The Rose Kennedy Greenway’s Government Entanglements

Ah, the Rose Kennedy Greenway; a public park built on public land and largely funded with public money—but run by a private nonprofit. That way, it isn’t subject to public records laws, or public meeting laws, or, really, any other part of the public (unless the public happens to take over the park again.)

Greenway Tent—Meg Muckenhoupt

Filling Public Space on the Rose Kennedy Greenway—Meg Muckenhoupt

For those of you who are still wondering how we came to have such a peculiar institution in the heart of Boston, an almost-evenhanded summary titled “Rumble in the Park” is now available at Commonwealth Magazine. Here’s an excerpt from penultimate paragraph:

“From the time of its conception, the mile-long Green­way was held up as the crown jewel of the Big Dig… When the highway project was in full swing, it easily could have absorbed $50 million or $75 million to fund the parks—a required piece of environmental mitigation—in perpetuity. But the project’s managers didn’t fund the parks then, and when Washington capped its financial exposure to the project and walked away, the state was left scrambling for places to cut costs. It created an outside entity, the Conservancy, to shoulder much of the cost of maintaining the parks above the Big Dig tunnels, and then promised to fund the parks with dedicated revenues that never materialized. And when that illusory revenue stream failed, an agency with no expertise in parks and a budget crisis of its own was left holding the bag. The Greenway has been open for four years, the parks have existed on paper for 20, and there’s still no long-term plan for how to pay for them.”

I say “mostly even-handed” because the article doesn’t really touch on the lack of public oversight of the Greenway, despite the Greenway’s request for $2 million—a third of its $6.2 million—from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. Rep. Aaron Michlewitz (D-North End) recently sponsored a measure to make the Greenway Conservancy subject to public records and open meeting laws, according to the Boston Herald.

The article also ends with the Georgia Murray, the chair of the Kennedy Greenway Conservancy Board, plaintively observing, ““If there’s a study that says the park maintenance can be done for less, I haven’t seen it,” Murray argues. “So if you say the park looks good, if you say no one can do it for less, my question, what’s the big problem? Can somebody explain to me the problem we have here?”

I will! As I have posted before, the Boston Parks Department spends ca. $28,000 per acre on its parks, while the privately-managed, well-manicured Post Office Square costs about $170,000 per acre per year. The Rose Kennedy Greenway spent close to $300,000 per acre on the Greenway in 2011 (not including lobster carousel figurines.) *That’s* the problem. That, and the privatization of public land.

Greenway iris—Meg Muckenhoupt

The Rose Kennedy Greenway in sunnier days—Meg Muckenhoupt