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New vision for the Esplanade

Urban Affairs
By JON GARELICK  |  February 1, 2012

On February 9, Boston is due to get an eye-popping new look at one of the city's oldest, most beloved public spaces — the Charles River Esplanade. Working for two years in a process that included multiple public meetings, the State Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and the private, nonprofit Esplanade Association (TEA) have come up with a provisional, long-range plan they're calling "Esplanade 2020: A Vision for the Future." It begins with restoration of the park's landscaping, and goes on to suggest such bold initiatives as reclaiming areas of the 100-year-old park that, over time, have been ceded to roadway construction (most notably Storrow Drive). TEA will present their plan to Mayor Thomas Menino this Friday, February 3. A public presentation and moderated discussion is scheduled for February 9 at the Boston Public Library main branch.

The state-owned park was designed in the 1890s by landscape architect Charles Eliot, as part of what he called the "crown jewel" of the city's park system. Since then, TEA points out, the park — with its three million annual visitors to such events as the Hatch Shell concerts and the massive July 4 celebration — has degraded. The park, they say, has been "loved to death." But TEA's plan calls for more than a buff and shine to the old park's infrastructure. In "Esplanade 2020," they call for the reclamation of paved-over parkland, new structures (and redesigns of old ones), and new facilities that could help the park sustain year-round use.

At this point, no initiatives have been ordered regarding the park, no funds have been allocated. There's not even a budget. Which is one reason TEA is not calling the plan a plan at all, but a "vision." Organizers hope the public meeting will not only rally support, but also encourage private donors to become involved.

"It's bold," says John R. Shields, an architect and chairman of the Esplanade 2020 Vision committee. "Some things may stir controversy. But it carries a big message about the need for broad public/private collaboration." It was also a largely pro-bono effort. Adds TEA board chair Margo Newman, "This was a lot of people, a lot of meetings, a lot of input."

"Esplanade 2020 Unveiled" | Rabb Auditorium, Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston St, Boston | February 9 | 6-8 pm

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