As keynote speaker at the Friends of the Public Garden’s (FOPG) Member Reception 2021, which took place virtually on Tuesday, Nov. 16, Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, the city’s Chief of Environment, Energy, and Open Space, discussed the challenges of balancing the use of the city’s public green spaces, which have experienced a substantial increase in usage amid the pandemic.
Today, the city’s parks are “reflecting the challenges in society,” as is the case with Clifford Park, which due to its close proximity to Mass. And Cass is being populated by a “community of people who are showing up here because they feel like they have no other place to go,”, said Rev. White-Hammond.
Similarly, the Boston Common and the Public Garden have become popular destinations for the homeless population, she said, “because they feel like some of the few safe places they can go.”
Rev. White-Hammond said the city’s parks have seen an increased demand while still receiving the same level of resources and thanked the city’s Maintenance Department, which she said never stopped working in its parks during the pandemic to keep them safe.
Another challenge now facing the city and its parks is “the reality of climate change” she said, including how to keep its staff working safely outdoors during what has been the hottest year on record, along with how to manage flooding and other issues that arose amid the record rain in July.
“We do have some real challenges,” said Rev. White-Hammond, “and there’s no way we can ignore these things or think we’re going to return to the conditions of past.”
Instead, the city must strive for a “21st century park system,” she said, as is the case with Moakley Park in South Boston, where preventive steps against sea-level rise were incorporated into its design.
Rev. White-Hammond also optimistically pointed to the city’s Green Jobs Initiative, which was launched a few weeks ago under the guidance of City Councilor Kenzie Bok, and according to the city, is a “partnership [that] will expand workforce development for young adults and returning citizens in fields that address environmental challenges.”
Likewise, the Urban Forest Plan – a long-term investment in the health of the city’s tree canopy – is an opportunity to plant more trees in places, she said, like Chinatown, the neighborhood with the least tree canopy, as well as the highest temperatures citywide.
Rev. White-Hammond thanked former Acting Mayor Kim Janey for giving her the opportunity to serve in her current position and expressed confidence that Mayor Michelle Wu would continue “the fight on climate issues.”
But, she said, “at the end of the day this can’t happen at City Hall alone,” so she urged everyone to work together to care for the environment.
Leslie Singleton Adam, chair of the Friends board of directors, said the group is continuing its 50th anniversary celebration – something, she said, “that’s very different than what we planned but still very exciting.”
A major highlight of their anniversary celebration was “What Do We Have in Common?,” an interactive art installation on the Boston Common, which, she said, surpassed “their wildest dreams for success,” largely due to the 12 guides “who brought the piece to life.”
The installation, said Adam, also asked important questions involving “ownership, partnership, and the space we create for all of us.”
In the New Year, the Friends would also be returning to their office at 69 Beacon St., which, she said, would be equipped with improved air conditioning and ventilation systems.
Besides the Friends’ staff, council, and volunteers, Adam also thanked Boston Parks Commissioner Ryan Woods for his continued support and described him as a “tremendous friend to us since he took office.”
Liz Vizza, president of the Friends group, said this year also brought the reopening of Brewer Fountain, although not for a full season. The fountain is expected to open for a full season next April, she said, when she hopes to see “critical mass enjoying the space.”
The Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial also returned in March to the Boston Common after undergoing a $ 3 million renovation, she said, and a rededication celebration originally planned for last fall will take place as a nation celebration next spring instead.
This summer, the Friends also partnered with Boston Children’s Chorus on “We Sing Boston” – a series of interactive live-music experiences at outdoor public spaces in and around Boston that culminated in a citywide singing event on Sept. 25 at Brewer Fountain on the Boston Common.
And beginning with the statues of Samuel Eliot Morison and Mayor Patrick Andrew Collins Statue, the Friends is also now undertaking a program to light up all the statues along the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, she added.
The Friends also hopes the annual meeting in the spring will return as in-person event, said Vizza.