Guest Op-ed Resiliency in Action

By Tim McKenna

Earlier this month we came together to witness the 123rd running of the Boston Marathon, an event that Mayor Walsh reminded us is a continuing symbol of the city’s resilience.  Resilience is a theme called upon several times by the mayor, as it weaves together the major pillars of his administrative priorities.  In order to have a resilient city, we must have not only a strong infrastructure plan to prepare for a changing climate, but we also need to have strong schools, affordable housing, and a strong modern economy.

I am particularly fond of his Resilient Boston Harbor initiative as a bold, yet pragmatic approach to shoring up our shoreline while simultaneously opening up access to the waterfront for public amenities.   

For Charlestown in particular, the initiative focuses on the Ryan Playground, as well as renovations to Main Street near Sullivan Square and the waterfront next to the Schrafft Center.  Last week we heard the announcement of the Mayor’s capital budget plan to earmark $1 million for the planning and design of a new Ryan Playground.  This is the first real news of a plan to address that plot after the initial initiative was announced last fall.  The big news though was the $30 million for One Charlestown development.  This unprecedented commitment to affordable housing will transform our community and create a positive impact for many families.  However, as we welcome more families into our community we need to insure we have planned to expand our open space and public services to accommodate our growing neighborhood.

Along with several like minded neighbors, I have been spending a fair amount of time recently thinking about the implications this commitment would mean for our organized youth sports programs and field and facilities space for sports in general.  You see, like the mayor, I believe that sport has the ability to teach and reinforce resilience to the young and the young at heart as I make my pilgrimage down to the fields and the Community Center several days a week to support the programs that are open to all.  We are fortunate to have several growing sports programs in town but that means we have to share the limited suitable space.  It’s tremendous that the capital budget plan earmarks another $3 million to replace the decade old turf on the fields.  I’m very grateful that the mayor made this commitment to ensure that the programs that rely on those fields can continue to operate on safe and reliable surfaces.  Unfortunately though, it still doesn’t solve for the challenges of sufficient land allocation for our ever expanding community, let alone the addition of One Charlestown.

That’s why we were eager to join what we thought would have been a real dialogue regarding the “Little Mystic” parcels.  We were disappointed, however, that the position of the BPDA is that essentially all uses for that land besides it’s current usage were not options and that the best the community could do is to request proper mitigation.  For me, that’s simply not good enough.

We understand full well that those lands are within the Designated Port Area and as such have specific usage requirements.  We also understand however, that those boundaries can be reviewed.  As recently as 2002, parcels along the same DPA in Charlestown were reviewed and approved to be pulled out of the DPA and certain properties are allowed to remain in the DPA while operating within other acceptable uses. If a public boat ramp could be an acceptable use, why not a tennis court or a soccer field?  The bottom line is, if there’s political will to open those spaces up for another use, the mayor’s office would get it done. 

So what then can we do to encourage positive change in our community?  I believe that the call initiated by the Charlestown Preservation Society, supported by several other community groups, to push our elected officials and city agencies to commit to a Master Plan for Charlestown is the best vehicle for these discussions to be had in the public square.  Let’s put our resources towards planning now, not simply green-lighting new projects.

I urge my neighbors to read and sign the petition at http://cps-ris.org/petition/.

Tim McKenna is a Charlestown resident.

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