From Busy Freeway to a Brand New Greenway

The Mother’s Walk is located in the Wharf District Parks of the Greenway. One can dedicate a paver on the pathway inscribed with the name of a family member or friend for $500. (E.S. Ro/BU News Service)
The Mother’s Walk is located in the Wharf District Parks of the Greenway. One can dedicate a paver on the pathway inscribed with the name of a family member or friend for $500. (E.S. Ro/BU News Service)

By E.S. Ro
BU News Service

BOSTON — On a mild afternoon at North End Park, you might find a few young professionals enjoying their lunch break with the backdrop of the city behind them.

Walk a few blocks eastward and there sits the recently installed Greenway Carousel featuring colorful animals of sea and land. Esther MacDonald and Mary Flynn, retired teachers visiting from Chelmsford and Bradford, examine the structure and make plans to bring their grandchildren sometime soon.

Continue following the paths lined with shrubbery and flowers and you will soon encounter Dewey Square, which is bustling with local vendors selling fresh produce and baked goods on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Once you see tall, red boxy structures reminiscent of bamboo stalks and the Chinatown Gate, you have reached the end of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

The Greenway, a 1.5 mile stretch of downtown Boston, is named after Rose Kennedy, the matriarch of the Kennedy family and mother of President John F. Kennedy.

This stroll from the North End to Chinatown would have looked very different 10 years ago.

Before the Greenway was completed in 2007, the chain of recreational parks was a six-lane elevated highway known as the Central Artery.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, more than 200,000 vehicles traveled along the highway every day and there were four times as many accidents on the “other Green Monster” than the average urban interstate freeway. In addition to congested streets and air pollution, the highway created a physical barrier between downtown and the North End and waterfront that prevented residents of these neighborhoods from engaging with the larger Boston community.

The MassDOT proposed an infrastructure redevelopment plan, nicknamed  the Big Dig, that would lower the highway into the ground and utilize the cleared land for public space.

What was formerly the shadow of the Central Artery is now an open space that hosts free events throughout the year, including food truck festivals, art exhibitions, summer concerts, and yoga. People of all ages and backgrounds flock to the parks to enjoy such activities or simply to relax in a natural environment in the midst of the busy city.

Four design firms collaborated to create each set of parks in the North End, Wharf District, Fort Point Channel, Dewey Square and Chinatown, resulting in a distinct feel and landscaping that reflects the neighborhood’s culture and its residents’ desires.

The Greenway is also 100 percent organically sustained, providing environmental benefits in addition to reduced pollution.

“It’s the only one in Boston,” said Eric Ditommaso, a Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy horticulturist. “All the plants on the north side of the park are also native to New England.”

Flynn clearly remembers the day and the moment she learned the news of President Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

“I was in music class, and we had just finished singing ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas,’” said Flynn. “I would never sing that song again.”

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