By Seth Daniel
Reclaimed space is at an all-time high in today’s modern cities, and Chelsea is leading the way this month with the soon-to-be unveiled Mystic River Overlook Park – a rare stretch of City-owned parcels under the Mystic/Tobin Bridge that have been transformed into a funky new park.
The space was long a construction staging yard and was highly contaminated, but it has been environmentally remediated and now walking paths, historic lighting and lush green grass have replaced the blight under the bridge near Admiral’s Hill.
“We spent a lot of money cleaning the site up,” said Alex Train, City planner. “We took out a lot of soil and construction debris and contamination. We trucked in lots of clean soil and replaced it…We tried to create a design philosophy that tended to mimic the edges in the architecture of the bridge, so there are three or four wavy walking paths that curve through the park and allow you walk through and under the bridge. We envision this as an active park for exercise.”
The City has placed cross-fit equipment in the new park, and envision the lush new lawn to be used for Yoga, exercise classes or other activities.
The remainder of the new park is more of a passive area with seats and areas to view the water and Boston skyline. Another City-owned parcel at the foot of the new park has been designated for the City’s first off-leash dog park. That, however, is a separate project from the Mystic River Overlook.
“We are now about two weeks away from opening the Overlook and just trying to tie up the loose ends,” said Train. “We were able to bring it in under the allotted budget as well.”
One of the action items for the near future of the park is to identify some public art opportunities. All over Greater Boston, cities are using spaces under bridges and highways as hip, urban landscapes for public art.
In Chelsea, a small piece of that was delved into last year with a small mural at the Everett Avenue onramp courtesy of the organization of Chelsea artists like Joe Greene.
Train said he hopes to have something more expansive in the Overlook.
“We are contemplating public art opportunities there,” he said. “It’s definitely a funky terrain and it’s a prime place for an art installation and unique lighting.”
He said they are working with the Cultural Council right now to identify local artists who might be interested.
The ability for the City to be able to create the park was unique because the City actually owned the parcels. On the other side of the Bridge in Charlestown, that community has been hamstrung by state red tape in being able to utilize vast tracts of land under the Bridge. That’s also an issue in Chelsea further into the Bridge approach area.
Train said the three land parcels belonged to the City because they had been transferred from the federal government to the City when the old Naval Hospital closed down.
“Everything else under Route 1, though, is state-owned,” he said.
That doesn’t hamper a larger vision, nonetheless.
Train said they hope the Overlook is just the first piece of what could be a series of parks, green spaces, bike paths and pedestrian paths throughout the underside of the Bridge.
Already, the state has plans to build a new public parking lot under the Bridge as it embarks on an upcoming maintenance project over the next three years. That could be the impetus, Train said, for more thoughtful park planning.
“That is something we envision,” he said. “We’d like to create an entire network under the Bridge for pedestrian walkways, open green spaces and public landscaped promenades.”
Funding for the Overlook came through a state PARC grant of $400,000 and another appropriation from the City Council.
Quirk Construction built the park, and the landscape architect was CBA.