By Nat Taylor
Residents are welcoming bright new improvements to the Gove Street crossing of the East Boston Greenway. On Monday morning the kids were delighted to see the colorful design and mini-library on the way to school. “The paint is a hit,” said Stephanie Weyer, on of the project’s designers from Toole Design, “and the community’s reaction has been incredibly positive, far beyond what we could have imagined.”
As volunteers installed everything on Friday and Saturday, kids gleefully skipped and biked between new colorful painted shapes on the pathway. Many passers-by expressed excitement about the changes. “I think it’s great to see some new life brought to the space,” said one resident who was crossing the Greenway to get back home after running errands.
By the next morning, folks were already taking advantage of the newly installed benches. A conference-goer staying at a nearby hotel stopped to drink his coffee and not long after a mother and her toddler explored the contents of the free library. Meanwhile runners, walkers and bikers alike stopped to survey the scene, many turning to their smartphones to snap a few pictures.
A reader enjoys the free library (NAT TAYLOR)
The project was sparked by a Boston Society of Landscape Architects (BSLA) design contest in partnership with the Friends of the East Boston Greenway (FoEBG.)
Known as ‘placemaking’ work, this project is the continuation of a community-based open space planning initiative created by the Friends of the East Boston Greenway, East Boston’s long-serving Greenway advocacy group. Funded by the Barr Foundation, as part of their Waterfront Partners Initiative, which seeks to engage Boston residents and as well as local civic and non-profit organizations in creating inclusive and vibrant open spaces along Boston’s harbor. Through this funding, over the past 18 months, the Friends group has offered a variety of new programming, such as an adult tricycle program, farmers markets, musical performances, and decoration and lighting projects.
As part of this ongoing effort, the Friends group developed a partnership with the Boston Society of Landscape Architects (BLSA). Thanks to the BSLA, it’s Board of Directors, and Executive Director Gretchen Rabinkin, this year’s Design Challenge -an annual open call to urban planners, designers and landscape architects to submit concept plans which address existing design issues in creative ways- to a panel of judges was implemented in East Boston and focused on the storm water flooding along the Greenway near the Gove Street Crossing. Toole Design was selected by a jury of residents as the winner from nine submissions to the Design Challenge. The Toole Design team was led by landscape architects Stephanie Weyer, PLA and Karen Fitzgerald, PLA who engaged residents at neighborhood association meetings, the Greenway Council meetings, dialog with passers-by on the Greenway and kids at the East Boston Public Library during the design process.
Residents give feedback on the concept (STEPHANIE WEYER)
Toole Design named its proposed design concept TIES, signifying the community bonds that enliven the neighborhood. The design of the space is meant to support social activity, the exchange of ideas, and recognition of the spirit of East Boston residents.
The Friends of the East Boston Greenway along with several key East Boston resident leaders assisted with the outreach and project implementation.
Although planning for this event began much earlier, installation took place over two days in mid-June. The painting team included several neighborhood kids who volunteered to come help, after arriving by happenstance during the cleanup and prep work the day before. They worked alongside other residents, young and old.
Volunteers adding finishing touches (NAT TAYLOR)
Many residents were surprised to learn of the storied history of the crossing. In the 1970s, neighborhood advocates led by the late Gina Scalcione, successfully lobbied for construction of the current footpath to replace the demolished pedestrian bridge. The group went on to form what became the still-active Gove Street Neighborhood Association.
In the future, the space could see further improvements including new lighting, more plantings, more seating, and so on. More planning efforts will need to happen with residents, together with the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) for changes to the street and Boston Parks and Recreation Department for changes to the Greenway. The Friends group is looking forward to continuing this ongoing effort with future expansions of place-making programs- such as musical performances, art and historical exhibits, farmer’s markets and other ideas to activate East Boston’s open spaces and help them better serve the needs of our neighborhoods.
This week the section of Gove Street between Orleans Street and the Greenway will be also turned into a week-long “pop-up” with some community events including children’s activities and music, provided by Friends of the East Boston Greenway. The latest schedule is available on the FoEBG Facebook page at http://bit.ly/ebgreenx (Children’s activities in the afternoon on Tues 6/18 and Wed 6/19 and Music on Fri 6/21 5-7 and Sat 6/22 5-9.)
About the BSLA
Founding in 1913 as the American Society of Landscape Architect’s first chapter, the Boston Society of Landscape Architects, has grown since then to become one of the society’s largest chapters. The BSLA and its priorities are focused on supporting the success of its member landscape architects and its supporters. This is accomplished with an extensive and innovative series of member benefits, focused career and skill development opportunities, a nationally renowned Awards program, the largest Scholarship Program of any Chapter, and of course as many special events as can be scheduled!
About the FoEBG
The East Boston Greenway is a recreational open space in East Boston that runs from the historic Jeffries Point Waterfront through the neighborhood towards Constitution beach and beyond. Residents of all ages use it running, jogging, walking, biking, or just strolling while taking in the historic and ecological beauty of various points along its length. Though the Greenway is in part owned by the city of Boston and in part by Massport, the Friends of East Boston Greenway, an organization of residents, stewards its use and serves as the stewardship body.