09/24 Boston Globe Editorial: Hardening of the Greenway

Hardening of the Greenway
September 24, 2007

THE FIRST PARK parcel dedicated on the Rose Kennedy Greenway isn't a park in the conventional sense, but a plaza intended to serve as a gateway to Chinatown and a venue for dragon dances and other festive events. Chinatown residents wanted a plaza of decorative - but very hard - concrete with two raised swaths of greenery. That's what they got when it opened Sept. 12.

A different kind of hardening is taking place farther to the north in the central core of the Greenway, on a small parcel between the North End and Faneuil Hall Marketplace. If the Armenian Heritage Foundation gets its way, a memorial will be established that will be harder to alter than all the concrete in the Chinatown park.

A neighborhood meeting in the North End Wednesday laid out the difficulties of designing this space. Less than half an acre in size, it is supposed to be the pedestrian link between the new wharf district parks to the south, the existing Christopher Columbus Park, the North End, Quincy Market, and the proposed Boston Museum to the north.

People at the meeting were happy that plans for the parcel no longer included a building, as originally envisioned several years ago. They wanted green space, even though the North End will soon have the benefit of two new parks facing Hanover Street just north of the museum site. These are scheduled to open in October.

The Turnpike Authority is in charge of building all the Greenway parks, mainly because it had control of the space as it oversaw construction of the Central Artery tunnels, and because the City of Boston ducked an opportunity to take over the greenway once the artery was finished. In 2000, the Legislature ordered the authority to find a spot for the Armenian memorial somewhere in Boston, and with North End residents clamoring for a park on Parcel 13, it seemed a logical choice, especially since the Armenian Heritage Foundation would pay to build it.

But in June, Ian Bowles, the state secretary of energy and environmental affairs, said that the authority hadn't followed the proper procedures in selecting the foundation for the site, so the community meeting was held last week as part of a new approval process.

Based on remarks Wednesday, neighborhood residents like the memorial concept, which would create a labyrinth in the center of the park flanked by benches, a fountain, and an abstract sculpture commemorating the Armenian genocide. Some thought it would be attractive to children, others thought it would be a place for reflection, and no one spoke in opposition.

Somewhere in Boston, there ought to be a remembrance of this act of mass murder against Armenians in what is now Turkey. This need is highlighted by the recent controversy over the refusal by the Anti-Defamation League to acknowledge the genocide. (The national ADL director changed his mind after protests by Armenian-Americans.) But the issue of siting is another question. Parcel 13 is not the place for this memorial.

As the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy suggests, an Armenian memorial would set a bad precedent for any other groups that might want to put their stamp on the Greenway. The conservancy, which will take over maintenance of the parks in a few years, wants these open spaces welcoming to everyone, not divided into enclaves.

There's another reason to look twice at the proposal. For all the support it has initially gathered, no one knows how the park on Parcel 13 will really be used, and how the Armenian Heritage Foundation proposal will complement those uses. Will children play on the labyrinth, or will it be just a shortcut from the North End to downtown Boston? Will the proposed dodecahedron-shaped sculpture have enduring appeal or come to be widely disliked?

How will the memorial fit in with the abutting Boston Museum, an ambitious project to commemorate the history of eastern New England that requires enormous amounts of fund-raising? And if that doesn't get built, what will replace it, and how will Parcel 13 jibe with this alternative use? Once the foundation invests money and emotion into this site, is it reasonable to expect it would welcome any changes?

Nobody was asking these questions at the meeting Wednesday. The Turnpike Authority, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and the Mayor's Artery Completion Task Force are trying to devise a compromise that will let the foundation build the park, but deemphasize some of the Armenian elements. Before they strike a deal, they all ought to remember that Parcel 13 and all the surrounding open spaces are a work in progress. No agreement should prohibit the park from a reconfiguration years or decades in the future if changes will result in a better Greenway.

The Chinatown Park, with its durable surface, seems set for eternity, and it is well designed to serve as a formal meeting space for the community. But perhaps at some point the neighbors will prefer a more conventional park. In the 1980s, the city took jackhammers to Copley Square to replace a hard, sunken pit with a greener space. Closer to Parcel 13, Christopher Columbus Park was rebuilt seven years ago to make it more inviting. Parks are meant to evolve, and there are no open spaces in greater flux than those at the heart of the Greenway, just where Parcel 13 is located. The Armenian genocide should be commemorated unambiguously in Boston. Just not here.

Source: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/editorials/articles/2007/09/24/hardening_of_the_greenway/