The energy to improve long-neglected Codman Square Park in the heart of Dorchester Center was so great that the community sparked the Parks Department to take action and join in the momentum.
That grassroots effort, though, was undertaken in 2016.
Although there had been numerous meetings and many hours of discussions about the two phases of the project, one on city land abutting Talbot Avenue and the other on adjoining private land owned by the Second Church, excitement petered out during the pandemic crises. It has taken some time to re-gather steam over the last year and the good news is that the project is still on the docket. The final designs were polished up at an online public meeting on Monday of this week, and construction on Phase 1 is likely to begin in spring 2024.
“There aren’t a lot of events happening and way back in 2016 we thought about how to reimagine the space,” said Cynthia Loesch-Johnson of the Codman Square Neighborhood Council and a sponsor of the weekly Farmer’s Market in the park.
“The city at the time had no plans to do anything with the park,” Loesch-Johnson said. “The spark here was the residents calling for something to be done … It’s exciting where we’re at now. We started in a little room with a vision and now we have plans and renderings and construction on the way.”
Cathy Baker-Eclipse, director of capital planning for Boston Parks Department, has a long history with the project, having previously serving as its manager. She said they are excited about getting their portion of the project underway and added, “We will put bids out in the winter, open them in the early spring,” and break ground shortly thereafter.
She estimated that construction should take about six months, but no longer than nine. This sort of schedule will mean that programming like the Farmer’s Market will need a new home next summer. She noted, “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the community advocating for this space.”
Loesch-Johnson said they started with visioning meetings and heard all kinds of ideas, such as the platform stage for performances that will be in Phase 1, and the “I am Codman Square” artwork eyed as a place setter for the area – created by the local artist Destiny Palmer. There will also be a better walking area and improvements to make the Farmer’s Market more accessible along the walkway.
Those early meetings led to funding from the Browne Fund and the Community Preservation Committee, which gave them the legitimacy to get the attention of the Parks Department before the pandemic.
The budget for Phase 1 construction is $640,000, but some amenities in the park and the designs have been funded by grants. “The space will be transformed, and we hope events will increase,” said Loesch-Johnson.
The Phase 2 portion will land on the property of Second Church, but there is already an agreement between Rev. Victor Price and the community to blend the two parks together. Phase 2 still has a lot of work to do on the funding front, but the vision of community gathering isn’t lost on Rev. Price, who envisions great summer concerts and a winter wonderland with more Christmas lights than can be imagined to draw people to the Square.
“I think it can again become the center of community life as it once was – revitalizing and educating folks about what Dorchester is all about,” he said, adding, “Together, it can be that place that brings families, culture, and social opportunities together – and also brings the political arena to bear. We did have a mayoral debate in front of the church a few years ago. I think it’s going to brighten up the community.”
On the whole, Phase 2 is still to be determined, but it is expected to gather support from the city and the community, and to be seamlessly joined with the city-owned portion of Codman Square Park.
View the project page at boston.gov/departments/parks-and-recreation/improvements-codman-square-park.