It was standing room only at the Friends Annual Meeting on April 12. After the usual Board business, Executive Director Liz Vizza gave an inspiring summary of the year’s accomplishments to the attending members. Thanks to the generous donations of the members, the Friends was again able to make over a $1 million investment in the maintenance of the Common, the Garden, and the Mall focusing on trees, turf and sculpture while also pursuing notable capital improvements.
The George Robert White Memorial fountain has been fully restored, and the “Angel” is figuratively casting her bread upon actual water once again. Celebrating China Altman for 30 years of caring for the roses in the Public Garden, a rose was hybridized in her name, and will be planted in the Garden this spring as recognition of her personal contribution and her creation of the essential volunteer Rose Brigade.
Central to the Friends’ mission is to speak out on issues important to the vitality of our parks. Advocacy does work. This year, the city considered a proposal for a residential building at 171-172 Tremont St. that would have exceeded current protective zoning laws. The members responded our collective voices were heard and the height was reduced to compliance level. Concerning the proposed Winthrop Square development, the Friends continue to advocate against legislation that sets a bad that encourages exchanging a one-time infusion of funds for an exemption that creates a blueprint for future developers and permanent negative impacts on the parks.
Vizza summarized the completed three-season visitor survey for a comprehensive picture of who comes to Boston Common, the most heavily used park in Boston, how they use it, and what can improve their experience of it. Among the findings, park visitors enjoying the outdoor space were 1/3 Boston residents, 1/3 from elsewhere in Massachusetts, and 1/3 from out of state.
Alex Krieger, the featured speaker, FAIA, principal of architecture firm NBBJ, professor at the Harvard School of Design and recent recipient of the Boston Society of Architects’ Award of Honor, gave a very interesting presentation about “The New Allure of the City and Some Consequences.” Boston is representative of the major growth and development in cities with changing demographics. The oft-mentioned “high spine” was intended to direct growth away from the historic core and protect urban greenspaces and encourage height and growth elsewhere in the city. He felt that changing the law to accommodate Winthrop Square sets a terrible precedent as healthy parks are essential to an attractive, viable and livable city. He generated many questions and additional discussion after the meeting.
In addition to members, local elected officials were well represented: City Councilors Michelle Wu, Josh Zakim, Annissa Essabi George, and Tito Jackson; State Reprs. Jay Livingston and Byron Rushing; and State Sen. Will Brownsberger.