Yearly Archives: 2013

 

By Courtney Humphries

bathing_charles_river

A bather beside the Charles River, sometime between 1917 and 1934.

BOSTONIANS WEREN’T ALWAYS afraid to get in the Charles River. An 1898 map depicts five floating bathhouses on the river, run by the city’s Department of Public Baths and playing host to hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. But even then, the river was intensely polluted by industry and sewage outflow, its banks “a bed of apparently putrescible sludge,” according to an 1892 report by the Cambridge Park Committee.

Conservationists like landscape architect Charles Eliot wanted to reverse that, allowing the unpleasant tidal estuary to truly become an urban pleasure ground. That vision was largely realized over the next century. The damming of the river’s mouth and creation of new riverside parks and paths brought paddling, sailing, biking, and fireworks to the Charles.

But the water itself was slow to catch up. Public swimming was banned in the 1950s. The river’s caustic reputation was cemented by the Standells’ 1966 song “Dirty Water,” its raw guitar riff and chorus (“Well I love that dirty water/ Oh, Boston, you’re my home”) capturing the gritty, downtrodden city of the time.

For six decades, the water was off-limits save for a recent annual race for elite swimmers. But on July 13, a public swim in the Charles River drew more than 140 pioneering bathers. It was a culmination of decades of concerted efforts by groups such as the Charles River Watershed Association and Charles River Conservancy, which have dramatically improved water quality.

A swimmer dove into the Charles River in July.

JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF

A swimmer dove into the Charles River in July.

So when “Dirty Water” was played in Fenway Park and bars all over the city this fall after the Red Sox’ World Series win, it sounded more like a throwback than an indictment. Like the Red Sox themselves, the Charles may have finally shrugged off its curse. Granted, the river is still plagued by sewage overflow during heavy rains, and swimmers are advised not to touch the toxic bottom. But if current progress continues, perhaps those floating bathhouses could make a comeback.

 

by Theresa Doherty, Watertown TAB

The Charles River is truly an asset to Watertown. Have you ever walked or bicycled along the Charles, maybe commuting into Boston or Brookline via the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path? If you have, you’ve probably come across intersections, such as crossing the Anderson Memorial Bridge, where bikes and pedestrians are backed up and waiting for a long line of cars to cross. These intersections can be overly congested and extremely dangerous, but thankfully, representatives of Watertown are working to change that.

On Tuesday, November 12th, the Watertown Town Council unanimously voted in support of a resolution endorsing the addition of pedestrian underpasses along the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path at the Anderson Memorial, Western Avenue, and River Street Bridges. The Anderson Memorial Bridge is currently being renovated as a part of the Commonwealth’s Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP), a statewide program run by MassDOT to improve the overall Bridge Health Index of Massachusetts bridges. The Western Avenue and River Street Bridges are also slated to be restored under the ABP within the next few years.

Currently, a runner or cyclist along the Boston side of the Charles could take a 3.5 mile trip along the Dr. Paul Dudley White Bike Path, from the Cragie Bridge to River Street, without having to stop and wait for a light. The inclusion of pedestrian underpasses at these three bridges would allow that same runner or cyclist to continue for seven miles – from the Cragie Bridge to the Arsenal Bridge – without interruption.

The Charles River Conservancy is spearheading an advocacy campaign to persuade MassDOT to include pedestrian underpasses in their renovation plans for the Anderson Memorial, Western Avenue, and River Street Bridges. The underpasses are a much-needed addition to the parklands around the Lower Charles and are critical to help ensure public safety. According to a Connectivity Gap Study conducted by MassDOT in 2011, approximately 1,000 cyclists or pedestrians traverse these bridges every hour during a typical day. Creating a separated path would reduce risk for these thousands of users and would encourage more people to commute via bicycle.

Increased multi-modal pathways and greater opportunities for carbon-free commuting fulfill MassDOT’s own GreenDOT initiatives and Healthy Transportation Policy Directive, issued in September of this year. This policy directive mandates all MassDOT projects currently in design to be submitted for review by January 2014, in order to identify opportunities to increase “healthy transportation options” such as walking and cycling.

Having reviewed the pedestrian underpass proposal, MassDOT representatives claim that permitting would delay the renovation of the bridges, thus delaying the completion of the ABP. There is an obvious solution: build the structural support for the underpasses while the bridges are under construction. Most of the permits concern the approaching ramps that go over riverside land; the “tunnel” aspect within the bridge would take minimal permitting. Coordinating the construction efforts would save the cost of ripping up the bridges and surrounding landscape again, as well as minimize the disruption to traffic.

MassDOT has already issued a change order on the bridge project that moves utility lines out of the space that a future underpass would occupy. However, the agency is stiller lucent to install the structural supports for these underpasses. I applaud the Watertown Town Council for joining over 30 other elected officials, and nearly 50 local organizations, in recognizing and acting upon this opportunity that MassDOT is currently not willing to realize.

I hope more residents of Watertown will join the effort to advocate for pedestrian underpasses along the Charles. For more information on the Charles River Conservancy’s underpass advocacy campaign, please visit www.thecharles.org.
Read more: Guest Column: Cycling Between Watertown and Boston – Watertown, MA – Watertown TAB http://www.wickedlocal.com/watertown/news/x825436901/Guest-Column-Cycling-Between-Watertown-and-Boston#ixzz2nByYY2F8
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tlumacki_swimmersonthecharles_metro352-001

The Charles River Conservancy hosted the first public swim in the river in 50 years in July. Photo by John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Boston Globe Editorial

For most young Red Sox fans, the song “Dirty Water” requires an explanation: Yes, the Charles River was once so polluted it was a national joke. The song endures not just for its funky ’60s beat (wamp-wamp-wamp), but also as a marker of how much the city’s environment has improved since Dick Dodd sang the Standells hit in 1966. Dodd, who died last week, didn’t exactly mean the song as a compliment. In fact, he’d never even visited Boston. But like many Americans, he’d heard plenty about the putrid state of the Charles, the “dirty water” of the title.

Cleaning up the Charles and Boston Harbor ranks as a great environmental accomplishment. Just in local terms, the cleanup improved life for residents and opened up new recreational opportunities. But resuscitating the river accomplished something else: It helped cleanse Boston’s image in the wider world.

And, by doing so, the cleanup also took the sting out of “Dirty Water,” turning it into just a quirky historical artifact. In 1996, former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld dove into the river, a symbolic moment in its turnaround. The next year, the Sox started playing “Dirty Water” after home victories. Boston has fully embraced Dodd’s song as an unofficial anthem — but only as the sad state that inspired it fades ever-further into memory.

 

The Beacon Hill Times

Last week, Renata von Tscharner, founder and president of the Charles River Conservancy (CRC), received the 2013 Olmsted Medal Architects (ASLA) on the final day of its national annual meeting, which was held in Boston.

Named in honor of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the medal recognizes individuals, organizations, agencies or programs outside the profession of landscape architecture for environmental leadership, vision and stewardship. Established in 1990, one medal is awarded annually. Notable past recipients include former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Robert Kennedy Jr., former President Jimmy Carter and Roslynn Carter, and the Trustees of Reservations, among others.

Formally trained as an architect and urban designer in Switzerland, von Tscharner founded the Charles River Conservancy in 2000, a non-profit organization dedicated to the stewardship, renewal and enhancement of the urban parklands along the Charles River — from Boston Harbor to the ‘Watertown Dam. Under her leadership, the Conservancy has enlisted more than 23,000 landscape volunteers who have contributed more than $1.5 million of donated labor to improve the health, safety, and beauty of the urban parklands along the Charles. She is a steadfast advocate for improvements of the Charles River parklands including the development of a skate park at North Point in East Cambridge, better pathways, and pedestrian/cycling underpasses at the Anderson Memorial, Western Avenue, and River Street bridges. She is also dedicated to bringing the tradition of swimming back to the river — a goal that was realized in July when the Conservancy organized the first community recreational swim in the Charles in more than 60 years.

“Fredrick Law Olmsted has been an inspiration to my work on behalf of the Charles River parklands,” said von Tscharner. “This extraordinary public space holds so much unrealized potential and it is essential to the quality of life we enjoy in the Boston area; we must ensure that future generations will inherit a world-class riverfront park along the Charles.”

Von Tscharner was nominated by several prominent Boston-area landscape architects, including Kathleen Ogden, former president of the Boston Society of Landscape Architects; Pierre Belanger, associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design; and Craig Halvorson, founding principal of Halvorson Design Partnership.

In his nomination letter, Halvorson wrote “Renata has continued to build on the visions of Charles Eliot and Frederick Law Olmsted by re-investing in their important parklands and inspiring others to get involved in their river. Through her commitment to the Conservancy, Renata models the Olmsted Medal’s principles of environmental leadership. ”

In her acceptance speech she explored what 19th-century land- scape architect Olmsted might design today along the Charles.  “l think a skate park mitigating toxic soil would have been on his list, and definitely bridge underpasses to provide un-interrupted use of the riverfront pathways for bicyclists and runners,” said von Tscharner. “Just like the Emerald Necklace was a sewage project, the transportation infrastructure work on the bridges lends the opportunity to create safer and separate paths.”

To the some 300 “fellow park-builders” in the room she concluded, “I look forward to working together to continue Olmsted’s legacy along the Charles. ”

 

By the Back Bay Sun Staff

 

Last week, Renata von Tscharner, founder and president of the Charles River Conservancy (CRC), received the 2013 Olmsted Medal Architects (ASLA) on the final day of its national annual meeting, which was held in Boston.

Named in honor of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the medal recognizes individuals, organizations, agencies or programs outside the profession of landscape architecture for environmental leadership, vision and stewardship. Established in 1990, one medal is awarded annually. Notable past recipients include former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Robert Kennedy Jr., former President Jimmy Carter and Roslynn Carter, and the Trustees of Reservations, among others.

Formally trained as an architect and urban designer in Switzerland, von Tscharner founded the Charles River Conservancy in 2000, a non-profit organization dedicated to the stewardship, renewal and enhancement of the urban parklands along the Charles River—from Boston Harbor to the Watertown Dam. Under her leadership, the Conservancy has enlisted more than 23,000 landscape volunteers who have contributed more than $1.5 million of donated labor to improve the health, safety, and beauty of the urban parklands along the Charles. She is a steadfast advocate for improvements.  “Fredrick Law Olmsted has been an inspiration to my work on behalf of the Charles River parklands,” said von Tscharner. “This extraordinary public space holds so much unrealized potential and it is essential to the quality of life we enjoy in the Boston area; we must ensure that future generations will inherit a world-class riverfront park along the Charles.”

Von Tscharner was nominated by several prominent Boston-area landscape architects, including Kathleen Ogden, former president of the Boston Society of Landscape Architects; Pierre Bélanger, associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design; and Craig Halvorson, founding principal of Halvorson Design Partnership.

In his nomination letter, Halvorson wrote “Renata has continued to build on the visions of Charles Eliot and Frederick Law Olmsted by re-investing in their important parklands and inspiring others to get involved in their river. Through her commitment to the Conservancy, Renata models the Olmsted Medal’s principles of environmental leadership.”

In her acceptance speech she explored what 19th-century landscape architect Olmsted might design today along the Charles. “I think a skate park mitigating toxic soil would have been on his list, and definitely bridge underpasses to provide un-interrupted use of the riverfront pathways for bicyclists and runners,” said von Tscharner. “Just like the Emerald Necklace was a sewage project, the transportation infrastructure work on the bridges lends the opportunity to create safer and separate paths.”

To the some 300 “fellow park-builders” in the room she concluded, “I look forward to working together to continue Olmsted’s legacy along the Charles.”

 

by Eddie Small, Courant News Writer

Charles River Conservancy President Renata von Tscharner nou’has something in common with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter: both have won the Olmsted Medal from the Amcrican Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

Carter and his wife Rosalynn got the award in 2001, while von Tcharner received hers on November 18 at the ASLA Annual Conference in Boston. She was not expecting the honor.

“I was very surprised,” she said. “I did not know I had been nominated.”

The ASLA gives the Olmsted Medal to individuals, groups or programs that have demonstrated environmental leadership. It is meant to honor famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, whose legacy in Boston includes the Emerald Necklace and Franklin Park.

Other notable recipients of the award include AI Gore and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

One of the achievements von Tscharner said she was especially proud of occurred this summer, when the Conservancy held the first public community swim in the Charles River in more than 50 years. The activity had been banned since the 1950s due to health concerns.

“That’s something the Conservancy has been working on for a long time, to have a swim,” von Tscharner said.

ln her prepared remarks for accepting the award, von Tscharner emphasized Olmsted’s fondness for creating uninterrupted paths in his parks and the need to apply this thinking to the Charles River.

“Just as Olmsted’s work on the Muddy River was part of a massive sewage project, today we again need to link infrastructure investments — the bridges for motorcars –with underpasses that benefit pedestrians and bikers,” she said.

von Tscharner stressed the importance of linking parks with physical activity-as well. She said that she believed Olmsted would have been in favor of building a skate park, a project the Conservancy is working to construct along the Cambridge side of the Charles under the Zakim Bridge.

Tani Marinovich, director of development at The Esplanade Association (TEA), was very complimentary of von Tscharner and referred to her as “an inspiration” while working on the Esplanade Playspace. TEA Board Chair Margo Newman felt the same way.

“Renata has a well-deserved reputation as a passionate defender of vital and healthy Charles River Basin parklands,” she said in an email. “We all admire her tenacity and commitment. The parklands – and the river – are better and more fun because of Renata.”

Bob Zimmerman, executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association, was just as approving of the Conservancy as a whole and its efforts at maintaining the park system along the Charles.

“They treat it as a real landscape, you know? A park that needs some help and human loving care, and they provide it,” he said.  “That’s a great thing.”

link to article

 

By Erin Baldassari, Wicked Local Cambridge

Already some 11 years in the making, the skatepark planned for underneath the Zakim Bridge will have to wait a little longer.

Although construction was slated to begin in the spring and be completed in the fall, shovels have yet to hit the dirt on the 40,000 square-foot park, according to Renata von Tscharner, president and founder of the Charles River Conservancy.

“The project is coming along well and is going through a final design review by the relevant agencies and stakeholder groups,” von Tscharner said. “The construction documents for the bidders should be finalized within the next month or so.”

von Tscharner said they were receiving the final design documents this week, which will then be reviewed by the Department of Recreation and Conservation (DCR), which owns the land. After DCR reviews the plans, the contracts will go out to bid, von Tscharner said. She was hesitant to give a new timeframe for construction because she said, “I’ve been wrong before.”

“With the winter coming up there are a lot of unknowns,” von Tscharner said. “We have a few days to make the final design revisions and then the plans will go out to contractors for bidding. We hop to award a contract within a few weeks and then the contractor will decide whether they want to start right away depending on the weather conditions.”

More than a decade in the making, the conservancy successfully raised $2.5 million for the park, which will be located on the northern part of North Point Park, and secured Action Sports Design as the project designer. Since then, the conservancy, along with DCR, have held public hearings on the design.

von Tscharner said the last few months have mainly involved sorting out some soil management issues and how to handle a land easement issue.

“Those have now been fully addressed,” von Tscharner said. “Our other focus right now is working out construction access with DCR, but we are seeing progress on that front as well.”

Most recently, the state Senate approved a bill calling for the park to be named the Lynch Family skatepark after Carolyn and Peter Lynch of the Lynch Foundation made a generous donation. von Tscharner said the legislation is now on Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk to sign.

Read more: http://www.wickedlocal.com/cambridge/news/x1829413233/Cambridge-skatepark-nearing-final-design-review#ixzz2lgA4TULA
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Why has it taken more than a decade to build a skater’s paradise in Boston? 

by David Eisenberg, Dig Boston

Link to article online.

The story of the Charles River Skate Park starts back in Ancient Greece with Aesop, and more specifically, his fable of The Tortoise and the Hare. You know how it goes. Slow and steady wins the race.

Two thousand or so years later, in Massachusetts, a local sculptor named Nancy Schön figured Aesop’s lesson could serve as a muse to those running the Boston Marathon. And so in Copley Square, Schön’s bronze sculpture poses history’s cockiest rabbit like it’s ready to explode through its spring-loaded stance, almost as if acknowledging that he is doomed to eat the dust of the turtle crawling comfortably ahead.

Schön’s sculpture, as it were, has also inspired a different breed of athlete. Over the years, skateboarders have incorporated the attraction into their infinite concrete playground, or at least they did until it soon became another off-limit spot ripe for riding. While she was upset about kids skating on her sculpture, Schön also empathized. Seen as a nuisance–or worse, a threat to public safety–skateboarders had no place to call their own.

The sculptor knew that change was needed. Thus, the idea for a skate park was born. This was more than 10 years ago.

At the time, the Charles River Conservancy (CRC), a nonprofit in Cambridge, spearheaded an effort to get a park built below the Zakim Bridge. The location alone would make it a gem. Hoping to raise $1.1 million to get it done by 2006, the conservancy strapped on their helmets and pads, and dropped into the project like it was a halfpipe at the X-Games.

Fast-forward to 2013. The parcel promised to skateboarders remains an industrial wasteland, embarrassingly sandwiched between floating duck boats full of tourists and trains leaving North Station. There’s but a silhouette of a kid skating on a big yellow sign that’s been there for as long as the promise of rails and ramps. SHRED AHEAD, it says, for this is the future home of the Charles River Skate Park.

It’s been a slow process, to say the least, and the obstacles that have prevented construction are numerous, complex, and in many cases unforeseen. If Aesop were around, he’d probably conclude that shit happens, maybe tell us to be patient. Nevertheless, we thought it was about time to dig in and see what the hell is taking so long.

THE GROANS BRIGADE

Blame it on toxic soil. The ground beneath the Zakim won’t exactly open up and suck you deep into the depths of some cancerous hell, but according to Renata von Tscharner, founder of the CRC, the dirt has been a total nag. According to her, you could probably build a skyscraper on this sort of terrain, but things becomes more complicated with a project like a skate park. It’s not exactly virgin soil. Due to generations of construction and mass transit in the area, no one really knows what lies beneath the surface–railroad remnants, tires, bodies–until you break through it. “You’re dealing with almost an archaeological dig,” says von Tscharner.

Conrad Crawford, director of external affairs at the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), says the plan for cleaning soil underneath the bridge must be “airtight.” A legal understanding between DCR and CRC officials says the former will be chiefly responsible for operating and maintaining the park upon completion. “There have been a lot of uses on that land and the soil situation is not clear,” says Crawford.

So how to deal with that pesky, poisonous earth? Digging it up and dumping it in the Charles might have been suitable in the halcyon days of environmentally ignorant bliss, but today we’re much greener. And so the plan has been to pry it up, pre-load the dirt and everything else into the middle of the site, shape it, bury the nasty stuff beneath three-feet of concrete, and, finally, bring in new, clean materials to surround the edges.

“It’s an orderly process we had to think through along the way,” says Jason Lederer, the project’s manager with the CRC.

This hasn’t been such an ordeal elsewhere. In Philadelphia, for example, the beloved FDR Skate Park was basically born out of a partnership between the DIY skater ethos and municipal adequacy.

“It’s been long enough,” says Jimmy Lake, owner of Corner Store Skate Co., an upstart skate and apparel brand based out of Cambridge. Lake has been living and skating around Boston for seven years. He continues: “New York managed to build like eight parks or something. Philly has built parks. Every other major city has managed to get it done.”

Here, our concrete playpen seemingly needs blessings, hugs, and kisses from every political body from Beacon Hill to Cambridge. Asked about this bureaucratic labyrinth, Lederer explains that plans need to be vetted by a range of entities including the Department of Transportation, the Department of Environmental Protection, the DCR, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, the Cambridge Conservation Commission, and the MBTA.

CASH RULES

You can blame the economy.

In February 2004, von Tscharner wrote in the Boston Business Journal that her conservancy was hoping to raise $1.1 million for skate park construction, with a tentative opening date in 2006. Between then and 2008, they were able to raise a whopping $2.4 million more than what they’d initially hoped for, very much thanks to generous gifts from the Lynch Foundation, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the state, the City of Cambridge, and others. These are impressive figures; currently, von Tscharner says their annual budget is around $400,000.

Following the financial meltdown of 2008, the CRC and DCR agreed to swap responsibilities, making the latter responsible for building, and putting the former in charge of subsequent operations. “DCR was concerned they wouldn’t have sufficient funds to maintain the skate park,” says von Tscharner.The joint decision was reached in light of a 2009 announcement that the project could receive an additional $2 million in federal funding. When that money fell through, though, the departments switched assignments yet again.

Likely for the good of the project, everyone eventually reverted back to their original roles. Had the DCR been tasked with construction, the number of potential designers they could enlist would’ve been limited to firms registered as approved vendors in Massachusetts. The CRC has more options. Still, there was another issue brewing over who owned the polluted land.

Before the DCR can operate a park, one must be built. Before it can be built, though, the DCR needs ownership of the property, which, as of now, is still owned by the Department of Transportation. Crawford says the land transfer is in its final stages, and concedes that the procedure has been “a significant reason for the delay.” “I’m not sure that information regarding the status of the property and ownership of the property were fully comprehended at the early stages,” he says. “If people had been fully aware of that, some of these issues might have been addressed earlier.”

THE BLUEPRINTS

In classic nightmarish government fashion, the procedural and licensing processes for undertaking such a massive effort as a skate park proved insanely counterintuitive. As it turns out, according to von Tscharner, “You don’t know what foundations you need to build until you actually dig in the ground.” “On the other hand,” she says, “we needed to show some drawings early on to funders so they could imagine.”

Upon securing seed funding, the CRC brought on the California-based Wormhoudt Inc. to help map out a master plan. But after working with Wormhoudt and the local skate community to hatch a first design, the marriage ended unceremoniously.

“It was a little bit mysterious how that relationship ended,” says Zach Wormhoudt, the firm’s principal landscape architect. “We actually opted to not continue with the project because it was not progressing in a way that made sense to either party. That’s pretty unique.” Asked where things went wrong, von Tscharner notes that Wormhoudt was not fit to “execute the [planned] design.”

Next up was the Seattle-based Grindline, which the conservancy was attracted to due to the company’s experience in cold climates. Yet the project hit another mysterious snag there. Grindline COO Matt Fluegge says that he would reach out to the conservancy during seeming standstills. It was during one of those calls, he says, that he was told the CRC was speaking with a third design firm. “We weren’t really given the chance to provide a competitive design,” says Fluegge. “If we didn’t call and check in, I don’t know that we would’ve been notified at all.”

Though such management decisions have bred skepticism in the skate community, CRC spokespeople are now confident that they will break ground this year. They made the same claim last year, but as proof this time, von Tscharner points to a large book in her office that she calls the “100 Percent Document.” Thanks to assistance from the out-of-state design firms Action Sport Design (ASD) and Stantec, these files hold meticulous instructions for putting a 40,000 square-foot state-of-the-art skate park beneath a freeway ramp in a major city on a toxic riverside foundation. They’re more than a decade in the making.

GRIND TIME

When this park gets made, if it gets made, it will be astounding. Thanks in part to $27 million in stimulus money rejuvenating the area, it will also be more than a mere skate park. In addition to spacious waterfront land, people will be able to catch concerts by the new North Bank Bridge connecting Boston and Cambridge. There will also be impressive gardens that intercept the falling rain and filter out the muck.

“Regardless of what we’re required to do, we want to do things that are going to help improve the ecological function of the area,” says Lederer. “We’re sitting next to the Charles River. We want to make sure that anything we do here also has an opportunity to contribute to its ongoing improvement.”

Skaters can expect deep bowls, plus stairs, railings, and ramps. Designers say they’re striving to create a challenging environment for pros and beginners alike. The park will also accommodate handicapped athletes. And, of course, there will be a replica tortoise and hare statue. “We want to honor [Schön],” says von Tscharner. “It’s a nice kind of symbolic closure of that struggle.”

Everyone who is directly involved seems optimistic. The CRC recently secured an environmental greenlight from the Conservation Commission of Cambridge, and the parties that need to be communicating are in full cahoots. Still, the project needs a contractor before ground can be broken. This has left some skaters skeptical that anything will happen soon.

“Maybe they’ll get it done, but I’m not really seeing it happen,” says Lake of the Corner Store Skate Co.

Though the new bowls could be a godsend, Lake says there are abandoned areas where skaters “do more maintenance than the city does.” A good start, at least in the interim, would be for authorities to allow skaters to make their own gauntlets.

“We’ve been kicked off,” says Lake, who adds that skaters are still waiting for a place to call their own.

As for the Charles River Skate Park … it looks like there will be at least one more delay. In classic New England fashion, there’s some predictably unpredictable weather on the horizon. If winter is mild, the CRC hopes to break ground before next year. Should the ground freeze and the snow fall, it will take longer.

Here’s hoping that the rainmaker above us ain’t a snowboarder.

 

by Sam Wotipka, MIT SciWrite

When the EPA took charge of efforts to cleanup the Charles in 1995, the situation was dire. They issued the river a D grade, declaring it safe to swim in a mere 19% of the time. Much has changed since then. Through the coordinated efforts of government agencies and non-profit organizations like the Charles River Watershed Association, the Charles has undergone an improbable transformation. In 2004, the river received a B+ rating and has stayed in that range ever since. Though its reputation remains—it’s tempting to blame the Standells, who immortalized the river in a not-so-positive light with their 1966 hit “Dirty Water”—the Charles is actually one of the cleanest urban rivers in the United States these days. Last summer the river had its first officially sanctioned public swim in over 50 years.

So what’s keeping the Charles from breaking into A territory? Sewage, among other things. In a sense, the Charles River may be the oldest sewer system in the United States. In the early days of Boston, the Charles flowed freely into the ocean. Residents took advantage of this by dumping waste directly into the river, where it ultimately washed out to sea.

This tradition continued well into the 20th century even after dams restricted the river’s flow. Many sewage lines were routed directly to the stormwater drains that empty into the Charles, a system known as combined sewer overflows (CSOs). Although this practice is now illegal, many of old lines remain, and being underground they are difficult to detect and locate, and costly to replace. Totally eliminating CSOs is well beyond the resources of the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority, so a certain amount of raw sewage is likely to be a feature of the Charles for the foreseeable future.

The Massachusetts Oyster Project is one of the more unique projects aimed at mitigating this problem. Once abundant in Boston Harbor and the Charles, oysters are adept aquatic filters. The thought is that by reestablishing self-sustaining oyster beds at strategic points along the river bed, a good chunk of the pollution from raw sewage and other sources could be captured and neutralized. The project’s founders estimate that it would take roughly 225 square feet of oyster beds to do the trick. Presumably, they wouldn’t be harvested for human consumption afterwards.

 

 

Editorial, The Boston Globe

Chicago has had success curbing urban runoff by utilizing “green alleys,” such as this one paved with permeable material.

Chicago has had success curbing urban runoff by utilizing “green alleys,” such as this one paved with permeable material.

MANY BOSTONIANS thought they’d never see children swimming in the Charles River, and the fact that the waterway was briefly open to public bathing this past summer showed how much progress there’s been in cleaning it up. However, the sight of kids frolicking in the Charles doesn’t mean all the river’s problems have been solved. Several environmental groups, including the Conservation Law Foundation and American Rivers, have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to close loopholes in regulations that allow for urban runoff from private entities with buildings built before the Clean Water Act of 1972. If Greater Boston wants to keep improving the swimmability of the Charles, the region needs to keep chipping away at the runoff problem. Fortunately, there are options.

Urban runoff is the process by which rainwater collects pollutants from city streets and then deposits them in local waterways. In less developed areas, this water soaks into the ground, where it is purified by natural processes. However, traditional cements are impermeable, so water that falls on them can’t be cleaned naturally before it collects in rivers and streams. The substances found in this runoff — which range from toxins from car exhaust to nutrients from lawn fertilizers — can dramatically change river ecosystems by poisoning aquatic life and causing huge increases in algae populations, tiny organisms that deoxidize the water after they die.

Boston should follow the lead of cities like Chicago that have found innovative approaches to this problem. In 2006, then-mayor Richard Daley launched the “green alleys” program, a plan to resurface Chicago’s 1,900 miles of alleyways with material that allows water to drain slowly through it. (Former Boston mayoral candidate Rob Consalvo’s proposal for sidewalks made of recycled tire rubber would have similar benefits.)

So far Chicago has installed over 100 green alleys. Coupled with strategically placed gardens that filter water, they have significantly reduced the urban runoff into Lake Michigan. To explore the green alley idea in Boston, Boston Architectural College — with support from the city’s Public Works Department — launched a pilot program in 2011 on Public Alley 444 in the Back Bay. According to Arthur Byers, the associate vice president of facilities at the college, preliminary results show that the alley was 100 percent effective at channeling rainwater into the ground for that last three weeks of June. Building off their success, the city has announced plans for its own project along similar lines.

The Charles is cleaner now than it has been in generations, but preserving and extending progress means putting imaginative solutions into practice. Green alleyways are only the beginning.