The public got its first look at a project that envisions the creation of a “West End Green Corridor,” which would connect the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway with the Charles River Esplanade, during a presentation on Friday, May 12, in the Hub House community room adjoining North Station.
The West End Civic Association’s Green Space Committee partnered with the landscape architecture department at UMass Amherst on the project. They conducted three virtual listening sessions (charrettes) on Feb. 27, and March 2 and 6, respectively, to collect ideas from the community on a proposed green corridor running from Leverett Circle (the Science Park T station) down Nashua Street, Lomasney Way, Merrimac Street, and New Chardon Street. The process also looked at two major parks, including completing the Greatest Neighborhood Park on Nashua Street, as well as the proposed Merrimac Plaza, which will be part of the Hurley Building redevelopment project.
Duane Lucia, chair of WECA’s Green Space Committee, said at the onset of Friday’s presentation that he first imagined a ‘”West End Green Corridor” a couple of years ago when he was researching Frederick Law Olmsted’s Charlesbank – an “often-neglected” piece of the Emerald Necklace located beyond the Public Garden.
Meanwhile, the process was led by Carolina Aragon, an associate professor of landscape architecture at UMass Amherst, and Kate Cholakis, her fellow professor and a registered landscape architect, along with 17 of their students who participated in a semester-long senior project called
Aragon said the project looked at how the site can be shared as a community space and made to feel more welcoming and inviting.
“In a place like the West End, with such a complex history, that’s a very important question,” she said.
Aragon that students were asked to consider the displacement of thousands of the neighborhoods residents more than 60 years ago due to Urban Renewal, which ultimately led to a dramatic change in what she described as the West End’s “urban form.”
The students drew inspiration in their designs from “Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness,” a self-help book by Brooklyn-based designer and writer Ingrid Fetell Lee, said Aragon.
The students also relied heavily on the community input, which included more than 100 participants, in crafting their designs for a West End Green Corridor.
“You who live here know this place in ways we could never know, and it makes no sense to redesign [the area] without your input,” Aragon told the approximately 40 members of the public on hand for the presentation.
But before the community process began, the students toured the area and took note of the locations of various streetscape elements, including bike racks; bus lanes; and street tress, both living and dead, to assist in their site analysis, said Cholakis.
For their individual projects, which were on display at the presentation as detailed diagrams, students either focused on the whole area of the proposed Green Corridor, or instead concentrated on a specific location along the route.
One student, Zixin Chen, envisioned a “Leaf Walk” – a greenway elevated 15 feet off the street level that aims to maximize “air space” and would link the Charles River to North End Park. The walkway would be accessible at various spots along the way via spiral staircases, traditional staircases, and circular, see-through elevators and make stops at second-floor access points at various locations, including at the TD Garden and Edward W. Brooke Courthouse. The plan would feature a pavilion to provide shade and also add native and city-friendly plant species at the ground level. It also proposes expanding existing sidewalks and transforming partial street into bike lanes.
Chen said she drew inspiration for her design from New York City’s High Line, an elevated freight rail line that was transformed into a public park on Manhattan’s West Side.
“I wanted the design concept to bring nature closer to the people,” she said, adding that the intention is also to create more walkable space in a city that offers little unoccupied open space at the street level.
Another student, Ted Duffy, is proposing what he calls “The Canal Street Connection,” which could close Canal Street in the Haymarket area to vehicular traffic to allow pedestrians to walk safely and easily between the North End or the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway and the West End.
Duffy suggests paving this pedestrian-friendly area with bricks to better delineate it from other nearby streets that would still accommodate motor vehicles. He likened the concept to popular pedestrian oriented roadway, like Church Street in Burlington, Vt.
Since Canal Street is already replete with “winding paths,” Duffy said it would “create a meandering walkway for shoppers to [amble], relax, rest, and become immersed in the urban greenery.” The plan would also create a large outdoor space for al fresco dining, entertainment and shopping, he said.
Regarding the turnout for the presentation, as well as the interest that the plan has generated so far, Aragon said, “We’re very happy to see the amount of people that have shown up. We have children and members of different [segments] of society. Everybody seems to be very happy with the idea in general.”
Sebastian Belfanti, president of the WECA board and executive director of West End Museum, said, “The vision started about a year and half ago to bring the West End flow and greenspace together holistically, and seeing that come together is really great.”
Likewise, Lucia said, “Everyone was very impressed with the endeavor and the ideas presented by the students, especially the way they integrated the listening sessions into their final project.”
As for next steps, more listening sessions are planned for the near future while the design concepts from the students’ “Beloved Places: Imaging the West End Corridor” project will be made available on WECA’s website (westendcivicassocaition.org), as well as displayed as posters in the West End Museum windows and at the Thoreau Path community center in the coming weeks. The posters would all have QR codes to allow for the submission of public comments on the project, said Lucia.