Waiting and wondering…

When Chris Marchi was walking along a stretch of East Boston land he and other community activists have been eying as a potential site to finally connect Eastie’s park system from Piers park to Constitution Beach he spotted a red foam ball.

When he picked it up and turned it over handwritten on the ball were the words “What if?”.

It pretty much summed up the sentiment felt here in Eastie in the decades after Wood Island was stolen from the community to make way for Logan Airport expansion.

Now, in the area where Marchi found the ball people are asking what if we can finally designate a small stretch of land to connect all of the neighborhood’s parks so families and children can travel from one end of Eastie to the other without ever hitting a busy city street.

That’s the dream that has been gaining momentum and could soon become a reality if Marchi, Eastie’s elected officials and residents can sway Massport from allowing public use of a little piece of land on airport property.

Marchi, a member of Eastie’s AirInc. is looking to extend the airport buffer mitigation to include a small pathway big enough for walkers, joggers, and bicyclists to continue from Bremen Street Park to Constitution Beach.

If AirInc. gets its way, Eastie will have one continuous park system that would go from Piers Park on Marginal Street all the way to the Bayswater Street buffer.

“This will allow everyone in the neighborhood to access the park closest to them and continue in one direction to Piers Park or the other to Constitution Beach without being on dangerous city streets,” said Marchi.

Marchi and AirInc. recently conducted a neighborhood-wide survey on Eastie’s park system and asked residents what they would like to see more or less of in their parks and if they supported a plan to connect the beach with the rest of the parks.

“We have 189 out of our target 200 responses in,” said Marchi. “The Jeffries Point, Mount Carmel, Maverick and Eagle Hill survey blocks are closed. Orient Heights and Star of the Sea should be done this week. So that’ll close out the neighborhood based survey and should be able to get out a draft project report with some basic survey results next.”

So far only one resident has opposed the plan and added a comment that he likes the isolation of Constitution Beach, and doesn’t want any more foot traffic and that it should be left the way it is.

However, this does not discourage Marchi and supporters of the plan.

“I’ve learned that this sort of argument against a greenway can come from residents’ legitimate concerns over crime and other perceived negative impacts and fears,” said Marchi. “We’ll work to demonstrate that greenways actually bring about an opposite effect to this. Public spaces become safer the more they’re used. A perfect example of this is the East Boston Greenway itself. 20 years ago that was an abandoned space, loaded with garbage and only used by scofflaws. Today, it’s open, patrolled and full of a vibrant positive community presence. It seems more likely that resident’s fears about certain areas and loss of control and safety in them are more likely to stem from their previous experiences in those places.”

Marchi and AirInc’s most interesting concepts of unifying Eastie’s park system is using the old MWRA right-of-way as a greenway. The right-of-way runs parallel to the Blue Line behind Wood Island and dumps out onto Constitution Beach.

Marchi explained that there is nationwide movement called Rails to Trails that is using old right-of-ways and train track beds and transforming them into public open spaces and greenways like Eastie did years back on its own Greenway using the abandoned Narrow Gauge railroad.

“Open spaces with a history of teens hanging out and getting into trouble like the MWRA right of way along the tracks have been burdens on abutters for years,” said Marchi. “And as the guardians of those places, after decades of conditioning, people are leery of increasing any sort of activity there.”

With the survey report almost complete, Marchi and AirInc. are switching gears and beginning a community outreach campaign.

“So we’ll be going to the civic groups and talking about our aspirations for a better open space future for our families and asking for their support,” said Marchi. “Last week, Gail Miller, Gretchen Scheider and I attended the Eagle Hill Civic Association meeting. We received unanimous support and can expect a strong letter of support from them. We’re on he agenda for the November 8 Jeffries Point meeting and are currently looking to schedule visits to other groups.”

Councilor Sal LaMattina, Senator Anthony Petruccelli, Representative Carlo Basile and Mayor Menino have all pledged their support and the group is also expecting a letter of support from At-Large Councilor Felix Arroyo.

“Building a strong political coalition is one of our most important goals,” said Marchi. “It’s going to take leadership from our elected officials to convince Massport to abandon the trenches they’ve dug over the past 20 years and shift into a more productive gear.”

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