Remembering Mary Ellen

Mary Ellen Welch among other leaders who have worked over decades to make the East Boston Greenway a reality

When we lost Mary Ellen on March 7, 2019, we lost a dear friend and neighbor, a community leader, a wise advisor and passionate advocate for social and environmental justice, a devoted daughter of East Boston and a proud Bostonian. A school teacher for decades in East Boston, Mary Ellen was a born teacher, helping us all to learn, to advocate and to demonstrate for a more just world for everyone. How generous she was with her encouragement, how gentle she was with her correction! We all learned from her, and those lessons are now part of us.

Mary Ellen was one of a small group of East Boston residents who believed the trash filled, abandoned freight tracks could become a welcoming, safe Greenway that would remove years of contamination in the midst of the neighborhood. The Greenway would become a beautiful green space for children to ride their bikes, seniors to stroll and residents to make connections through and across the neighborhood. She was sure East Boston would rally to the Greenway. “Oh, yes, they will love it!” she replied about the farfetched idea in 1990. And she was so right.

Now, we invite you to join us to in continuing to enhance the Greenway along the path that Mary Ellen led. We also wish to create a special location along the Greenway by way of honoring Mary Ellen’s vision, her compassion and her faith that East Boston deserved this new parkland connecting East Boston’s harbor, beaches, parks and marshes. Please help us honor Mary Ellen by helping us continue her work and to create a beautiful special site for all to enjoy and remember. We appreciate gifts of all sizes.

Ways of contributing to the Friends of East Boston Greenway are available on the contribute page of the website: https://eastbostongreenway.com/contribute/

BSLA Design Challenge Entries

The BSLA Design Challenge for the Gove Street Intersection of East Boston Greenway has resulted in some great entries. We, the Friends of East Boston Greenway, are curious about what you, the people of East Boston, think about the various elements in these entries. Let us know what you think by responding to this post or writing to eastiegreenway@gmail.com. We are not expecting your votes on the individual entries or any ranking. We are curious about which elements of the entries you are drawn to, and which ones you think are appropriate for the Greenway, which suit and/or enhance the uses of the Greenway you are familiar with and appreciate.

BSLA and Friends of East Boston Greenway would like to thank the participants (including landscape architects and designers) who generously gave of their time and talent to create these innovative and beautiful designs.

#10: (en)gauging the Water
Team: Keihly Moore, Thu Ngan Han
#20: East Boston Greenway + Gove Street Park
Team TL Studio Inc.: Tom Lee, Masha Hranjec-Johnson, Dennis Staton
#30: Fill The Gap
Team Stantec: Grace Ng, ASLA, RLA, Genevieve Shephard, Kevin Beuttell, RLA
#40: A New Front Yard
Team UMass LARP: Jessica Schoendorf
#50: The Living Room
Team CRJA-IBI: Andrea Fossa, Kristina Stevens, Siyu Xiao, Carl Frushour, Catherine Offenberg
#60: Streamway
Team: Qian Fischer
#70: Ties
Team Toole Design: Stephanie Weyer, Karen Fitzgerald, Lydia Hausle, William Huang
#80: Waiting to Launch
Team Kyle Zick: Rob Barella, Mike Doucette, Yong Jae Lee, Emily Sanchez, Tracy Hudak, Danielle D. Desilets, Kyle Zick
#90: History Through Water
Team CB2: Connor Byrne, Chris Brown

Mary Ellen Welch

East Boston’s Mary Ellen Welch in her home overlooking Boston Harbor
(P/C WBUR)

In her own words, here is a glimpse into the mettle Mary Ellen was made of. The interview was done as part of Media for Movement, a collaboration of Zumix and MIT CoLabs. — Kannan

Youth and Climate Advocacy

The climate art installation on East Boston Greenway   FutureWaters|AguasFuturas is getting noticed by the most important section of the population it is meant for: our youth. One of them (Varshini Prakash of Sunrise Movement who lives in East Boston) was able to draw the attention of a member of the United States Congress with her picture to our climate vulnerability.

Americorps service member Lanika Sanders with Boston Latin Academy students
Young residents of Eastie enjoying the installation (“We are happy to see this beautiful installation but terrified by what it signifies.”)
Varshini Prakash (Sunrise Movement) reads the description of the installation regarding anticipated flood levels.

Varshini (from Sunrise Movement) tweeted her picture under the installation to Congresswoman-elect Ayanna Pressley, saying she would drown at this level of water, and asking Pressley to take a specific action. Here is the tweet and the response from Pressley.

Varshini’s tweet:

Pressley’s response:

One BLA student asked several critical questions about the  installation:

  • Where did we get the data?
  • How much of the anticipated level is due to storm surge vs. high tide vs. sea level rise?
  • Given that, how bad would it be without the storm surge?

(We will be posting the details in an FAQ.)

Incidentally, through his questions, he helped us realize our problems will grow more and more significant even without the storm surge, merely from the sea level rise and high tide.

Is the Greenway getting ballsy?

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Eastie Farm Americorps service member Lanika Sanders measures herself against 2070 flood levels

Do you think you can walk along the Greenway in 2070? What about 2030?

If you are wondering why we are asking this question, go check out FutureWATERS|AGUASfuturas, the bold and beautiful installation that brings art and science together on the East Boston Greenway asap, showing two anticipated flood levels, the 2030 and the 2070. Without any additional efforts, this will be our reality.

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The blue balls change color with temperature. There are also dynamic elements of the art (motion sensitive illumination in the dark).

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Climate Change and its consequences are a significant threat for the young.

The blue balls that you see mounted on the chicken wire mesh change color with temperature, and serve as a visual reminder of the already occurring erratic weather patterns and warming trend that can be attributed to climate destabilization.

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Viewed from the Sumner Street overpass

The installation is interactive. Motion sensors trigger battery (solar powered) operated wavy illumination.

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FutureWATERS|AGUASfuturas is located at the Marginal Street end of the East Boston Greenway, easily accessible by walk from Maverick Station on the MBTA blue line. The display will be up until the first week of December 2018.

FutureWATERS|AGUASfuturas was designed by Carolina Aragon, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, University of Massachusetts. The data to determine the anticipated water levels was supplied by the Woodshole Group, UMass Boston SSL (Sustainable Solutions Lab), and UMass Boston School of Environment. Gretchen Robinkin of Boston Society of Landscape Architecture coordinated and supported the process from conception to implementation. The design, material, and installation costs are paid for by the Friends of East Boston Greenway, from the Barr Foundation‘s Waterfront Partnership program grant.

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Carolina Aragon is the brain behind FutureWATERS|AGUASfuturas (Photo credit: Rudi Seitz)

Several members of the East Boston community were involved in making and installing the art.

Members of the community have been stopping by and observing the installation day and night. One resident remarked, “This is shocking. I’d like to know what we can do about it.”

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Eagle Hill resident expresses shock after observing the art and reading the explanation. “This is shocking!”

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The Eastie for Eastie team working on Managed Retreat (a proactive plan for dealing with unlivable waterfront areas) observing the anticipated 2030 flood levels.

Who’s making waves on the Greenway?

 

Listen to it. What or who is making this sound on the Greenway?

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April 2017 picture of flooding in the Greenway that put the city section of the Greenway out of commission

Remember back in 2017, when the East Boston Greenway got so flooded, it couldn’t be used at all? And people made jokes about how it was becoming a duck pond? It was about to happen all over again, but thanks to the timely intervention and work of some caring young people (all Friends of the East Boston Greenway), plus a little bit of luck, most of you didn’t even know that we were about to have a major problem 🙂

It all started with three young East Boston folks, who were working on the Greenway all Summer as the Trustees Youth Conservation Corps, asking Chief Cook (on Sept 13) to join them for a walk on the Greenway, so they can express their concerns and aspirations on site. He agreed.

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Sept 13, 2018: Young folks from East Boston part of the Youth Conservation Corps meet with Chief Cook and request a walk along the Greenway to share their concerns about the space

Next, as the Friends of East Boston Greenway have been doing for several days now, we gathered on Oct 13, 2018 at 3pm. It had been raining all morning, so it wasn’t an active day. Some of us (Gabriela, Skye, Lanika, and Kannan) decided to walk the Greenway and observe the impacts of the rain that day. We saw  some things we expected to see: a few puddles, some erosion, nothing major.

Then we saw a few things we were not expecting to see:

  1. A woman living in the building alongside the Greenway on Maverick was throwing dirty water on the Greenway.

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    “Sewer backup!” Resident throwing water out the window on to the Greenway!
  2. Felix, who lives along the Greenway near Maverick, stopped us to say the drainage pump near Maverick was making some strange noises, and, in his words, “was ready to blow.”

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    Greenway neighbor providing useful information about draining pump in disrepair

  3. We listened to the noise. Whoosh…. Whooosh… Whoosh.. The drainage pump was clearly trying to drain, but failing. We understood from Felix that he had raised a 3-1-1 case but he was not confident that he did it correctly. So Gabriela and Skye both reported the observation via 3-1-1.

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On Oct 18, the YCC youth, as planned, walked the Greenway with Chief Cook. Had a lot to share with Chief Cook, the most important one being the whooshing pump of Maverick Street. Chief Cook paused, then said “You have my undivided attention. The sound from the motor was abnormal enough. It needed action.

And action came promptly. The work continued until the pump was fixed on Oct 26th.

And then, on Oct 27th, the remains of Hurricane Willa came to New England, in the form of a Nor’easter. It poured and poured. And the motor drained and drained. A puddle here and a puddle there, but the Greenway was still usable.

Many people walked, ran, and biked along the Greenway on the 28th as if nothing had gone wrong. And that’s how we like it.

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P.S.: We still have some work to do. We’d like to encourage the people living in Greenway Apartments to call 3-1-1 when they see a drainage issue. (We have reached out to them and are looking forward to an opportunity to meet with them to provide some simple education on 3-1-1) We’d like to understand better if and how their issue is connected to the pump draining water from the Greenway. To that end, we’re reaching out to Boston Parks Department as well as Boston Water and Sewer Commission.

 

What do you like about the Greenway?

On September 22, 2018, Pangea performed on the East Boston Greenway. East Boston residents and out of towners alike were enjoying this music so much, we felt guilty engaging them in a conversation about their use of the Greenway. Even so, we managed several brief conversations, and one very clear response.

(Scroll down for pictures)

The larger question was about people’s usage of this public amenity, but the more specific one, as in the title, was designed to determine what they enjoy about it. Here’s what we heard:

“We like it because it serves a purpose for us.”

It turned out there are several purposes — purposes that serve people’s lifestyles. The purposes themselves range widely, but the common running thread is that being on the Greenway is in and of itself an outdoor activity.

  1. Walking with kids
    • For families with small kids (toddlers), the only safe place to let the kids walk is the Greenway. Street sidewalks are out of the question, because, as anyone with a toddler knows, the toddler doesn’t know where she or he is going 🙂
  2. Skate-boarding
    • For folks who love skate-boarding, the Greenway is a fun place. And skate-boarders range from late teens into thirties.
  3. Running
    • This is a significant portion of Greenway users. And their destination is not so much a place they enjoy the views from, or a place to read, it is more the destination that serves their running distance goals.
  4. Biking
    • Whether it is their own bikes, or blue bikes, or the trikes that Friend of East Boston Greenway introduced, people love biking on the Greenway. This works especially well for families with kids of biking age.
  5. Going to the library/Y/PiersPark
    • For several folks, the Greenway is a nice alternative to walking on the streets — safe, beautiful, and slow-paced (compared to motor-vehicles). The destinations we heard repeatedly:
      • Bremen Street Park
      • Piers Park
      • The library
      • The YMCA in Bremen Street Park
  6. Sitting down to eat my lunch
    • It appears some residents who work from home near the Greenway step out to grab lunch and sit on the Greenway to enjoy their lunch with a view, and presumably some social interaction.

 

Which way to the waterfront?

Did you know that the East Boston Greenway connects two bodies of water? The Inner Harbor and Constitution Beach.

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The East Boston Greenway connects Constitution Beach to the inner harbor with beautiful views of the Boston skyline from East Boston’s south western waterfront.

The Friends of the East Boston Greenway were out on the Greenway (Gove Street intersection) with Somali chai, chatting with neighbors who use the Greenway. We recorded no fewer than 150 users in those 3 hours. We chatted with about 50 of them about their knowledge of, and use of the Greenway to access the waterfront. Here are the responses:

  • “Of course! We go to Piers Park all the time via the Greenway.”
  • “What? The Greenway extends beyond Bremen Street Park?”
  • “Constitution Beach? We go there, but by car. Didn’t know the Greenway goes there.”
  • “We tried to go to the beach by the Greenway and got lost.”

Turns out this is not uncommon. People get lost at Frankfort street intersection, because they are not expecting to have to cross the street. Like everything in Massachusetts, it’s not hard once you know what to do.

Let’s say you are going along the Greenway at Bremen Street Garden passing by the library (on your left, and then Excel academy). You’ll then go under the highway. When you emerge, you’ll be at the intersection of Martin A Coughlin bypass Road and Frontfort Street. You cross Martin A Coughlin bypass road first. Then you cross Frankfort Street. (See below). Voila! Now you are on the Greenway connector leading all the way to Constitution Beach!

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In order to continue on to Constitution Beach from Bremen Street park along the Greenway, you have to cross Frankfort Street.

 

 

 

  • “We only use the Greenway to go from home to the library and to Bremen Street park.”
  • “I bike the entire 2-mile stretch regularly.”
  • “We know we can access Constitution Beach via the Greenway but we don’t like it [Constitution Beach] because you can smell the airplane exhaust. We go to better beaches further north.”
  • “I know you can get to Constitution Beach if you go this way.”

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This question about waterfront access and the conversation that ensued turned out to be a learning experience for most people, including many regular users of the Greenway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I hope it doesn’t stop there”

That’s a comment from one East Boston resident, regarding the deployable flood wall designed to go under the Sumner Street overpass.

On September 8, 2018, we (the Friends of East Boston Greenway) positioned ourselves, with some reusable grocery bags, on the Sumner Street overpass. It was the Zumix block party day so the foot traffic was unusually heavy. We chatted folks up as they were returning from the party and were therefore in a good mood 🙂

One of the topics we brought up is the vulnerability of the Greenway due to coastal flooding. According to the city of Boston’s Climate Ready East Boston report, the Greenway is one of the high impact channels to coastal flooding, as it can bring the water into the neighborhood.

One concrete action that the city has already taken, in order to mitigate the Greenway flood risk, is purchase and test a deployable flood wall to go on the Greenway under the Sumner Street overpass. This is how it will work: If and when there is a forecast of heavy enough coastal flooding from storm surge to flood the Greenway, city staff will deploy the flood wall. At that point this stretch of the Greenway will be unusable. Once the flood drains or is pumped, the wall will be dismantled and put away, and the Greenway is back in use.

By the way,  except for one person, who happens to work for a consulting firm doing climate resilience, nobody we spoke to — easily a 100 people — knew about the flood wall. Once people learned about it though, they had a variety of responses:

  • “I hope it doesn’t stop there.”

This is in recognition of the fact that the Greenway isn’t the only vulnerable portion of East Boston, given that East Boston is practically an island. This was the sentiment of most of the respondents.

  • “What about us?”

This response came from people on the wet side of the flood wall. For starters, their concern is simply that the flood wall does not help them. Moreover, they wondered if the flood wall increases their risk.

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Jan 4, 2018 Coastal Flooding (high tide plus storm surge) leading to the Greenway

Extreme Precipitation

Another form of What about us? comes from those who are not subject to coastal flooding due to storm surges, but are vulnerable to extreme precipitation. The hills of East Boston, for example, are subject to mudslides when there is too much rain for the ground to handle. Mudslides qualify as flood. People living on hills must have flood insurance in order to cover damage due to mudslides.

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A mudslide in the Orient Heights neighborhood of East Boston following an extreme precipitation event in September 2017 (Source unknown — please inform FoEBG if you are the photographer).

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What do Orient Heights and East Boston Greenway have in common? This couple knows it’s the increasing impact of climate change.

The Greenway has experienced severe flooding due to rain as well. It was particularly exacerbated when silt carried into drainage pipes blocked the pipes permanently. The city had to do a bypass surgery of sorts (with new pipes) in order to allow drainage to happen.

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The East Boston Greenway has experienced severe storm flooding in the past. This is from 2010. (Source unknown — please inform FoEBG if you are the photographer)

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Please contact the FoEBG.

 

Can’t get there from here!

Do you know if you can get to the East Boston Greenway from the Sumner Street overpass? If you haven’t tried, here’s the answer: Not directly. That applies to the Maverick Street overpass as well. If you find yourself on Sumner Street or Maverick Street, you’ll realize you have to walk to the Marginal Street entrance or to the Gove street entrance respectively. That stretch of the Greenway without any access in between is a good third of a mile. If we had access from Sumner and Maverick would that be a good thing? The Friends of East Boston Greenway talked to over a 100 people over the course of 3 hours on a busy weekend day on the Sumner Street overpass. The passers by were mostly East Boston residents, old and new, across an age range of 7 to 70, both genders, and several ethnic and racial backgrounds. Turns out not all people feel the same way.

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  • “Sure! Can’t see why it would hurt.”

This was by far the majority of the response. The more accessible the Greenway is, the better, for those who already use the Greenway, and find themselves wanting to get to it from different parts of the neighborhood. It will likely lead to more people using it, too.

  • “Of course! I would love that.”

This came from people who use Sumner or Maverick streets often, and would love to be able to get to the Greenway directly. There were a few families that live right on the intersection of Sumner and Bremen, with their parking lot overlooking the Greenway, and they seem particularly excited about being able to get to the Greenway, which is practically their backyard, from their parking lot.

This response also came from some who were concerned for their safety while traversing this stretch of the Greenway. We have heard this response previously during neighborhood association meetings, referring to other sections of the Greenway. The responders in this case prefer many ways to leave the Greenway and get on to a street if they feel the need to.

  • “No!”

This response came from people who have already noticed undesirable activity (drinking was mentioned explicitly and other illicit activity was hinted at) on the Greenway, and were concerned more access would lead to more such activity. One mother, in particular, said because sometimes her young children (preteens) go on the Greenway on their own, she’d like to be able to trust the space to be safe, and therefore less access is better.

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How do you get from the Sumner Street overpass to the East Boston Greenway?