Artist makes waves

March 6, 2009
By

DAVID TABER


Courtesy Ray Dunetz Landscape Architecture

South St. Mall plans get green light

Goats were off the table at a Feb. 12 meeting at Curtis Hall to discuss new design plans for the South Street Mall and Courts at the corner of South Street and Carolina Avenue.

Initial community conversations with Jamaica Plain landscape architect Ray Dunetz and installation artist Beth Galston—who have been working on design plans to turn the mall and courts into an “art park”— began in July, 2007. They included a proposal from local resident Michael Epp to commission a few goats as live grass trimmers.

The general design proposal for the park, including two curvilinear—or wavy—fences to separate the tennis courts from the mall sec-tion of the courts, were well-received by the about 20 meeting attendees.

Work on the project was supposed to begin in 2008 but it has been on hold since a second meeting in November 2007. “We didn’t have a funding source for art fabrication and the art was really integrated into the design,” Parks Department project manager Cathy Baker-Eclipse said.

Since then, the Browne Fund, which also gave JP Centre South Main Streets (JP CSMS) a smaller grant to hire Galston and Dunetz to do the design work, put up another $75,000 for the fabrication and installation of the “art fence” aspect of the project, she said.

Despite the economic downturn, funding for the rest of the project—$230,000 that had been dedicated for mall restoration—and $80,000 for renovations to the tennis and basketball courts, is still secure, she said.

“Anything can happen these days…but the funds for this project have all been allocated,” Baker-Eclipse said.

The main fence would be constructed in a wave pattern. A shallow curve on the north side of the park, near Peru Travel, would make successively large arcs heading toward Carolina.

The wave would be complimented by a “metal mesh fabric that would weave around and through the posts,” Galston said, at one point describing the effect as “delicate.” That fabric would not replace the chain link structure of the fence that repels tennis balls, she said.

A stone wall, on which the current fence sits, would be removed.

At the south end of the park, rather than construct a gate for access to the courts, the main fence will arc toward the court and another, shorter fence will arc in from the other side to create a pathway, Galston said.

The fence would be complimented by a stone sitting-wall closer to the South Street side of the mall that will also be laid out in a waveform.

Plans call for the replacement of the current stock of linden trees in the mall with less dense trees that allow more “filtered light” to shine through to ground level. Dunetz said honey locusts are a likely candidate.

The courts will also see renovations, including the replacement of basketball hoops and tennis nets and re-grading the court sur-face.

Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council member Andrea Howley, who sits on the council’s parks and open spaces committee, asked if any of the trees could be saved or if the trees being removed could be replaced at a ratio of 1.5 to 1.

Dunetz said he had hired an arborist to look at the trees, who had determined that only three were still viable.

It would be hard to maintain even those three trees’ root structures during the park redesign process, he said, and 10 trees cur-rently situated there is about the maximum the 150-square-foot park can hold.

Local resident Sarah Freeman said it would require diligence to maintain the new trees, because mature trees are fragile when transplanted.

The new garden beds would allow the new trees more room to expand their root structures than the current crop currently has, Dunetz said, increasing their chance of survival.

The park designs include a water spout, and community members will be able to help water the trees.

Other comments and requests at the meeting were also fairly nuts-and-bolts—a far cry from the 2007 proposal that the park host a small herd of goats.

Concerns that a garden plot directly in front of the “sitting wall” would block people from sitting facing the street were resolved with a proposal to install a few sidewalk-facing benches on the other side of that plot.

Another idea popular with meeting attendees—to install ground lighting that would illuminate the fence at night—met with enthusiasm from Galston but resistance from Baker-Eclipse.

“If it was up lit it would be unforgettable,” said local resident Rob Festa.

The proper lighting could make the piece “a landmark,” Galston said.

Baker-Eclipse said the parks department has had frustrating experiences with ground lighting in the past, including water getting into the fixtures.

Epp, who chairs the JP CSMS design committee, recommended LED lights. “They use an eighth of the energy and there is no mainte-nance,” he said. “If we could show some of these fixtures to you for your consideration, I think that would be great,” he said.

Baker-Eclipse said the department would look at any ideas, but “the parks maintenance guys are not the fastest to adopt new tech-nology,” she said.

Dunetz said it would be relatively easy to include conduits in the plans, so that ground lighting could be installed later.