Taking a Historical Park into the Next Century: Franklin Park

For this greenway story we spoke with Janna Cohen-Rosenthal, Executive Director of the Franklin Park Coalition, and Arealus Pough, Community Engagement Manager at Lena Park Community Development Corporation, to learn more about opportunities and challenges for the City of Boston's historic Franklin Park as it becomes a focus for several modern planning projects.  

Families enjoy the annual Kite & Bike Festival at Franklin Park. (Photo: Franklin Park Coalition)

When Franklin Park was built in 1885 it lay well beyond Boston’s populated center. Today, the park is an inviting open space at the heart of a city of over a half-million residents. And with two planning projects currently underwayone state-led (Shattuck Campus Planning) and one city-led (Master Planning)—Franklin Park lies at a historic crossroads for improvement and enhancement.

Franklin Park Coalition Executive Director Janna Cohen-Rosenthal says that it’s an exciting time for the park’s neighboring communities: “Many residents feel that the park has not had adequate investment over the years… and the Coalition’s role is really to make sure that the long-term needs of the community are heard. We want to make our park more inviting and accessible to families that have been living next to it for a generation or more.”

With a new office at the Lena Park Community Development Center (CDC) on American Legion Highway, the Coalition is expanding its partnerships and taking note of the barriers limiting park access for families and youth that frequent the Center. Lena Park Community Engagement Manager Arealus Pough says that their summer youth programs like to take advantage of nearby Franklin Park and Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center, but notes that straightforward access into the park from American Legion or Blue Hill Avenue is a challenge: “There’s an entrance across from Lena Park, but the stairs lead to nowhere...while some of the other entrances are nearly hidden.”  

A crosswalk near Lena Park Community Center on American Legion Highway leads to a set of steps lacking connection into Franklin Park.

Neighboring Morton Street isn’t much better, Cohen-Rosenthal says: “We’re seeing a lot of new housing being built, but there’s no sidewalk on Morton Street--it’s not a walkable area.” She and Pough both agree that additional entrances, amenities, and a wayfinding system could go a long way in making the park more accessible and inviting to its closest neighbors.

Franklin Park Master Plan

The Franklin Park Master Plan was designated as a priority project in the citywide Imagine Boston 2030 plan, with the goal of “enhancing historic Franklin Park as a keystone park in the geographical heart of the City.”

An improved intersection at Seaver St. and Walnut Ave welcomes people onto a freshly paved path in Franklin Park (Franklin Park Pathways Improvement Project.)

Reed Hilderbrand was recently named as the design firm to lead on the City’s Master Plan over the next year. The firm will work in collaboration with Agency Landscape + Planning and MASS Design Group.

Cohen-Rosenthal says that issues such as parking and transportation in the park will be key during the master planning and Reed Hilderbrand brings “Extensive experience with transportation design.” In addition to creating more wayfinding in the park, Cohen-Rosenthal hopes to see the Master Plan capitalize on improving connections with Columbia Road (linking Franklin and Moakley Parks) and opening up access to the Franklin Park Zoo at the intersection of Blue Hill Ave and Columbia Road.

As someone who works daily with neighboring residents and community center members, Pough wants to emphasize to people that the city is ready to listen to their opinions and ideas for Franklin Park. He says, “I remember advocating for outdoor exercise stations to be added to the park, and now that they’re in place, it’s very satisfying to see people using them.”

Shattuck Hospital campus. (Photo: WBUR)

Shattuck Campus Planning

The Commonwealth has engaged with Health Resources in Action (HRiA), a non-profit public health organization, to facilitate a planning process for the future use of the 13-acre Shattuck Campus in Jamaica Plain. 

“This project has big potential. When the Shattuck [Hospital] was built we didn’t have Article 97, which now provides added protection for the conservation of park lands,” says Cohen-Rosenthal. “We know that there are pressing public health needs that can be met with the services proposed for the campus and we want to make sure that there is also strong collaboration with the existing parkland -- for example, adding public restrooms and wayfinding to encourage more park use.” The Coalition would like to see improved pedestrian access on the Shattuck side of the park and a sustainable plan for traffic management for any new private development coming in, with the main vehicular entrance off Morton Street and away from pedestrians.

Pough is also hopeful that the campus planning can find a happy medium: “Even though the Shattuck is relocating, it doesn’t make sense to lose the public services that have existed here for a long time.” He points to the addition of lighting in the park as a common suggestion to address safety concerns, but recognizes that it continues to be a controversial topic, along with other modern amenities that some say don’t align with Olmstead’s original vision for Franklin Park.

State Representative Russell Holmes, Janna Cohen-Rosenthal, and Arealus Pough outside of Lena Park’s Fab Lab. (Photo: Franklin Park Coalition)

How You Can Get Involved

Cohen-Rosenthal encourages people to become a member or volunteer with the Franklin Park Coalition and invites the public to attend their annual meeting on May 4th at Lena Park CDC. “Whether you are interested in transportation issues or the arts, it’s the community who will ultimately help us to sustain and shape the park after the planning process is said and done.”

The group will also host the annual Kite & Bike Festival on May 18th, an opportunity to celebrate spring in Franklin Park with kite flying, biking in Boston resources, picnicking, and activities for all ages. Some of those kites will be projects designed in Lena Park’s Fab Lab, a technology education lab and makers' space.

Lena Park CDC will be kicking off the summer season at their community center on June 8th with a block party and anti-violence prevention event. All are invited.

Learn more about the Franklin Park Coalition: www.franklinparkcoalition.org

Learn more about Lena Park CDC: www.lenaparkcdc.org

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