Emerald Necklace Conservancy Meeting Focused on Charlesgate Park Project

The Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC) held its annual meeting virtually on June 17, where more than 100 people tuned in to hear updates from the organization as well as a presentation about the Charlesgate Revitalization Project.

The webinar consisted of four speakers and ended with a Q&A with the public. ENC president Karen Mauney-Brodek led off the discussion with some background on the organization and what is has been up to most recently.

The ENC’s work has a heavy focus on public programs and services for visitors, including docent-led tours, as well as community programming like fitness classes and movie nights. It also does a lot of access and advocacy work to improve access to the parks and works with a number of partners and public agencies on getting resources to the parks, as well as maintenance, restoration, and capital improvements.

The ENC also offers educational programming through its Green Team program, which will be modified this summer to be “almost completely, if not completely, virtual,” Mauney-Brodek said. The program offers jobs and environmental education to youth, and thanks to a partnership with the City, up to 100 young people will be able to participate in the program this summer. Normally only 25 participate, she said.

Mauney-Brodek also spoke on the work that the ENC has done in response to COVID-19, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The Emerald Necklace has remained open for passive activities like walking, running, and cycling,” she said, thanking the Boston Parks Department, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, and Brookline Parks and Open Space for their work in keeping the parks clean and safe.

The Shattuck Visitor Center remains closed, but information that is normally available at the center has been placed on signs and spread out through the parks. The signs also include information about the importance of social distancing and wearing masks, Mauney-Brodek said. The ENC has also recently released a mobile tour guide, educational videos, artistic media, and other online content that can be accessed at https://www.emeraldnecklace.org/here-for-you/.

Mauney-Brodek said that the Olmsted Tree Society is on track to pruning nearly 2000 trees this year “to reach our goal of having inspected or pruned almost all 9000 trees in our inventory.”

She also said that in recent weeks, she has released a “statement of solidarity” on behalf of the organization in recognition of the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The loss of black lives in recent weeks and throughout the long history of racial injustice saddens us an outrages us and we condemn unequivocally these racist acts and the social structures that underly them and we know that a lot of times, a lot of these spacial systems are all intertwined with these things and so it’s important that we also work to better our democracy and better the lives of everyone in it,” she said.

“Parks should be our most democratic spaces,” she added. “We commit to working with all members of our community, particularly communities of color to inform our programs, our partnerships, our board, our staff, our mission, and our beliefs over the next several weeks and months.”

After the recap from the ENC, Mauney-Brodek talked about the featured project, which is the revitalization of Charlesgate Park. The park has been a part of the Emerald Necklace since its inception, but modernization of the city has let it fall by the wayside. Thanks to the Charlesgate Alliance and several other partners, the park is going to get a serious revamp.

“This project aims to recreate what Olmsted intended,” Mauney-Brodek said, including “providing access and connections from the Back Bay Fens to the Esplanade.”

Garrett Dash Nelson, Curator of Maps at the Norman B. Leventhal Map and Education Center, gave a presentation about the geography of the Emerald Necklace by showing maps of different visions and proposals for the Emerald Necklace.

“Too many Bostonians could not tell you where the Emerald Necklace is or Charlesgate is,” Nelson said. “The localities that become important in people’s lives are determined by a complicated geography of social experience and cultural meaning and these are geographies  for which your proximity is not always a major determining factor.”

He also went through several maps of social, economic, and racial geographies to show how the Emerald Necklace “can be in people’s backyards” yet still be “deeply inaccessible to them,” as the necklace “weaves its way through a center of extreme economic inequality.” There is also a difference in racial geographies from one side of the necklace to the other, he said.

He said that today’s parks are a “result of considerable artificial intervention over a long time.”

The maps presented by Nelson are available for viewing at atlasscope.leventhalmap.org, which is a new interface allowing people to see atlases of Boston in a “fun and easy to use web interface,” Nelson said.

Marie Law Adams and Dan Adams of Landing Studio are the architects for the Charlesgate Revitalization project, and went through some more history of the area as well as presented the proposal for the revitalization of the park.

“Charlesgate Park doesn’t really look so much like a park anymore but it was definitely designed as part of the Emerald Necklace park system and was based on a series of very radical ideas at that times in terms of the integration of human mobility connections, open space, and with natural processes such as water management,” Law Adams said.

Dan Adams said that in the late 19th century, Charlesgate was an “ecosystem functioning as a park,” and called it a “highly celebrated environment.”

The name Charlesgate came from the “gateway for how the city made connections with a broader ecosystem”—the Charles River connects to the harbor which is a “gateway to the ocean and the world beyond,” Adams said.

Adams said that the “destructive era” of Urban Renewal in Boston from 1948 to 1969 contributed to the erasure of Charlesgate as a park, an ecosystem, and a “gateway to the community.”

Today, the algae blooms in the Muddy River at Charlesgate as well as other impacts on the river have been caused by modern infrastructure improvements in the city.

Law Adams said that she and Dan had started working with the Charlesgate Alliance and the Emerald Necklace Conservancy in 2017 and held regular meetings with the community to discuss how Charlesgate Park could be reimagined. 

They came up with several guiding principles for the project, including improving the Muddy River water quality and habitat, activating the site with new uses, reconnect surrounding parks, allow for easy maintenance, and celebrating the history of Charlesgate.

Several short-term improvements have been made to the park in recent years, such as the red Charlesgate Chairs, a movie night, and tree pruning, among other things to try and activate the park.

Adams discussed three projects that would “restore the critical link at Charlesgate,” including the MassDOT Storrow Eastbound bridge replacement project, the design led by Landing Studio, and the MassDOT Bowker Overpass over Mass Turnpike project. The park will also be designed for maintenance, so bucket trucks can enter the park to make bridge or river repairs or inspections without damaging the park space, Law Adams said

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