Wednesday, July 24, 2024

A park funded by the East Cambridge Open Space Trust takes shape Friday at the O’Connell public library branch on Sixth Street. (Photo: Mark Jaquith)

Years back, some neighbors of mine with an interest in our city’s future got into a dispute with the developer of what was then known as Cambridge Research Park regarding public amenities and its impact on the neighborhood. Legal action ensued, and we all won. The short list of results include the Kendall Square skating rink, the Broad Canal boardwalk and the publicly accessible kayak and canoe launch the rentals operate out of. Less known than that was the inclusion of Kendall Crossing apartments on Binney Street. Even less well known was the creation and funding of the East Cambridge Open Space Trust. That may be about to change.

The Trust has been busy. You can begin to see the results at Sixth and Thorndike streets in East Cambridge. Over the years, the Trust has been criticized by a few neighborhood malcontents as being nothing but extortion, greed and corruption. It has been suggested that the money would disappear. (There is precedent. A similar entity was pilfered by its lawyer years before.) I became a trustee about 10 years ago when our fund was beginning to grow into a useful sum. Our big question was what to do with a pot of money big enough to build something, but too small to buy land in East Cambridge. Another big question was where in our densely built neighborhood was public open space rarest? We looked at lots of maps and aerial views, and it looked like the area north and east of the Kennedy-Longfellow School had the fewest green patches. It also has the city-owned O’Connell library branch, with mostly unused front and side areas. An idea started to form: If we partnered with the city on their/our land, we all could end up with something beautiful within our budget. Siting it at the library, where folk already gather, seemed kind of perfect.

We decided to adopt this plan and were able to get volunteers from the angels at COGdesign to help us develop a presentable plan. We liked it and decided to see it through if we could. What a learning experience it was! Lighting, seating, paving, planting, art, Americans with Disabilities Act compliance – and it had to be beautiful. After a couple of years with the design team that we hired to flesh it out, and working with lots of folks at the city, we donated most of the construction cost and it was put out to bid.

Shovels are in the ground, and now we can watch it take shape. What won’t be seen is the thousands of hours worked by unpaid volunteers, the endless meetings, emailing, record keeping, pleading and persisting. These local heroes cannot be thanked enough.

The park is scheduled to be completed by next summer. I hope to see you there. While you’re there, please remember that when your neighbors get in a serious squabble with a developer, they might not be a bunch of Nimbys and may have something better in mind than what has been brought to the table, and that may benefit the area and the whole city. They might be thinking of you. 

So, to further wound an already expired bard,

We few, we happy few, we band of bothers
For those today
That sweat in toil with me
Shall be my heroes.

Mark Jaquith is a Hurley Street resident and a former trustee of the East Cambridge Open Space Trust.