By Lauren Bennett
Mayor Walsh announced this January that he, along with the Boston Parks and Recreation Department and the Friends of the Public Garden, had launched a Master Plan for the Boston Common. Walsh said that $28 million from the sale of the Winthrop Square Garage would be allocated towards the renovations, and $5 million will go into a maintenance trust fund.
According to Friends of the Public Garden Executive Director Liz Vizza, the collaboration is currently in a “comprehensive planning process,” and the City and the Friends are aiming to mobilize the effort to obtain feedback from residents of the city about what they’d like to see for the reimagined Boston Common.
This is an “opportunity to reimagine our oldest park in the nation and this is about how it can be strengthened and enhanced through the 21st century,” Vizza said of the Master Plan.
The team will soon be moving into a community engagement process, she said, where there will be “park presence” days on the Common, as well as pop-up parklets in neighborhoods (“People should look for a tent,” she said) in order to engage the public in the planning process. Questions like “What’s the best part of the Common,” “What are your favorite things to do in the Common,” and “What do you use the Common for?” are ones the public will be asked, she said.
“We want to hear their voice,” Vizza said. Postcards will be distributed, as well as an online survey that will be live on Aug. 1. “If we want people to help shape the future of America’s first park,” they have to be involved in the process, she said.
The Boston Common is widely used on a daily basis, whether it be for commuting, running, walking a dog, playing on the playground or just going for a stroll. “We know that this gets used very intensively,” Vizza said of the park. “We want it to be a place for everyone.”
The community engagement process will be made accessible to as many people as possible as well—the community will be engaged in a variety of ways, Vizza said. “Some people don’t like going to the meetings so they don’t have to,” she said. Instead, there will still be the options of the survey or the website where people can interact with the team and provide feedback about what they’d like to see for the reimagined Common.
During this phase, the team is looking to examine what the 50 acres of parkland are currently used for, what its needs are, where opportunities for improvement lie, all while preserving its historic character, Vizza said. Several areas of the park have shown signs of wear. “Things are looking rundown, [there are] curbs that are kind of falling apart, edges that are worn,” she said, as well as “pedestrian things that are not functioning well. Park use outweighs park care.”
Some improvements the team is looking at include improvements to the skating conditions at the Frog Pond in the winter as well as thinking of new ways to use the space in the summer. Another thing the Common is in need of is permanent restrooms, Vizza said. The Friends of the Public Garden is in its second year of a pilot program for temporary restrooms, but there currently are no year-round restrooms available in the park. “We know that there are just some basic services that people need,” Vizza said.
Additionally, the team wants to know: “are the right activities happening in the right places?” Vizza said. They want to examine the ball fields and tennis area to see if they are being used in the best and most efficient way.
With the large number of dog owners in the City, places to bring pets to run around are in high demand. There is currently a section of the Common that is dedicated to an off-leash dog program, but looking into developing a permanent off-leash dog area in the Common is another thing that the team is exploring.
While they will be given the $28 million, more money will go into this project to make sure this park is reimagined to the best it can be. “We really want people to be involved and engaged,” Vizza said, so there will be “many different opportunities for them to be engaged.
“The only way to improve a park that gets so much love is to look at it comprehensively,” Vizza said. “We want to aspire to the best that this park can be and not stop.”