Setting the Stage
On March 29, the BSA Foundation recently kicked-off its latest community education series entitled “Fulfilling the Promise: Community Building and the Emerald Necklace.” This four-part series aims to identify opportunities for community building around the completion of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace along Columbia Road. The series’ ultimate goal is to better understand the Columbia Road corridor and identify an action plan, rather than a design, for its improvement.
Fulfilling the Promise: Setting the Stage
The first discussion, “Setting the Stage,” focused on community engagement strategies and urban revitalization opportunities surrounding the creation of greenways. Opening remarks were provided by Marion Pressley FASLA, principal, Pressley Associates. Other participants included Mary Anne Ocampo Assoc. AIA, principal, Sasaki; Corey Allen, executive director, Franklin Park Coalition;and Majora Carter, president, MCG Consulting
Community engagement has been a popular topic of discussion as it relates to Columbia Road in Dorchester. This 2.3 mile stretch of road represents the missing link between Boston Harbor and the Emerald Necklace at Franklin Park. Olmsted originally designed a parkway along this corridor that he referred to as Dorchesterway. Unfortunately, though, this green link to the water was never completed.
Columbia Road today, however, is a very different place than it was in Olmsted’s day. This means that designers and planners need to think about the completion of the Emerald Necklace along this corridor in new and innovative ways. Indeed, Columbia Road is a hub of activity and community. It is home to many schools, healthcare facilities, and non-profit organizations. It is also an important transit corridor, traveled by cars, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.
Embracing and enhancing the multi-functional nature of this corridor will be critical to the success of any improvements planned along Columbia Road in the future, including the completion of the Emerald Necklace. In particular, it will be important to work closely with the local community and civic leaders to jointly study, support and steward the development of a greenway along this corridor. As the evening’s discussion highlighted, case studies from other communities can provide critical insight into these types of community planning processes.
The South Bronx Greenway: A Community Planning Case Study
A true success story, the South Bronx Greenway serves as an excellent greenway planning example for the completion of the Emerald Necklace along Columbia Road. This beautiful waterfront park along the Bronx River is the result of years of hard work, community building and environmental education.
For years, many people living in the surrounding community did not even know that the Bronx River existed. Led by Majora Carter, a renowned urban revitalization consultant, the community spent almost a decade cleaning up landfills along the waterfront, soliciting funding, building community support and launching beta parks. Carter and her team’s thoughtful approach to placemaking even extended the greenway and its benefits out into the community to revitalize the South Bronx as a whole.
They planted medians to calm traffic. They painted the sidewalks with green lines to draw citizens who might not know about the greenway out to the waterfront. They hired community liaisons to explain the social, economic or ecological benefits of open spaces to others in the community. They even introduced unique social spaces and business opportunities such as local coffee shops and maker spaces near the Greenway and throughout the community to help breathe new life and energy into the South Bronx.
Recommendations for Greenway Planning
Such inspiring case studies and an engaging community discussion provided the following recommendations for community and greenway planning along the Columbia Road corridor.
- Identify Civic Leaders: The city will need to work closely with the local community to ensure that improvements to the Columbia Road corridor align with neighborhood and citywide planning goals and processes. Wonderful new resources, such as the Imagine Boston 2030 master plan that is currently in the works, could serve as a helpful framework for such efforts.
- Establish a Clear Stewardship Program: It is important to determine early on who will champion the revitalization of the Columbia Road corridor and who will maintain and steward it once completed. The city will be an incredibly important steward for this greenway. However, there may also be an opportunity for a neighborhood organization or independent non-profit, not unlike the Rose Kennedy Fitzgerald Greenway Conservancy here in Boston, to help guide the growth and success of this community resource.
- Encourage Cross-Sectorial Collaboration: It will take designers, academics, civic leaders and community members to realize the full potential of Columbia Road. By working together, these stakeholders and leaders may find new synergies and solutions.
- Embrace Multi-Functional Design: The revitalization of Columbia Road will need to provide a wide variety of services to the local community, including (but not limited to) climate change preparedness and mitigation, transportation and educational and employment opportunities, in addition to open space.
- Celebrate the Small Victories: It is critical to capitalize on existing community assets and celebrate all the milestones along the way to revitalization. It is important to make people personally see and feel the differences made! It is a long process, but every little bit counts.
This robust discussion and inspiring set of recommendations have truly set the stage for a wonderful educational series!