Boston By Foot Tour of the Month – The Greenway and Beyond

Boston By Foot’s fourth Tour of the Month for the 2007 season explored the sinuous route of the Rose Kennedy Greenway through downtown Boston. With my capable co-chair in charge I got to enjoy this tour completely as a touree, and a lot of what I learned was new and illuminating. I should have taken notes as sadly the two websites dedicated to the Greenway at the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority and the Greenway Conservancy are not too informative. So this will be a quick sketch of what I remember from the tour and any mistakes are my own.

For photos from the Greenway and Beyond Tour of the Month, visit

This is the first tour I’ve ever taken that is about the future rather than the past and present. Each stop was a discussion of what was being built, or will be built, or may be built on this parcel of land in the future. The Greenway of course exists due to the dismantling of the elevated Central Artery as the John Fitzgerald moved to the Liberty Tunnel down below as part of the Central Artery/Tunnel (Big Dig) project. This freed up a considerable amount of public land in the dense downtown area of Boston. While much of this area is being dedicated to open space, it is not all parks as our tour guides emphasized. So the term Greenway is a misnomer, but I hope people can get past that and realize that there’s some cool stuff coming down the pike, er, the expressway.

Near North Station and Canal Street is the site of Avenir a mixed-use commercial/residential complex. Other people on the tour were unimpressed that there would be fewer parking spaces than units, but if I lived on top of two subway lines and commuter rail in the middle of town I’d be happy to be car-free (of course, I’ve lived without a car for 8 years except for the car I have by marriage). Adjacent to the North End, and over the access ramps to the Expressway, the YMCA is planning on constructing a new community center much needed and appreciated by the local community.

In between Quincy Market and Long Wharf will be the site of a Boston history museum, which I think would be great since Boston doesn’t actually have a museum dedicated to this history of the city through time. The architectural plan for the museum appears to be fun and creative as well. Also in this area may be the site of an interesting memorial to Armenian genocide although that is very controversial and may be built elsewhere if at all.

Another sad tale of the Greenway involves the parcels near the Federal Reserve Building and South Station set aside for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Garden Under Glass. Apparently financial support for Boston’s botanical garden fell through and the parcels face an uncertain future.

On a brighter note, several of the parks are already under construction and show tremendous progress. There are three sets of parks: the North End, the Wharf District, and Chinatown. The North End parks are built as a “front porch” for neighborhood residents to sit and look at the city skyline. The plantings in the park are much wilder than the cultured flowers of Boston Public Garden and are very attractive, and hopefully easy to maintain. The largest set of parks sits among Quincy Market, Long Wharf and the New England Aquarium and has lots of open space for the large numbers of people who move through this area. It also has a big fountain, some “glass light blades” that are supposed to do light shows or something, and possible performance space. Personally I think this area will be great for croquet as Susan and I have vowed to be the first people to play croquet on the Greenway. The Chinatown park is built in an area where the Central Artery was already underground so I’m not sure what it is replacing. This park has live bamboo, some attractive red scaffolding to hold up the bamboo, and a water feature that leads to a large open space for public events by the Chinatown Gate. The park is due to open on September 12th, although it looks ready right now as the water feature was already bubbling. One park by the Hook Lobster building is already open although it turns out to be temporary. Too bad as it is the loveliest little park you can imagine in-between highway access ramps.

So it was a good walk and a great tour that has me excited about the future of Boston. The most immediate future is next year when this tour is offered again. I plan to take it a second time since I expect it will be a very different tour. You should plan on taking it as well.

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