautiful green space may end up going to waste. That was my purpose for this post. It was not to vilify any particular organization.

It would be great for the Conservancy to share more of their plans with the public. I don't question their civic-mindedness. It was a shame though that neither the Conservancy nor MassHort sent a representative to the Greater Boston program when this issue was being discussed.

I look forward having access to more information. More transparency could lead to a plan that would satisfy most of our residents. People have a right to express what they would like to see on the Greenway.