Parting Words: A Decade of Vibrancy on The Greenway
Written by Jesse Brackenbury, Executive Director
As I prepare to depart the Conservancy after over a decade, I’m reflecting on our past and ongoing efforts to “raise the standard of excellence for urban park management” (as emphasized in our mission). My first blog post in this series focused on our sustainability work, while this piece turns to our efforts to bring vibrancy to The Greenway.
There was enormous early skepticism about The Greenway and whether anyone would use the park. Within the park’s first year and just before I joined the Conservancy, the Boston Globe dismissed the park in a 2009 front-page story titled “Call it the Emptyway.” While the fountains always attracted children, the park had few other draws. So the Conservancy set out to enliven The Greenway.
The next summer, in 2010, we introduced our food program and a free Wi-Fi network. Visitors poured out of offices to buy rosemary fries and Asian skewers, while staying internet-connected. A Globe editorial noted the food vendors’ “long lines” and complimented the Conservancy’s wise selections. (The editorial’s call for a food truck from celebrity chef Ming Tsai hasn’t come true yet, but Simply Ming S10E26 was filmed at our food trucks!) Our food trucks win awards and praise for the quality and the diversity of their cuisines, and our food truck festivals have even given Boston bragging rights over NYC eateries.
The Conservancy dramatically ramped up free events in the park to 400+ annually (pre-pandemic, of course). We pivoted away from producing events to hosting them, so we could leverage the enthusiasm and creativity of our community. The Conservancy now partners with a diverse, terrific set of organizations, including Chinatown Main Street, the Pao Arts Center, the Authentic Caribbean Foundation, Boston Public Market Association, Celebrity Series, and the Sustainable Business Network. Fitness instructors bring 100+ free classes – tai chi, tango lessons, yoga, and more. We proactively sought partnerships for The Greenway with experienced event organizers who created the Boston Calling Block Parties for after-work crowds, and a weekly artisan craft market for weekend visitors. Unlike many signature parks in the country, we don’t rent the park out for private events, always focusing on a truly public park that’s welcoming to all.
We improved The Greenway to create destination spaces. The Conservancy commissioned a local artist to take the drawings of Boston school children to create a magical carousel; the Greenway Carousel at The Tiffany & Co. Foundation Grove has become a new landmark, attracting 100,000+ riders each year to spin on the lobster, cod, skunk, and falcon characters. We created signature gardens, most notably opening the spectacular Carolyn Lynch Garden in 2018, with distinctive plants chosen for four seasons of beauty. In 2019, we upgraded the Rings Fountain, lauded by the Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham as “one of the most effortlessly diverse places in the city,” to feature a mesmerizing colored light show.
Our work to bring a fantastic variety of offerings to The Greenway has completely transformed the usage and perception of the park. As we grew our offerings, we dramatically grew park visitorship. In 2013, the Globe’s front-page sang a different tune celebrating The Greenway as “The People’s Park.” And in 2019, the Conservancy received the prestigious Boston Society of Architects Commonwealth Award, recognizing “outstanding work on the dynamic transformation and activation of a portion of downtown Boston.”
While the pandemic quieted downtown, the Greenway’s vibrancy will be even more important as we reemerge from the pandemic. The Greenway will again be the place to gather for a community festival, play at the Carousel, unwind in the drinkeries, or explore the gardens.
Personally, successfully delivering on our mission’s promise of “fun, engaging, and thought-provoking experiences” has been really fun, engaging, and thought-provoking!