Franklin Park, redesign of Columbia Road discussed at meeting

An artist's rendering of an updated Franklin Park. Image from Imagine Boston 2030 draft plan.

Enhancements to Franklin Park, the redesign of Columbia Road as an active green corridor and the completion of the Emerald Necklace are part of the Imagine Boston 2030 final draft plan for Boston’s largest park. Last Thursday (June 8), members of the Imagine Boston 2030 committee and other city agencies met with community members at the Franklin Park golf clubhouse to gather residents’ feedback on the final draft of the plan.

Imagine Boston 2030 is an initiative of Mayor Walsh that invites residents to assist in creating a vision for the city’s growth focusing on building healthier and more inclusive communities. The initiative specifically calls for investment in infrastructure and open space and culture. It will be Boston’s first citywide plan in 50 years.

Many residents mentioned the importance of Franklin Park, the 485-acre “crown jewel” of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace, when sharing their visions during the planning process. An initial meeting was held in February, where community members voiced their specific ideas for enhancing the park.

“This park is a jewel,” said State Rep. Russell Holmes at the June 8 meeting, adding that the Imagine Boston 2030 plan will help Boston become “the world-class city that we’re hoping to be.”

The draft for Franklin Park calls for investment in additional arts and cultural activities within the park, improved access and transportation connections, increased safety measures and traffic calming, enhanced navigational aids and continuing to foster the park’s role as an inclusive gathering place.

Boston Parks Commissioner Chris Cook believes the Imagine Boston 2030 vision is an “opportunity” to make Franklin Park one of Boston’s greatest destinations.

“When people come to Boston, they talk about the boats, the esplanade… they will also say, ‘Did you see Franklin Park?’” he said when welcoming community members to the meeting.

The plan also aspires to redesign Columbia Road and integrate it as a connector between Franklin Park and Joe Moakley Park in South Boston, connecting the Emerald Necklace with the waterfront. Concerns about the road’s current design include limited parking, speeding and safety for cyclists.

The proposed vision calls for “improved pedestrian paths and safe crossings, protected bike paths, and significantly more trees to transform this boulevard into a vibrant green corridor.”

In the Imagine Boston 2030 draft plan, local businesses expressed that the traffic keeps customers away. The plan highlights the economic potential for small businesses near Franklin Park to connect and engage with park visitors.

John Linehan, president and CEO of Zoo New England, which includes the Franklin Park Zoo, agrees. He was among those in attendance Thursday evening.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” said Linehan, who has overseen operations at Franklin Park Zoo for 35 years. He mentioned that attracting outside visitors has always been a challenge, as many hold negative views of the neighborhoods surrounding Franklin Park.

He wants to see zoo visitors engage more with those areas. He believes the Imagine Boston 2030 vision provides the opportunity for the zoo to “accelerate” some “real, tangible progress.”

“It can help the zoo to help others,” Linehan said, acknowledging the relevance of the zoo’s location within Franklin Park. “A world-class city needs a world-class park.”

Local resident and park user Andréa Speace was happy to see many individuals from both the community and the city at the meeting, and happy about the way planning has occurred so far. “I’m glad to see the process more inclusive,” she said.

The next step is to finish reviewing feedback of the entire 420-page draft plan, said Natalia Urtubey, Director of Engagement for Imagine Boston 2030. June 19 will be the last day to collect feedback.