4 1/2 hours left to comment on the City's draft Open Space Plan

Your comments can be sent to aldo.ghirin@cityofboston.gov and the plan is available at: http://cityofboston.gov/parks/ospfeedback.asp

Here is what I submitted:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft of Boston’s Open Space Plan 2008-2012.

The part of Boston where I and several thousand neighbors live is drastically lacking in green and open space. As your Allston/Brighton neighborhood map shows, north of Brighton Ave there is very little open space. The City needs to aggressively add street trees, pocket parks, and larger areas of open space in this neighborhood wherever possible.

Allston/Brighton has 5 acres of protected open space per 1,000 residents. That is 33% less than the citywide ratio of 7.5 acres per 1,000 residents. North of Brighton Ave, including all of North Allston of North Brighton, there is less than even the 5/1000 ratio that exists in all of Allston/Brighton.

The Open Space plan should recognize this inequity and issue specific recommendations to create new open space to close this gap. Our situation in Allston/Brighton and other parts of Boston in a similar situation would benefit from zoning changes and specific money dedicated to land acquisition for the creation of new public parkland.

If we had sufficient open space in this neighborhood, new housing development that adds 100 residents could include ¾ of an acre of open space to maintain an acceptable ratio. But because of our current deficit, a much higher ratio is needed to accommodate new and existing residents. It might be that 1.5 acres of open space should be created for every new 100 people that development brings to this community. Specific guidelines are needed in the final version of the Open Space Plan.

Non-traditional areas such as traffic medians and other small patches of land should also be greened. The Cambridge Street median in the Windom Street area and various traffic islands and neglected patches have potential to help transform the public realm by using land that otherwise sits idle.

Street trees are mentioned only once in the Allston/Brighton draft plan where it suggests “planting more street trees along Warren and Washington Streets.” We need more street trees all over Allston and Brighton both on major roads like Harvard Ave, Brighton Ave, North Harvard St and on residential side streets.

There have also been several large and healthy trees on private property cut down recently. The City should stop this trend and the paving of front, back, and side yards with asphalt and concrete to either create parking spaces or reduce maintenance. Cumulatively, these actions have a negative effect on the environment and visually degrade the public realm that we experience at street level.

The 2005 North Allston strategic Framework identified a goal of creating "small parks throughout the neighborhood." Unfortunately, no progress has been made toward this goal and several empty lots that could have become these small parks have recently been developed. Some opportunities still remain and the City's Open Space Plan should advocate swift and precise action to identify and obtain these properties so they can be converted into public open space. Specific suggestions can be found in the "North Allston Open Space and Public Realm Greening Plan" presented in September 2006 to the BRA and Harvard Allston Task Force.

The draft plan states "Preserve the parkway landscape character of Soldiers Field Road/Storrow Drive through zoning setbacks and height limitations for properties along their edge." Boston University is building sky-rise dormitories along Storrow Drive and a 10-story building is proposed along Soldiers Field Road as part of the Charlesview relocation. Please include in your final plan specific guidance on height limits that should be set or what process will be used to determine these limits.

The paragraph on page 7 that begins "Work with Harvard University to create more community benefits" should be more specific and results-oriented. It is great to “urge the provision of open space amenities in future developments on Harvard University land” and to "work with Harvard", but what benefits and amenities does the City hope to achieve and what means will the City use to achieve the desired result? It would also be appropriate for the Plan to comment on the open space programming of the Harvard Science Complex project and compare that with open space outcomes that the City would hope to see in future projects.

The City in its Open Space Plan should re-affirm its commitment made in the North Allston Strategic Framework to create significant public open space as an integral part of Harvard's development in Allston. The street layout and configuration of buildings and open space endorsed by the City in the North Allston Strategic Framework is very different than the courtyard configuration of Harvard's Science Complex. The Open Space Plan should assert that open space publicly visible, accessible, and welcoming is preferable to institutional buildings surrounding the open space on all four sides.

The draft plan states "The new master plan for the Charles River Reservation will present future opportunities to improve access to this important facility." What "new master plan" is this? There is a 2002 master plan for the Charles but this plan is not "new" and it seems that little or nothing has been done to implement its recommendations. If the City can encourage and support progress towards meeting the goals of this plan it would be a wonderful improvement to the river.

Boston’s 2002-2006 Open Space Plan identified an opportunity to “develop an Allston greening plan… Improvements to the Massachusetts Turnpike right-of-way, particularly along Lincoln Street, need to be made to reduce noise and screen the highway from view.” The draft 2008-2012 plan makes almost the exact same recommendation, and many of the other “new” recommendations are virtually the same as those in the plan written 5 years ago. What progress has been made on since 2002? The new plan should look back to all recommendations made in the previous plan, discuss to what extent goals were met, and how future actions will ensure that any remaining unmet goals are achieved.

Finally, please improve the outreach when soliciting public comment on future open space plans and other planning projects. Many people only learned of today’s deadline from a story in last week’s Boston Globe. With some creativity and communication the voices of the thousands of park users in Boston could be heard to create a more complete and representative plan.

Harry Mattison

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