There was East and West Germany.
There was the North and South in the United States.
And now there’s Chester Square – the latest reunification effort that looks to bring back together the even and odd sides of a beautiful, landscaped square that is currently dissected by the highway-like Massachusetts Avenue.
On Tuesday night, neighbor Roberto Poli – who lives on the even side of Chester Square – jumped one fence, dodged cars in four lanes of fast-moving traffic like he was in the video game Frogger, and then jumped a second fence. It was a full-on effort just to get to the other side of the Square to visit friends and participate in a meeting.
The meeting was the first ever of the Friends of Chester Park – an offshot of the Chester Square Neighbors Association (formerly CSANA) – and situations like Poli encountered are one major agenda item for the new and active organization.
“That’s the way everyone gets across the square,” said Kyndal Feinman. “The legal way to do it requires that you go all the way to Tremont Street or all the way to Shawmut Street and cross at the crosswalk. That means you have to leave Chester Square to get to Chester Square.”
President Michelle Laboy said the group has a major goal of reuniting the two sides through some sort of connecter – something they have already discussed with the City in preliminary conversations.
“A long-term goal we have is to unite both sides of the park so there isn’t one side and the other side,” she said. “The goal is to make it feel like one park that is connected in the middle and not two separate parks that are totally separated by Mass. Ave. Unfortunately, we’re also dissected by more than Mass. Ave. The map says the even side is the South End and the odd side is Lower Roxbury…We want to be able to get to the other side of the neighborhood without leaving the neighborhood.”
The problem is an old one that began when the City decided to take Massachusetts Avenue through the middle of what was previously a large, oval park with a large fountain in the middle. In the last century, to accommodate highway traffic headed to the Back Bay, the meandering oval was cut in half. That left two sides of Chester Square with two fountains and two different cultures, but all of the same problems.
Laboy and Joshua Fiedler said one plan they have discussed is putting a crosswalk through Mass. Ave. in the middle of Chester Square. It would be an on-demand red light that would stop traffic so a pedestrian could cross from side to side safely – and not having to play the improvised, real-life dodge ‘em game with cars. They would call it something like the ‘Chester Connector’ and the idea would simply be to reunify the old neighborhood.
In the middle, Laboy said they want to install some sort of public art at the median strip to remind folks of what used to be there – and that the park once occupied the entire Square.
Other concerns include possibly eliminating a Mass Ave sidewalk to create a new, protected bike lane.
One resident pointed out that there are six sidewalks and six lanes of parking, and perhaps that’s just too much and other uses could be carved out.
Michael Rodriguez said he would like to start using the old Chester Square addresses, and remove the Mass. Avenue addresses.
“I don’t know if that’s possible, but I think it’s a cool idea,” he said.
State Rep. Byron Rushing suggested that the park could utilize movable chairs, such as at Ink Block Underground – where no one has yet vandalized or stolen those chairs.
Mark Carrig had concerns over the plantings, and particularly the evergreen bushes fronting Mass. Ave. – not to mention the new plantings funded by Boston Medical Center in the median strip.
He said he would prefer to have day lilies or some sort of lower planting that doesn’t accumulate trash and drug needles.
Other goals include painting the traffic boxes in the parks, and also having a movie night in July.
Laboy said they are a group in their infancy, but they have momentum and a lot of ideas to re-connect the neighborhood.