Why We Should Invest in Our Cambridge River Parklands

13 Mar
Cambridge and the Charles River Basin. The river parklands are our Central Park; our connection with nature.

Cambridge and the Charles River Basin. The river parklands are our Central Park; our connection with nature.

Deputy Director of the Solomon Foundation (and former Cambridge resident) Herb Nolan’s case for investing Cambridge’s Community Benefit dollars into our riverfront parks:

The city is full of tiny neighborhood parks as you can see in attached diagram and many of them are lovely.  However, I would argue that Kendall Square needs better urbanism in the form of well framed streets and squares – not more mini parks. Why build small spaces at the base of office towers that will benefit few people when major well-used parks a few blocks away languish for lack of funds?

What Cambridge, as a whole, desperately needs is a sustained investment in its one citywide park – the Charles River Basin.  If properly funded and reclaimed, places like Magazine Beach on the Charles River would regain the crowds of people that once thronged to its shores in the early 20th century.  It would become a center of community life once again. This will not happen without serious investment in its infrastructure and an ongoing commitment to park managment.  The role of parks has changed since Charles Eliot’s day. Magazine Beach is no longer a place for factory workers to recuperate after a long day of assembling model T Fords across the street.  It is a place for creative people to relax, have fun together, and connect with each other. These are the folks in Cambridgeport and nearby neighborhoods who help power the Kendall Square economy. Sophisticated developers and CEOs will understand this important role of parks and will want to support them.

Fifteen years ago I helped produce the Charles River Master with input from hundreds of Cambridge residents.  We are seeing key parts of that plan move ahead today which signals something of a river renaissance in my view.  The work of the DCR with the Magazine Beach Committee (CNA), the Charles River Conservancy, and the Esplanade Association has made a tremendous difference.  Now is the time to gather this momentum together and keep this river renaissance going.    

Note: For information about other Cambridge river parkland projects in the works, see: Greenough Boulevard improvements: /www.solomonfoundation.org/pages/projects/her.html; skate park: www.thecharles.org/projects-and-programs/skate-park/ and DCR’s parkway project: http://blog.livablestreets.info/?p=1060

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