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The Greenway:
Wharf District Parks, Boston

Copley Wolff Design Group Landscape Architects & Planners
Stephen Kelly, Editor

Wharf District Parks is a four-acre green atop the I-93 tunnel (aka the "Big Dig") in the heart of downtown Boston. The park is the largest and most central of the three built atop this tunnel, collectively creating an "emerald necklace" for the city.
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The Rose Kennedy Greenway is a mile-long belt of parks and green spaces in close proximity to Boston Harbor. There are five parks in the Greenway. From north to south, they are: Chinatown Park, Dewey Square Park, Fort Point Channel Parks, Wharf District Parks, and North End Parks. This feature focuses on Wharf District Parks.

Native plantings here are blue-eyed grass, New England aster, switchgrass "Heavy Metal", wild geranium, prairie dropseed, bottle gentian, bluebell, birdsfoot violet, sweet bay magnolia (tree), black elm Tupelo (tree), purple stemmed aster, liatris and balloon flower.

Wharf District Parks
The design team, AECOM serving as the lead and Copley Wolff Design Group as the local landscape architect, conducted site analysis and research about the downtown and discovered the site was originally in Boston Harbor.

The five wharfs in the district --City, Long, Central, India and Rowes--were built out into the harbor over time and subsequently backfilled to create made land, extending up to 1,000 feet from the colonial shoreline.

Five wharfs in the district--City, Long, Central, India and Rowes--were built out into Boston Harbor, and, over time, backfilled to create man-made land extending up to 1,000 feet from the colonial shoreline. The name of each of the five wharfs is engraved in granite at the intersection of the wharf and the promenade to make visitors aware of this waterfront history.

Revealing this land making became the driver of the design. The design team led many community meetings to gain consensus on the design, and although many disagreed over park programming, all came together around the notion the park should visually and physically reflect the history of the making of the wharfs.

The park acts as a threshold, welcoming users to and from the city and harbor front. It is a major conduit for pedestrian circulation north and south, east and west, flexible spaces to attract and sustain activities for all ages and all backgrounds. Because of its location at this crucial place in the city, the park strongly connects and knits together the urban fabric and is a memorable destination in its own right.

Mothers' Walk flows along the harborside walkway in a curving path. It's the start of the "walk-to-the-sea." The Greenway Conservancy sells inscribed 6 x 6 inch concrete pavers (Hanover) with the names of loved ones. The pavers have a textured surface. After the inscription is engraved, it's filled with charcoal lithochrome paint for readability and long life.
Photo: Mark Garfinkel

In the plan, the extent of each of the five wharfs is rendered in native granite, so that the visitor understands the relationship between the current wharf and its historic counterpart. These granite panels constitute five east-west passages from city to harbor, reviving historic movement patterns and offering pedestrians a beautiful and safe walk to the sea. On the west, or city side, is the promenade, a formal tree-lined allee that is a metaphor for the city; on the harbor side is an informal meander of groves that is a metaphor for the shoreline. Together, these passages create a powerful sense of orientation in the city.

"The principles of sustainability are embedded into all aspects of the design. The park is 40 percent pervious, a rich green tapestry in place of the 100 percent impervious, former brownfield central artery."

The northern-most park parcel is home to a Children's Storytelling Circle and the Mother's Walk, consisting of engraved pavers dedicated to women and the start of the Walk-to-the-Sea. The two central parcels of the park coalesce into a single space, the Great Room, which hosts larger festivals and events. Framed by light columns, the park's center point and connection to the harbor and aquarium is marked by an interactive fountain, which exhibits choreographed, illuminated water displays. The southern most parcel, crossing to Broad Street and ending at Rowes Wharf, is a more passive green park with garden space and a nautical-themed fog fountain inspired by navigational markers from the Boston Harbor.

Within each of these major spaces, a variety of scales and uses can be accommodated: ice skating, temporary art displays, performances, cafes and a variety of other daily and specially programmed activities. Each of the individual parcels is unique to its surroundings, but is unified through the use of salvaged seawall stones, light, paving and native plant material. Wharf District Parks is a passage and a destination, knitting together urban fabric torn for half a century.

The dramatic change from the days of the bleak elevated highway ("Old Green Monster") to the Rose Kennedy Greenway has more closely knitted the city and harbor together. The elevated roadway went underground (I-93 tunnel). The Greenway is directly above the tunnel. Despite the name "Greenway," there are significant hardscapes, as it was designed to accommodate large civic gatherings. Also, with the tunnel below, some areas of the Greenway are too shallow to allow tree plantings or other greenery.
Photo: Mass. Highway

Copley Wolff Design Group, led by principals Lynn Wolff, John Copley and Sean Sanger, served as the local landscape architect, who worked in collaboration with AECOM, the prime and out-of-town landscape architectural firm and lead designer. AECOM was responsible for the design, construction documents and construction administration for all the hardscape, site improvements, lighting and irrigation. Copley Wolff Design Group architecture firm's specific role led the community process; engaged the team in contextual discussions; offered input to concepts and schematic designs; provided the planting plan and maintenance manual for multiseasonal native plant displays; and worked in conjunction with the team to provide construction observation and administration services.

The building and backfilling history of the wharfs is engraved on three stones at "Story Circle." In 1630, colonial Boston proper comprised 487 acres. From 1830 to 1890, landfill increased the city area by 1,121 acres. Today, landfill accounts for most of south Boston, and all of the Back Bay.

The design work included a public outreach program to ensure social equity into the design and included groups as diverse as inner city school children, business groups, environmental activists and residents. There were over 133 public meetings to communicate the vision and design of these parks that have been much anticipated by the residents of Boston for over 20 years. Various state and city officials, the Mayor's Completion Task Force (representing residential, institutional and business interests), plus many other special interest groups and the local media became involved. An extensive team of consultants provided their specialized professional expertise.

The park's center point and connection to the harbor and aquarium is the "Great Room," marked by the interactive Rings Fountain (WET Design) at Milk Street, which exhibits choreographed, LED illuminated displays of water jetting into the air from a flat paved surface.

The principles of sustainability are embedded into all aspects of the design. The park is 40 percent pervious, a rich green tapestry in place of the 100 percent impervious, former brownfield central artery. This increase in permeable area allows for rainwater capture and reduction of the heat island effect. The historic granite seawall stones, salvaged from wharf demolition, were handpicked and shaped to create a continuous seatwall on the harbor side walkway, while any new granite was quarried locally. Other sustainable features of the park include LED lamps, a native plant palette featuring waves of shoreline perennials, and site furnishings and light columns that are 90 percent recycled steel.

The "Great Room" at Wharf Park is a venue for performances, festivals and just a perfect spot to spread a picnic blanket. Trees bordering the green include yellow birch, red maple, northern red oak, black gum Tupelo, elm, scarlet oak, tulip tree, hophornbean, sweet bay magnolia, begoda dogwood and Allegheny shad.

Accessibility and Economic Impetus
From a social perspective, the park is completely accessible and offers 19 distinct entry points, affording convenient and safe access for all. From an economic perspective, the park has already engendered activity, although it just opened in 2008. Over 200 residential units are open or under construction next to the park. Many neighboring buildings are readdressing their entries toward the park, where for decades this was the back door or service area. Nearby retail sales have improved, as the park is now a vibrant place for pedestrian activity instead of a grimy roadway.

The Great Room is framed by custom-steel light blades with granite bases designed by Dennis Carmichael of AECOM. The design suggests ship masts or glass surfaces of the nearby office buildings. Light patterns are modified by season, holiday and celebration. Color kinetics did the programmable lighting.

The ultimate value of Wharf District Parks to the profession and Boston residents and visitors lies in the fostered urban regeneration. By reclaiming land for people, instead of cars, in the heart of one of America's most historic cities, the park is a model for other cities to emulate. Its transformation suggests the environmental, economic, and social values of landscape architecture in American cities.

"Harbor Fog" by New England artist Ross Miller fuses art and engineering. This interactive installation "evokes the changing light conditions and weather patterns experienced at the ocean's edge," inspired by Boston Harbor navigational markers. Within this boat-shaped space, LED lights, fog machines and sound respond to people's movements. Granite pieces of the reclaimed sea wall serve as benches. The white obelisk is a 14-ft. tall Selux column light.


The Team

William McDonough + Partners, Charlottesville, Va.

Art Programming
Sherry Kafka Wagner, San Antonio

Ross Miller Studio, Inc., Allston, Mass.

John Cashman, Inc., Quincy, Mass.

-Landscape Contractor
Valley Crest Landscape, Brighton, Mass.

-Electrical /Drainage
Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, Inc., Boston

Lim Consultants, Inc., Cambridge

Fountain Design
WET Design, Sun Valley, Calif.

Graphic Design
Selbert Perkins Design, Arlington, Mass.

Historic Interpretation
American History Workshop, Brooklyn

Landscape Architects
-Lead Designer

-Landscape Architect, Local
Copley Wolff Design Group
Principals Lynn Wolff, John Copley, Sean Sanger

Schweppe Lighting Design, Concord

Rendering (3D)
Neoscape, Inc., Boston

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April 23, 2019, 5:52 am PDT

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