The Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s proposal to replace the Storrow Drive Eastbound Bridge will complement the future Charlesgate Park – an ambitious plan to reclaim the “key link” created by venerable landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted that connects the Kenmore, Back Bay and Fenway while uniting the Charles River Esplanade, the Emerald Necklace and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall together into a single-park system.
MassDOT Project Manager Steven McLaughlin detailed the proposal to build a new bridge, which is slated for completion in 2023 and expected to cost between $60 and $70 million, during a public meeting sponsored by the nonprofit Charlesgate Alliance Monday at the Harvard Club of Boston. Among the project goals are reestablishing the connection from Charlesgate to the Emerald Necklace that was severed in 1951; restoring four acres of usable open space along the Charles River; and improving storm-water management for impaired waterways.
The project could also create new bicycle and pedestrian connections between the Emerald Necklace and the Esplanade and provide direct bike and pedestrian access between Massachusetts Avenue and the Esplanade, McLaughlin said.
“This opens up a whole new set of potentials,” added Dan Adams, who along with Marie Law Adams, founded Somerville’s Landing Studio, the landscape architectural design firm for this project, as well as for Charlesgate Park. “It could tie together the Esplanade to the Emerald Necklace and Memorial Drive in one contiguous network….and increases the size of the Esplanade while making new multi-modal connections.”
Meanwhile, the Charlesgate Alliance was co-founded in January of 2017 by neighbors H. Parker James and Pam Beale with the mission of advocating for the area and abutting neighborhoods, and together with another Boston nonprofit, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, as well as the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the group hired Landing Studio to design a concept for Charlesgate Park. Besides receiving generous support from The Solomon Foundation, which champions for the city’s greenspace, their effort was kick-started when the Emerald Necklace Society, in association with the Charlesgate Alliance, was awarded a $250,000 grant from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for park improvements last December and an additional $400,000 from the city’s Community Preservation Act for design and engineering of park improvements in February.
“Charlesgate was one of the most blighted places in Boston, and now, it’s going to be one of the most beautiful places,” said Christine Poff, the city’s community preservation director.
In designing the park concept, Marie Law Adams said her firm was challenged with “designing an underpass park that interacts with what’s above,” especially since “the park and overpass weren’t designed in concert with each other.”
Among the proposed features of the park that would span 13 acres are a dog park located on its South Field, which would be one of the city’s largest, and a patio that could accommodate larger activities on the North Field. The original Olmstead railings and light fixtures from the 1960s would also be restored as part of the project. A new pedestrian bridge would link Newbury Street to the park, and new pathways would be created to help visitors reach the destination. The connection between the Muddy River and land could be improved, and an existing wall facing south at the South Field would also be removed to “create a more naturalistic shoreline,” Dan Adams said.
Added Dan Adams: “We can create really space out of critical space between land and water and transform the landscape for water purification.”
Besides Rep. Jon Santiago, Sen. William Brownsberger and State Rep. Jay Livingstone were in attendance at the meeting, both of whom have shown enthusiastic support for Charlesgate Alliance and the proposed park since the organization’s inception.
“As a matter of history, the crown jewel of the Emerald Necklace was destroyed by the highway, and the goal now is restore free-flowing water to the Esplanade with water around it,” Brownsberger said. “Many organizations have a piece of Charlesgate as a place…and the progress you’ve made because you got together as a group will continue if you stay together.”