By Priscilla Rodriguez and Alexandra Fradelizio
Running through several downtown Boston neighborhoods, the Rose Kennedy Greenway has become one of the city’s most important green public spaces. The 17-acre linear park, known as The Greenway, starts in Chinatown and runs up through the Financial District and the waterfront and North End neighborhoods, offering free access to organically maintained lawns and gardens, strolling paths, public art exhibits, food trucks, beer gardens, play spaces, and over 450 free events per season.
Behind the scenes, the Greenway Conservancy has been working for a decade to bring this important space to life.
“We started in this place where the park was seen in a challenging way… we have overcome that initial perception dramatically,” says Jesse Brackenbury, Executive Director of the Greenway Conservancy, the nonprofit responsible for the management and care of The Greenway.
When the Conservancy for the public space was first established, it faced a lot of criticism for its use of the land and what was seen as sparse programming. So much so, in fact, that it was once called the “Empty Way” by critics. But within a few years, the conservancy team invigorated the space with free events, art installations and exhibits, a beer and wine garden and other programming that brought out millions of visitors.
“It started to be seen as a success – an innovative use of the public space,” says Brackenbury.
Brackenbury has been leading the organization as Executive Director for the last seven years, bringing his business management skills into play to expand awareness and opportunities for the park.
“It’s been really gratifying to move from that place of skepticism, to one where we’re growing the budget, the staff, and transforming people’s impression of the space,” says Brackenbury of Boston’s contemporary public park.
Among some of the park’s most successful attractions are its public art installations. Every year, the Conservancy commissions a group of new artists to create a variety of contemporary art works that are displayed across the mile and a half-long park. In the last seven years, the nonprofit has won more awards from the national American for the Arts Public Art Review for its public art displays than any other organization, explains Brackenbury. This alone has motivated many locals as well as new visitors to stop by and see what’s new.
As the Conservancy continues to come up with new ideas for ways to utilize the public park space, Brackenbury says that his goal for the coming years will be to see that the organization reaches new groups of people who have not yet enjoyed the space and to continue to make the park inclusive and inviting.
“We’ll think about how the Conservancy will ensure that the park feels inclusive and welcoming to all. This includes reaching out to those who live further afield or don’t work directly adjacent to The Greenway and invite them to experience all the park has to offer; there truly is something for everyone on The Greenway” says Brackenbury.