Community Hones Vision for Charlesgate

April 28, 2018
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As the public meeting wound down on a chilly Monday evening after over two hours of presentations and open discussion, hearty applause – two rounds, in fact – the mood reflected the heartfelt community sentiment regrading the ongoing effort to improve the Charlesgate – an area designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and listed on the National Register of Historic Places that links Boston’s three marquee park systems.

“The energy in the room was fantastic,” said Charlesgate Alliance co-founder Pam Beale. “People in the neighborhood really care about this area and are ready for a change. They showed that with great turnout and great feedback for our design team.”

Beale, also a Kenmore Square business owner, and her cofounder, H. Parker James, a Brandeis senior lecturer and neighborhood resident for 30+ years, started the Alliance a little over a year ago to improve the Charlesgate neighborhood located at the end of the Back Bay and beginning of Kenmore Square. The organization convened the meeting as part of an effort to build community consensus around a new “vision” for the nearly 12-acres of park space and waterway under the Bowker Overpass, along with the pedestrian and bicycle paths nearby.

James was similarly sanguine about the effort.

“I am thrilled by the breadth and depth of community participation,” he said. “We are focused on including as many voices in the process as possible and with over 50 people at the meeting, I think we are beginning to accomplish that goal. We also had a few people livestream the video online and even had a couple elected officials, Rep. Jay Livingstone, Sen. Will Brownsberger, and a representative for Rep. Byron Rushing join on behalf of their constituents. This diversity of inputs is critical to building a consensus ‘vision’ and we hope more people will voice thoughts and offer input going forward.”

The meeting opened with a brief introduction by Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC) President Karen Mauney-Brodek, whose organization has provided strategic guidance and fiscal sponsorship for the Charlesgate Alliance. The following presentation by James reviewed the history of Boston parks and the Charlesgate’s place as the link between the Esplanade, the Commonwealth Avenue Mall and the Emerald Necklace. Landing Studio, the design team led by Dan and Marie Adams, professors at Northeastern and MIT, respectively, and hired by the Charlesgate Alliance and the ENC, then offered their latest conceptual sketches and renderings for the “vision” proposal.

This plan for improvements to the Charlesgate is based on several prior public meetings, detailed surveys of the existing area and historical plans, and ongoing input from representatives at MassDOT and DCR, which are the state agencies that oversee significant portions of the Charlesgate.

Following these presentations, the meeting opened for community input. Several tables were assembled to allow attendees to provide feedback on specific areas or programming components of the “vision” design, including a dog park area proposed for the south end of the area, a bike path through the center or along the side of the space, and active and passive recreation spaces toward the north end of the space.

The small groups scrutinized the designs then offered comments and constructive criticism to the design team. Landing Studio gathered the feedback along with notes, doodles and lists of recommendations from the attendees and will offer revised “vision” designs based on this input at another public meeting this summer.

Despite running over the planned two hours, many in the room stayed until the very end – right through the second round of applause for Landing Studio, Mauney-Brodek, Beale and James. This interest and enthusiasm hinted at broad appreciation for a significant community milestone. Much work remains, including finalizing the plans, securing formal public agency approval, and developing funding support for execution and maintenance, yet the community has begun to coalesce around a consensus “vision” for improving a neglected and dangerous space. For many, the evolution of the Charlesgate area from eyesore to asset is one step closer to reality and that is worth celebrating – twice.

The Charlesgate Alliance launched in 2017 to bring positive change to the Charlesgate neighborhood. The group is dedicated to improving Charlesgate and to knitting together the Charlesgate district and promises to become an effective new force to defend and serve this diverse and dynamic neighborhood.

Video footage of the event is available at https://www.facebook.com/charlesgatealliance/ and the Landing Studio designs are posted at www.charlesgatealliance.org.

The group is soliciting feedback on the designs until April 30 via e-mail at [email protected]

The Charlesgate Alliance is also seeking new members, and membership is free. Visit www.charlesgatealliance.org for more information.

Other Alliance news

The Charlesgate Alliance will sponsor the “Charlesgate Cleanup” at Charlesgate East and Beacon Street on Saturday, April 28, from 9 a.m. to noon.

Also, the next day, Sunday, April 29, the group will hold its “Charlesgate in Bloom” fundraiser and cocktail party at the Ayer Mansion, 395 Commonwealth Ave., from 5 to 7 p.m. Tickets are $75. Visit https://charlesgatealliance.org/events/upcoming-events/ to register for the event.

In other news, the Alliance also received its first grant for $15,000 from the Fenway Park Demonstration Project, which was administered by Boston Planning and Development Agency, to fund tree and shrub pruning in the Charlesgate parklands.

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