The country’s oldest public park is finally getting a revamp. Officially established in the 1830s, the Boston Common has long been a public gathering place. Having seen everything from the execution of a suspected witch to a visit from MLK, the park certainly has a storied past. However, the Common also has not changed much in recent years, raising questions about park safety, quality, and long-term sustainability.
With the goal of both honoring this history and addressing these problems, Michelle Wu has announced plans for the future of the park. Funding for this project will come from the 2016 sale of the Winthrop Square Garage, which sold for $102 million. As part of the deal, the city allocated most of the profits to housing and parks—and almost $28 million was set aside for the Boston Common.
While plenty of the changes are not massive, a few of them stick out. Most notably, there is an overarching emphasis on improving the event infrastructure in the Common. Bathrooms, stages, and Wi-Fi are all in the blueprints, with the goal of making it easier for companies to plan events like concerts. There are also plans to improve the existing concessions, including the possibility of contracts and permits for the sale of alcohol. All of this is planned with the goal of minimally impacting the green space. A variety of regulations aim to maintain the ecological health of the park, even after huge events. Regardless, cultural experiences—from protests to celebrations—are sure to benefit the park and Boston as a whole.
Aside from event infrastructure, the plan also includes major changes to recreation areas. To respond to growing demand, especially from youth athletics, a total reconfiguration of the sports area is planned. This will include the addition of a multi-use soccer field, as well as better locations for the baseball and tennis facilities. Most remarkably, this frees up space for the addition of two new basketball courts. These courts will hopefully liven up the Common while also encouraging positive use of park space.
In addition to the money spent on these facilities, millions have been earmarked for maintenance. For the most part, these proposed changes make it easy to feel optimistic about the future of green spaces in Boston, but this is only happening because of public support for the change. For example, Friends of the Public Garden, a local advocacy group, was very influential on the creation of the final plans. Through continued discussions with the Boston government and concerned citizens, they helped to create a set of proposed changes that satisfied both parties.
We must not forget that the Common is just one of many parks in Boston. The landscaping, event space, and basketball courts that will improve the Common so much would be just as beneficial for local communities like Roxbury or Jamaica Plain. With the growing trend towards the privatization of green spaces, it is important that all neighborhoods—not just the wealthiest tourist attractors—have parks that make them proud. If local advocacy helped shape and influence changes to the Common, it can absolutely improve other communities.
Ultimately, it is important not to lose sight. These plans are great news for the future of the Boston Common, since it is rare for cities to undertake million-dollar projects with the sole purpose of improving park amenities. It will likely be a long time before Boston spends this much on park modernization again, so we might as well enjoy the changes.