Chester Square Neighbors met virtually via Zoom on June 3, where those in attendance heard from Michelle Laboy about the Friends of Chester Park concept for the improvement of different areas of the park.
Laboy said that the Friends have been talking since 2017 about the idea of unifying Chester Square, as Mass. Ave. did not originally go through the park. After urban renewal, “the city plowed right through the middle of the park,” Laboy said.
The park remains disconnected today, and the group has discussed several ideas for slowing traffic down and prioritizing pedestrian crossing. One idea is to connect the two fountains with a crosswalk, giving residents on either side a safe way to cross and visit neighbors.
Laboy said it would also reduce traffic speeds, as there is a long distance between traffic lights at Chester Square, which causes cars to speed through the area.
Other ideas for the park include having a dedicated kids’ play area or a dog park, as well as median art from a local artist, “welcoming” gates to the park, and lower bushes around the fountains. Laboy said that people were concerned about the current height of the bushes, because people could “hide in there and do bad things,” so the easiest solution is to cut them lower so people’s heads can be seen over them.
Another option instead of the bushes is to create an understory of low flowering trees and moving the benches to face closer to the entrance, but Laboy said that this option would take longer to implement than just cutting the bushes lower.
The potential kids’ space could include surfaces for kids to climb or jump on, and an area for table games like chess and checkers was also discussed, as many older people like to come to the park to play games.
Laboy said that this proposal has been presented to the City’s Chief of Streets, and that she is hoping mayor’s liaison Faisa Sharif can assist in organizing a meeting with the Boston Transportation Department as well.
South End resident William Krause said that having a spot for dogs and/or kids would activate the park and cause there to be less litter and needles. He also said he is in favor of the lower shrubs or even no shrubs at all around the fountains. He and others were interested in knowing how they can help get these ideas out to the broader community and begin to implement some of them.
He said he would like to see this park become a destination for people and not just somewhere they pass through to get somewhere else.
Cory Azmon from Rep. Jon Santiago’s office and said that “it’s not looking likely” that there will be much funding in the budget next fiscal year for park improvements.
“We still don’t have a state budget,” he said. Last year there was funding for South End Library Park as well as the Mary Longley Garden, he added.
The neighbors discussed putting a sign somewhere public with a link to the drawing of the park improvements, with a message like “Are you interested in learning more about how you can help?” to get neighbors involved in this project. They also discussed making the drawing the cover photo for the Chester Square Neighbors Facebook page, as well as putting it on the Chester Square Neighbors website. These are probably things that will not happen right away though, as the protests and recent shootings in the area are what require attention at the moment, the neighbors said.
Part of this conversation went hand in hand with one earlier in the evening about Chester Square needing a larger number of participants. Several people made the comment that it’s always the same people who come to the meetings.
A suggestion was to make sure the official Chester Square Neighbors Facebook account has a presence on the South End Community board on Facebook.
“I think we need to make an effort to include more people in these meetings and care about the Square,” Miriam Biss said. “It’s a very small step but I think it’s a good step. When people feel that they belong to something they take better care of it.”
She suggested that socially distanced “stoop parties” might be a way to get more people involved in Chester Square Neighbors.
The neighbors also discussed how many believe that the entire neighborhood is worse with regards to trash being left out on sidewalks and in streets.
Sara Mitchell suggested a petition for “nice trash cans” to make positive change int he community instead of blaming people for leaving trash where it doesn’t belong.
Laboy suggested doing the petition via email because of COVID-19 concerns, but “people are a little oversaturated with information,” she said, so it should be a “very targeted email” sent at an appropriate time. Once enough signatures are collected, the petition would be shared with the parks department to show the community has a true interest in this.
Carol Blair also suggested creating a Google Sheet for “gripes” as well as tasks that neighbors can complete to help them feel like they are truly making a difference in the neighborhood in a way that is coordinated and productive.