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
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.
Nashua Street Park:
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.
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.
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