Smith Field isn't sacred

The 1890's were a time of great growth in what is now known as North Allston and North Brighton. One of the many changes during this time was the creation of the 14 acre North Brighton Playstead, now known as Smith Field. These were the days before Soldiers Field Road, and this greenspace provided a direct connection from the growing Barry's Corner neighborhood to the river.

Obviously a lot has changed in the last 100+ years, and as we are now doing planning that will shape our neighborhood for the next 100+ years, it is time to re-consider the location, design, and use of Smith Field.

A lot of land - Not a lot of use

Often, Smith Field is empty or close to it. 14 acres is a lot of space, but Smith doesn't offer much to attract many users, as shown in Boston's Park Used Most Often data. Only 8 people selected Smith as the park they use most often, while 20 chose Ringer Park (10 acres) and 14 chose Rogers Park (8 acres). This is a small number of respondents, but I think the percentages would be similar in a larger survey. So while park size is necessary for some uses, a bigger park is not necessarily a better or more popular park, and after all, the point of having parks is for them to be used and enjoyed.

How much do we use what Smith Field now has?

Today Smith has 3 softball fields, 2 little league fields, 2 basketball courts, a small playground, open areas used for soccer, and a street hockey rink. Dogs and an occasional golfer are also seen at Smith. Do we need so many softball & little league fields? Could we use 14 acres differently to provide more recreational options for people who aren't interested in playing ball?

Should Smith Field be reconfigured generally in its current location?

Urban planner Steve Cecil commented on Tuesday that the position of Smith Field limits the possibilities for the future of Barry's Corner. He explained that a 60 foot gap in active uses along a street discourages pedestrians from walking further. Smith Field's 400 foot long stone wall and often silent contents clearly qualifies as such a break in the continuity of pedestrian experience.

One possibility would be to narrow Smith Field along Western Ave. The playground and basketball courts behind it could remain where they are. The little league field that is currently along Western Ave could move either onto the 9-acre WBZ property or the abutting property that is already owned by Harvard.

This move would allow Barry's Corner to expand to the west and join with the existing (but empty) retail stores (former home of Charlesbank Cleaners) and down towards the new and much-improved Holton Street Corridor that was also discussed at Tuesday's meeting.

Should Smith Field be divided into multiple, smaller parks?

There are other locations in the neighborhood where decent sized parks could be created that would be more accessible to more people.

At Tuesday's meeting we saw three designs that would create a lot of new parkland in the Holton Street Corridor and other parcels such as the old Verizon building at 224 Western Ave (next to the Dunkin Donuts) have been mentioned as possible park locations. There are also some small commercial/industrial buildings along Franklin St and elsewhere that could conceivably relocate to make room for small parks in the neighborhood.

A balance of large and small parks is crucial. Tiny Winthrop Square in Cambridge (corner of JFK & Mt Auburn) was mentioned several times at Tuesday's meeting. It is a nice little park, but it is a very little park and it is not the only park in the area. The much larger Cambridge Common and JFK park are a short walk away and provide places for playing ball, running dogs, and other things you can't do in a 1/16th of an acre.

Shattering Smith Field into a dozen tiny parks is not the right answer. But being bound by inertia and 110 year old land-use decisions is also not the way to make a great 21st century community.

5 comments:

  1. Anonymous12:24 PM

    I've been going to this park for years for kids softball. The major problem with the park is that it has no parking and bad access compared to Rogers Park. There is no way to park on Soldiers Field Rd and get to the far end of the park. Plus Western Ave is a terrible place to drive around looking for a spot. I'd recommend building a driveway down the west edge of the park and putting a couple lots along it and one at the end.

    EM Painter

    ReplyDelete
  2. Allston Girl8:06 AM

    I do not know who got interviewed for the comments about how the park is used by other residents, but when I drive by the park on the weekeend from spring until fall it is full. Mainly of soccer players. Granted, they propably do not live in Allston, but they are using the WHOLE park.
    As for looking for a parking space, you obviously do not live in Allston if you are driving to the park, unless you are handicapped or an older adult. The whole idea is to WALK to the park. We have the biggest park around for sports activity and the whole park should be available for that purpose. Just tear down WBZ and make it a parking lot. Great idea! Now that the little league fields are looking the best they have looked in fifty years, let's tear them down. Just because the rest of Wetern Avenue is changing, doesn't mean ALL of it has to change. We need to keep some of the old to keep continuity in this neighborhood.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I don't support change just for the sake of change. I also don't support the status quo just because it happens to be the status quo.

    I think we should fiercely preserve the things we have in this neighborhood that are great. When there is room for improvement, let's be open-minded and creative and maybe we will surprise ourselves with how much better things can be.

    ReplyDelete
  4. EM Painter11:04 AM

    The use is most heavily concentrated on the Western Ave side because it's harder to get to the Soldiers Field Rd side. And it's important to plan that people get to these parks in cars. I'm sorry that's the way it is in 21st century America. If you don't plan for it, they will just park all over the neighborhood.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Definitely convert some space for parking. I live across the street, so I can walk. However, a lot of people are carpooling kids, carrying sporting gear, food/drinks, etc. and drive to get to parks.

    ReplyDelete