City to update open space plan, seeks public input

May 24, 2013
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The City’s Parks Department is updating its massive “Open Space Plan,” which will guide parks policy from 2015 to 2021, and is asking all residents to provide input via a questionnaire.

“It’s a touchstone for us,” said Margaret Dyson, the City’s director of historic parks, explaining to the Gazette how crucial the Open Space Plan is.

The comprehensive plan counts not only City parks, but also parkland owned by others as well as any kind of privately owned open space. And it not only looks at current park uses, but also tries to identify trends in new needs and uses, such as skateboard parks, dog runs or bicycle amenities. Among other things, it is used in capital budget planning.

That makes public input crucial. The Parks and Recreation Department is offering a survey in seven languages to learn how people use open space.

The basic reason for the Open Space Plan, last updated in 2008, is that it is a state requirement for grant eligibility. But, Dyson said, the City goes well beyond that and seizes the chance to ask more than, “‘How many swings do you want on the playground?’” Instead, she said, the Parks Department is asking residents, “What do you use [open space] for? What do you wish you could use it for? What prevents you from using it?”

The plan also considers possible “places people think are publicly owned but aren’t,” Dyson said, adding that Hellenic Hill overlooking Jamaica Pond Park might be one of those spaces.

Another consideration is the dynamic between private and public open space.

“We think about things like college campuses,” said Dyson. “A lot of colleges are building out their campuses”—including building atop their former playing fields—“and turning to [public] parks to provide sports facilities.”

One issue with the current Open Space Plan is its use of incorrect Boston neighborhood maps created and distributed throughout City agencies for decades by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). The incorrect “Jamaica Plain” map added most of Mission Hill to JP while cutting out Parkside, Forest Hills and Woodbourne. The BRA ceased relying on the incorrect maps in recent years after the Gazette revealed the problem and most agencies no longer use them.

Among other issues, the incorrect maps could result in incorrect distribution of City resources among neighborhoods. Even though the current Open Space Plan used the incorrect map, it noted Mission Hill as a separate neighborhood and identified Forest Hills parkland, such as Parkman Playground, as being in JP even though it was cut out of the BRA map.

Dyson said the Parks Department “probably” will continue using the incorrect BRA maps in the updated Open Space Plan, saying, “It is the way the planning agency talks about planning, so I think we will try to be consistent with that.” But, she added, with today’s sophisticated mapping software, it is likely that the plan will present park information in a wide variety of maps and formats, not just the old BRA maps.

The Parks Department will collect public input on the Open Space Plan through Oct. 1 and then will take about a year to compile all of the data into an official document. The Parks Department prefers that people submit their questionnaires sooner rather than later.

The questionnaire is available through the Parks Department website at cityofboston.gov/parks; by emailing openspaceplan2015@cityofboston.gov; or by writing to Boston Parks and Recreation Department, 1010 Massachusetts Ave., 3rd Floor, Boston, MA 02118. The questionnaires also will available through the end of this week at all Boston Public Library branches and some City community centers. In addition, City workers next month will conduct brief presentations in various neighborhoods about the Open Space Plan and how the questionnaires work.

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