New Charles River Basin Parks : North Point + Nashua Street + Paul Revere

“North Point Park’s canals are edged with naturalistic plantings”

While much of the attention in Boston remains focused on the Rose Kennedy Greenway as the most visible public benefit of the “Big Dig,” the project’s park legacy is far more extensive.  During a ten-year period it designed and built more than 300 acres of  parks and green spaces throughout the city, including City Square in Charlestown, Bremen Street Park in East Boston, Spectacle Island in Boston Harbor and a series of parks along the “lost half mile” between the Science Museum locks and the Charles River Dam.

Now, after many years of effort, an important piece of the Charles River Basin Park system will open; a pedestrian bridge connecting North Point Park in Cambridge to Paul Revere Park in Charlestown, linking the Charles River Esplanades and Boston’s Harborwalk.   The opening is an important milestone for the project which promoted the creation of a series of pedestrian connections to offset the isolated locations of the new parks .

The pedestrian bridge, 700 feet long, is being completed at a cost of 26 million dollars.  The project is adding nineteen acres of new parkland to the basin containing waterfront esplanades, passive open space and special treatments to enliven the areas under the Zakim Bridge.  The landscape features are designed by Carol  R Johnson and Associates and can be viewed at: http://www.crja.com/parks/charlesriver.htm.

The pedestrian bridge is one of three proposed to connect the new parks to each other and complete the circulation system for the Charles River Basin while providing links to the downtown and waterfront open space network. To view an image of the proposed pedestrian bridges, as well as an overview of the planning process visit: www.boston.com/lifestyle/green/greenblog/2009/11/bridges_planned_to_connect_bos.html

“Pedestrian Bridge linking North Point Park to Revere Landing. Photo courtesy of Karl Haglund”

“A photo from last fall 2012 showing the bridge in an early stage of construction”

The history of the Charles River’s transformation and evolution as a public space is detailed in Inventing the Charles River, written by Karl Haglund.   A comprehensive work of landscape history, Inventing the Charles River, traces the relentless machinations and abuse that obscured and degraded the river’s natural environment as well as the reawakening of interest in its value.  Published in 2003, the book includes a preliminary overview of the planning processes that laid the groundwork for the new parks.

Combined, the three new parks have reshaped the experience of the river, providing enhanced opportunities to get close to the water’s edge.  While each park differs in character, all  three reclaim the public realm from the industrial morass that characterized this portion of the river for may years.

To view the March 1995 Executive Summary of the New Charles River Basin Master Plan providing an overview of the early vision and planning principles for the parks, including the diagram below visit: www.mass.gov/dcr/stewardship/rmp/charlesriver2002.pdf.

The Master Plan was completed by Carr, Lynch, Hack and Sandell in association with a series of consultants for the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) now the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).

North Point Park:

Approximately ten acres in size North Point Park, located on the Cambridge side of the river, is the most ambitious of the three parks. Due to a series of environmental and construction issues the park took the longest to realize opening in 2007.  Among other features the park includes a series of small islands connected by bridges that provide a canal system for kayaking.

The design of the park most fully represents the synthesis of  formal and informal elements proscribed in the master plan combining, “the reverence for nature in its curving forms and details , while welcoming the large elements of the urban landscape as parts of the whole.”

Located adjacent to the railroad tracks leaving North Station and in the shadow of the Zakim Bridge , North Point Park is a uniquely urban environment.  Boston’s Duck Boats enter the river here and the Charles River Dam locks open and close  to accommodate boat traffic.

 The park contains diverse opportunities for enjoying the Charles River including gracious formal promenades and docks.  There are spectacular views of Boston landmarks including the Zakim Bridge.
Designed by landscape architects, Oehme Van Sweden, North Point Park showcases their expertise using native plant material and much of the park is extensively planted with masses of seasonal perennials.  The park’s design effectively mediates the impact of the surrounding transportation infrastructure and one can “disappear” into nature in the interior path system.  Framed views of landmarks juxtapose with a sense of wilderness to create an experience that is very different from other parks within the city.  North Point Park is very beautiful.  To read Oehme Van Sweden’s description of North Point Park , view the plan and see seasonal images visit: http://ovsla.com/portfolio/parks-portfolio/north-point-park-boston/.
North Point Park includes a series of spaces that function as outdoor rooms adding to its appeal and providing opportunities for different activities. There are broad sloping lawns, a circular performance area, perimeter promenades, bicycle and pedestrian paths and possibly one of the most elaborate play spaces in the city sporting a spray pool (that has been fully operational on several visits), pergola and fountain. It is a wonderful play space that merits more use.
Although highly visible, North Point Park is a challenge to find (one of the reasons that the pedestrian bridge is so important).  The park can be accessed from the Monsignor O’Brien Highway, across from the Museum of Science.
There are approximately twelve parking spaces available at the park’s entrance and often they are filled, making it difficult to visit by car.  Although I have not used it, I read that there is an existing pedestrian connection to  Charlestown near by.  The North Point Development project is underway with the promise of creating a new residential community adjacent to the park.  This will provide additional users and hopefully park stewards, as  North Point Park needs and deserves, an active constituency.
The design of North Point Park is maintenance intensive, particularly the planting beds which on a recent visit were in need of  weeding.  The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) manages and maintains North Point Park as well as Nashua Street Park and Paul Revere Park.  The maintenance is funded by the Urban Parks Trust Fund which  includes mitigation contributions made by abutters and temporary park users.For information about the Urban Trust Parks Fund, including a list of projects and how you support the parks visit: www.mass.gov/dcr/stewardship/trust/main.htm.

Nashua Street Park:

Nashua Street Park is directly opposite North Point Park on the Boston side of the river and is built on a former parking lot.  Tucked behind the Nashua Street Jail, the park is easily accessible from the Science Park T Station and provides a connection to the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and the North Station area.  The park is visually connected to North Point Park as evidenced in the above image.

Designed by Halvorson Design Partners, Nashua Street Park is approximately two acres in size and is of a more traditional park design than North Point Park.   This relationship is highlighted in the New Charles River Basin Master Plan where  Nashua Street Park is described as containing “North Meadows” a greensward echoing “North Point Meadows” across the river.

Although Nashua Street does contain lawn areas and plantings that provide a buffer from the street, for me, the formal granite elements framing the river provide the primary design focus of the park.  These include a gracious seventy foot long landing reminiscent of the granite landings on the Esplanade echoing the tradition of stepping into the water or, conversely, stepping onto the land.   The landing is dedicated to the cabinet secretaries of the Commonwealth’s environmental agencies of the past forty years and is a popular spot for enjoying lunch and capturing some sun.

“An image taken of Nashua Street Park from North Point Park showing the landing”

The firm that designed Nashua Street Park, Halvorson Design Partnership, has been responsible  for some of Boston’s most successful parks including the Norman Leventhal Park at Post Office Square.  Although Nashua Street Park is not highlighted on their website you can view a portfolio of their work at: www.halvorsondesign.com.

Granite is also the featured material of a contemporary six-foot tall misting helix sculpture surrounded by twelve seating stones by the sculptor Jonathan Bonner.  Bonner worked in collaboration with the landscape architects to create the piece and its setting, lit with fiber optic lighting.  In my several visits to the park the misting function has not been operational.
For more information about the sculptor visit: http://www.jonathanbonner.com.
To view an aerial photograph and read a description of the park visit :  www.mccourtconstruction.com/projects.html
 
Nashua Street Park opened in 2004 and while it provides a great pedestrian and bicycle route along the river the park’s use has grown slowly.  The park is frequently used by patients and their families from the nearby Spaulding Rehabilitation Center which is in the process of relocating to the Charlestown Navy Yard.  As the North Station area adds additional housing the park will become more active.

Paul Revere Park:

Design began on Paul Revere Park (also known as Revere Landing) in 1994.   The 1st public park developed as mitigation for the environmental impacts of the highway bridges over the Charles River the project reconstructed an open space created near the Charles River Dam in 1978.

Designed by Oehme Van Sweden, the same firm responsible for North Point Park in Cambridge, the park is not featured on their website and I was unable to locate a plan of the final design. However, when completed the park did include ornamental and seasonal plantings (including grasses) typical of Oehme Van Sweden’s work.  I last visited the park in the fall of 2011 and at that time there were some maintenance challenges with the planting material.

Completed in 1999, the park is just over 5 acres in size and cost 6.5 million dollars to build.  As part of the new pedestrian bridge’s construction the park will be expanded.

The park is accessible through the Charles River Dam locks (a popular pedestrian route linking Charlestown to North Station), from 2 walkways under the North Washington Street Bridge and from the intersection of Rutherford Avenue and North Washington Street, where the entrance is below grade.   Many people drive to the park,  a condition that may change once the pedestrian bridge is open and construction is completed.   Despite its multiple connections, the park suffers from a lack of visibility.

The principal features of the park are a large oval-shaped lawn surrounded by a stone dust walkway accented by ornamental stonework, a performance area, a playground, and a fishing pier.

Mosaic artwork, by local artist Susan Gamble, is located in the park.  The piece below depicts Paul Revere’s ride.

Paul Revere Park has increasingly become a place to exercise dogs off leash and when I last visited dogwalkers, and a sculptor who has been working in the park for several weeks, were the only people in the park.

Writing this piece reminded me of how long and laborious planning and design processes can be.  The New Charles River Master Plan was completed almost twenty years ago and the Citizens Advisory Group (on which I at one time serve) has been in existence for a similar  amount of time.  Along the way there have been many twists and turns and political dramas yet slowly the parks and supporting infrastructure have been built.  Pieces of the original plan have not been realized and there remains work to be done on the interpretive and programmatic elements.  Maintenance, as with most public spaces remains a priority and given the fiscal challenges of funding for public park agencies needs to be closely monitored.

There are many variables used to evaluate the successes of public spaces and urban parks.  Beyond doubt these three new parks have added immensely to the reclamation of the Charles River with thoughtful designs that support the vision of the Charles River as a great public space.

A return to the vision statement contained in the New Charles River Master Plan reinforces how much has been achieved, albeit slowly, through the creation of these three parks.  Kudos to the staff at DCR who have stayed the course and hopefully, with the opening of the new pedestrian bridge, the “lost half mile” will be lost no more.

The Vision of the New Basin as set forth in the Master Plan is at follows:

“The New Charles River Basin will reshape the connection of water and land at the mouth of the river and all the relationships that follow.  The major public open space joins the river to the harbor, the city to the river’s edge, and the banks of the river to each other.  The New Basin marks the intersection of the regional park and transportation systems.  The rediscovery of this lost half-mile and all of its rich stories will create a unique and desirable destination for residents and visitors to the city, drawing people locally, regionally and even nationally.  The theme of connection is a source of inspiration for the park design, its interpretive elements, and its programmed activities.”

Copyright © 2012  Patrice Todisco  — All Rights Reserved

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