Mattapan Sq. statue’s status in re-design plan stirs a fuss

This Heritage Statue in Mattapan Square is at the center of some discussion within the overall pedestrian safety improvement plan for the Square.
Seth Daniel photo

There’s no doubt the pedestrian situation in Mattapan Square has been life-threatening for generations, and while most everyone favors the major safety improvements that are being planned, one part of the re-design –a call to move one of the Mattapan Heritage Statues – is facing some community opposition.

The two statues commemorate both the Mattahunt Tribe that once called the Mattapan Square area home and several stories about people of color who lived in and around the Square, nods reflecting the diversity of the neighborhood past and present.

The concept behind the two sculptures involved the idea of a gateway from Milton to Boston, called the ‘RISE Gateway to Boston.’ The statues were created by the artist Karen Eutemey and the late Fern Cunningham and placed in the Square in 2005.

Siting them was no small affair, according to members of the RISE Committee, who came up with the concept of a two-statue gateway and later determined the sites that would achieve their goal. Now some feel betrayed by the sudden plan to move one statue from its current location in the name of safety and bus traffic efficiency.

Barbara Crichlow, who was on the RISE Committee, said the city has been trying to meet with them, but she said many on the committee and in the community aren’t pleased that the idea of moving the statue was floated without someone first talking to them.

“Realize the Committee gave up a lot of their time to finally get the landmarks in place that were long overdue,” she wrote in an e-mail. “How can (the city) explain the days, months, and years we, the committee, gave up for someone from the city to say, ‘We need to move the statues?’ They are not furniture. They are the gateway created as an entrance to Mattapan and Greater Boston from Milton, as it said in the proposal.”

During a Boston Transportation Department (BTD) meeting in February that revealed the long-anticipated safety plans for the Square, several attendees were shocked to hear about the statue move, said Fatima Ali-Salaam of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council (GMNC). She also said there were others who were less bothered by it and felt moving it nearby wouldn’t be a betrayal.

Charlotte Fleetwood and Kirstie Hostetter, both of BTD, said the overall concept for Mattapan Square is to make pedestrian crossings safer, and to allow the MBTA buses to get into the station without making the “loop” into Milton and back. An early notion includes several improved crossings, and a direct crossing connecting River Street to the Station Plaza area. That last is a move routinely made by pedestrians even though it doesn’t exist officially, presenting a dangerous situation.

Adding the direct crossing led to the idea of eliminating the right-hand “slip turn” going onto River Street as one comes from Milton – making it far less dangerous and allowing for the expansion of the plaza next to a state-owned building at the entrance of the Neponset Greenway.

All of that has been seen as positive. However, to eliminate the bus “loop” into Milton and get the southbound buses into the station using a left turn from Blue Hill Avenue, means one of the Heritage statues would have to be moved, they said.

“It’s a concept and not a final concept, but it would consolidate some crosswalks and create the new direct crosswalk, but the plan would also allow the (southbound) buses to make a left turn into the Station,” said Fleetwood. “To navigate that turn with the statue would be difficult.” Added Hostetter, “It would be impossible for the bus.”

The initial hope was that the sculpture could be moved to the new, larger plaza about 50 yards south of its current location. There, they said, there could be more greenery and a better chance to have displays that explain the story of the statues.

Still, that would eliminate the gateway concept that was called for by the community.

Fleetwood said they have met with Eutemey, who is willing to work with them on the move. But, they have yet to meet with the RISE Committee due to scheduling conflicts.

“There would be an opportunity to move the one statue to the new plaza,” she said. “These are just ideas. We still need to meet with the people initially involved in the gateway concept for the statues. That concept was in place before they had an artist, and they want to make sure they are involved. We welcome their ideas and feedback on anything we might do.”

State Rep. Russell Holmes said he understands the community concerns over the decisions made 17 years ago, but he also said safety should be a priority.

“The community went through a process long ago and many feel like we’re ignoring that process. What I’ve also heard is the decisions I made 20 years ago may not be the best decisions today,” he said, adding that safety must come first, and getting the buses in safely and efficiently is also a priority.

“It’s been a problem my entire life,” he said. “While I support all the effort put in years ago to place the statue, I put a priority on safety. We need to find the safest way for folks to cross the street and the best way for buses to turn into the station.”

Fleetwood said the city would be continuing public outreach and feedback for another year, and the overall project won't be in construction phase until 2024.

Editor's note: An earlier version of the story stated that this project would not be sent out for bid until 2024. In fact, the project should be in construction phase by 2024.

Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter