A greenway that's still more gray than green

How often does 27 acres become available open space in a mile long stretch in the heart of the city? Not often. But that's what 14.6  billion dollars-- 22 billion if you include interest payment-- bought us at the end of the Big Dig.

After years of promises by the Road Builders of a grand jeweled Greenway that would spring from those acres once they were liberated from the Elevated Central Artery that shadowed, anchored, marred, or otherwise bullied them, we've awaited the blossoming of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway with high expectations.

So as happy as some people may be with the place--and how could you not be happy that the Elevated has passed into eternity (as scrap metal sold to China)--I sympathesize with those who ask "Is that all there is?"

To see the Greenway so unfocused, unfinished and underfunded, so underwhelming according to some of the critics I've walked it with, leaves me deeply puzzled. Did it somehow come as a surprise to anyone after all these years, all these promises, all this planning,  that there was a Greenway coming?  How did we end up with what we have, for better or worse, instead of what we might have had or thought we were getting? Aksing that, I think, is the key both to making this Greenway better and developing other public greenspace better in the future.

To be sure there were great challenges to the design of this Greenway.  It bends in a north-south direction, when in fact all the commerce and foot traffic in the city moves in an east- west direction from downtown to the North End, from the financil district to the North End, and from Chinatown to the waterfront. So the result is that the Greenway is more like a series of rooms divided by the cross-streets. And the predominant traffic pattern is walking through one of the rooms to get to the other side.

Lajos Heder, a well-known local urban designer and artist who works on public arts projects nationally, observes: "If you walk the whole length of the Greenway from the North End to Chinatown, it's a bit odd. You don't know why doing that. So developing it as an open space has some difficulties and that's why so many schemes were tried that didn't bring people together in an obvious way that 'this is really it'."

Adding to that challenge is a reality that has characterized Boston's recent history, he says. "It comes down to to the fact Boston doesn't fun public art. It's as simple as that."

You can go back and listen to our show on Public Art to learn more.

Big questions raised by a big Greenway we all hope will be a grand one someday. On Radio Boston.


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