August 12, 2007

What’s right about Boston’s Esplanade

My husband & I went to the free Beach Boys outdoor concert last night at the Hatch Shell along the Charles River. Since the weekend train schedules are so pathetic ( we wanted to go in for dinner and the concert. Saturday commuter rail either arrives in town at 4:22, a bit early for dinner, or 7:27, too late. Does it not occur to anyone that people might want to go into town for dinner??? Going home, we would have had to wait an hour and twenty minutes for a train back), we drove in. The garage under the Commons was filled, so we ended up parking on the street, well over a mile away, and then walking along the river to the Hatch Shell.

Ah, what a lovely walk! Unfortunately, Storrow Drive splits the Back Bay residential area from the river front. Given that unhappy bit of planning, though, the city does make the most of it. There are a number of footbridges over the parkway that are appealing enough for people to actually walk on. Many do, so the three-mile-long Esplanade park along the river is heavily used -- thanks in part to the walking/bicycle path. In some spots the path is pretty close to Storrow Drive traffic, but pedestrians generally feel "protected" enough from the whizzing cars nearby.

Instead of being one long, unbroken green space, the Esplanade park is a series of what planners call "outdoor rooms" -- semi-contained spaces that aren't completely "walled off" from the larger area but nevertheless feel smaller and more intimate, instead of one huge unbroken expanse of public space (such as the hideous City Hall Plaza). Smaller "outdoor rooms" in the context of a larger public space are a hallmark of many successful public parks, such as Boston Common and New York's Central Park (both designed by Frederick Law Olmsted). Even in the area around the Hatch Shell, along with the main audience area in front of the stage, there are smaller side areas. Man concert-goers ended up in those side areas last night, even though we couldn't see much, we could hear, and watched the boats along the river and sunset over Cambridge instead. All in all, a lovely night.

Friday night we had dinner in Waltham with friends, and strolled along the (much shorter) riverfront walk in Waltham, where there are now restaurants, apartments/condos, and even boat rides.

It all made me wonder why Framingham doesn't try to do more with its available "waterfronts," both river and lake/pond, to integrate them with the surrounding commercial and residential areas and improve the entire area's streetscape.

Every time I'm in Waltham, I'm struck by how that community has been able to revitalize its business district, which is filled with pedestrians on a nice summer evening, and contrast it with the current state of Framingham's downtown.

No comments:

Post a Comment