The Boston Parks and Recreation Department, along with the Friends of the Public Garden and design and engineering firm Weston and Sampson, held the first public Open House regarding the Boston Common Master Plan on October 29 at Emerson College.
Aside from the formal presentation, boards featuring different aspects of the plan were set up, and members of the Master Plan team were available to answer questions from residents.
Boston Common is “the people’s park,” according to Parks Commissioner Ryan Woods, who said he is “thrilled” to partner with the Friends of the Public Garden on this project. The Common is used daily by thousands of people who are commuting, walking dogs, or just passing through. Mayor Walsh has set aside $28 million for renovations to the Boston Common; $23 million will be used for capital improvements, while the remaining $5 million will go into a maintenance endowment.
Woods said that the open house was the first of a few, and project partners have also been gathering feedback at “popup Commons” across the city.
Liza Meyer, Chief Landscape Architect for the City of Boston, said that the Master Plan “is a look at the entire Common,” understanding use, landscape quality, and other aspects of the park. “The plan will be a guiding document that will inform our work for years to come,” she added.
Cheri Ruane of Weston and Sampson said that they’ve already gathered a lot of feedback through the popups as well as an online survey, which has been taken by more than 4000 people so far. The historical significance of the park is an important piece of its identity: the Common was originally purchased from a private landowner by residents of Boston for six shillings apiece, Ruane said. The Common was established as a public park in 1634.
The need for a revamp is evident to the project partners as well as those who utilize the park. “The physical landscape is tired,” Ruane said. “Where intense use happens, there’s reciprocal wear. The Common is much loved and well-used.”
She said that the Master Plan process began back in the spring with taking a “deep dive” into what is happening on the site, and trying to gain a better understanding of how it is being used now. The public engagement process commenced in the summer with the popups and the online survey.
Ruane said that so far, the project team has met with security personnel, the MBTA, and other stakeholders in the park. They’ve also discovered through community engagement that people are looking for things such as more restrooms, better nighttime visibility, more food choices, more public art, better pathways and maintenance, and services for the homeless. Over 1000 people were reached through the popup events that were set up near public transportation and community events across the city, she said.
She also said that people want more public events on the Common, and for them to remain free. People appreciate the trees, grass, the Frog Pond, and the playground, though many people said they would like to see a bigger playground as well as a fenced-in dog park.
“People liked open space and trees and grass the most about the Common,” Ruane said, “as well as proximity to other downtown amenities and attractions.”
Most people also thought the Contiion of the Boston Common was “fair.” Others thought it was “good,” and some thought it was “poor.” Safety was also mostly rated “fair” and “poor,” she said.
Gene Bolinger of Weston and Sampson talked about the site inventory and analysis of the current site that has been completed. He said that the 50 acre park is “composed of many different layers.”
The tennis court complex as well as the little league field are areas that have long been dedicated to active recreation on the Common, but Bolinger said they are “not the most aesthetically compelling,” and there is now an opportunity to envision these areas in a new, fresh way.
Bolinger said that it’s important to look seriously at the tree cover on Boston Common and be proactive in planting. There are about 600 trees on the Common now, about half as many as there once was. Additionally, the pathways, which are constructed of asphalt, concrete, and brick, are in “variable” condition across the park—same with the soil and turf, much of which is in “fair” or “poor” condition.
Weston and Sampson has also been doing pedestrian counting on the Common, to see where most people are gathering or walking through. Bolinger said that there are a “tremendous” number of people passing by Park St. T station, and it was discovered that a lot of people are using the Common to get from one point to another.
“Clearly there are many opportunities on the Common,” Bolinger said. “We recreate differently than we ever have.” He added that activation helps to make a place feel more secure, and the hope is to activate the Common at more times on given days during the week.
The project team continues to seek input from the community about what they like and dislike about the Common, and what they’d like to see included in the Master Plan. The online survey and details about upcoming community engagement events can be found at bostoncommonmasterplan.com.