Before the late Mayor Thomas Menino took office in 1993, East Boston was a neighborhood with the least amount of open space, aging community centers and bleak schoolyards. But under his leadership he helped reshape the community to include a greenway, some of the best parks and recreational centers in all of Boston and a schoolyard initiative to transform city schoolyards into public open spaces and outdoor classrooms.
For Menino, open space for children and families to play and enjoy, quality city facilities for recreational activities and having schoolyards that were more than just blacktop wastelands was a huge priority.
Longtime community activist and East Boston Greenway Council President, Mary Ellen Welch said from the very beginning of the East Boston Greenway Council Mayor Menino was a strong supporter of the idea of transforming the neighborhood’s abandoned railroad tracks into a greenway.
“As we set up the Council and conducted meetings to generate ideas some scoffed at the idea of creating a green corridor along the tracks from the waterfront all the way to Orient Heights.Some said it could never happen ,that no one would ever fund such a project,” remembers Welch. “Mayor Menino heard our ideas,walked the route with us,got city agencies involved in the planning of the project and picked up the gauntlet with the Port Authority which didn’t want the land “wasted” on parkland.”
Menino took on former Massport head Steve Tocco who wanted the area to be a road from the waterfront to the airport.
“This idea was following on the plan of former Gov. Ed King to put the third harbor tunnel along the tracks,” she said. “On a frigid December night the Mayor came down to the trash strewn tracks to share hot chocolate and cookies with Council members and neighbors to celebrate the very beginnings of the planning process.”
As the Greenway Council here moved forward with the project and encountered engineering problems and dwindling funds Mayor Menino helped find solutions and obtain more funding sources.
“He shared the community belief in the importance of open green space being an important,vital ingredient in the wholeness of a neighborhood,” said Welch. “He believed in the concept of connecting parts and parks in the neighborhood by providing a way to walk, bike and skate from one end of the neighborhood to the other.”
Welch said as the first segments were constructed and completed the Mayor celebrated each success with the neighborhood.
“When it was time to find a way to construct the Wood Island segment Mayor supported the community plan by having the BRA step into the planning process with the community and the Port Authority,” she said. “The Mayor couldn’t attend the opening of the Wood Island segment but Tom Glynn sent him a beautiful framed picture of the Wood Island Bay Marsh Overlook. We were all anticipating his participation in the opening of the final segment next Spring. Sadly, he will only be able to participate in spirit.All the Greenway activists will hold Mayor Menino in our grateful memories on that day for all he did to make this wonderful linear park a beautiful reality.”
Menino was also supportive in the construction and rehabilitation of other open space and parks in Eastie. In the years of planning for the Bremen Street park the Mayor had his City agencies participate in strong and meaningful ways to design and construct this wonderful park along with the expansion of the East Boston Stadium to connect with it.When the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association wanted to rehabilitate and enhance the Golden Stairs Park they invited Mayor Menino to a picnic at the Golden Stairs to share their ideas about the proposal. The Mayor endorsed the proposal and helped the Association to secure funding with the City and with the Browne Fund.
During Mayor Menino’s tenure many other parks were rehabilitated, reconstructed and enhanced by the Parks Department under the Mayor’s direction.
The field at Memorial Stadium, Magliano playground at Sumner and Lamson Streets,the Byron Street playground,LoPresti Park,Noyes Park,City Yard,the Rockies,Porzio Park and two community gardens on Border Street and the NOAH Steps garden between Meridian and Border Streets were all completed under his guidance.He even snuck a small, vest pocket sized piece of greenspace the old Osco on Saratoga Street and the start of an orchard on the side of the Rockies.
Another example of Mayor Menino;s commitment to softening and enhancing the urban environment was the schoolyard initiative project which rebuilt all the schoolyards in East Boston.The schoolyards had new playground equipment,gardens,outdoor classrooms,trees and grassy areas for the students in the schools and for the families in the adjacent neighborhood.All the new schoolyards were designed by the students,parents,teachers and neighborhood residents.
“The dreams of neighborhood activists to create new green spaces and improve older ones became realities under the leadership of Mayor Menino,” said Welch. “East Boston is a greener, healthier ,more beautiful neighborhood because Mayor Menino listened to and responded to community ideas and desires.”
As far as the city’s community centers, Menino oversaw the rehabilitation of the Paris Street Pool, secured funding to begin a multi-million dollar major overhaul of the Paris Street Gym before he left office and helped these facilities partner with other agencies to bring more programming for kids and families.
“BCYF Paris St Community Center is scheduled for renovation because of Mayor Menino and his concern that Boston’s youth and families have access to updated, safe and innovative facilities,” said Paris Street Director Nicole DaSilva. “He was the ultimate public servant. We will honor his legacy in the work that we do every day with the children, youth and families that come through our doors.”
He also funded rehab projects at the Harborside Community Center and adjacent Mario Umana Academy. There he helped create a outdoor classroom, skatepark, updated tennis and basketball courts and public waterfront access.
He also supported the community’s request to rename the Orient Heights Community Center in honor of the late Marty Pino who was an inspiration Eastie figure for neighborhood youth for several decades.
Mayor Thomas Menino at the Bradley School’s schoolyard initiative ribbon cutting. Menino was a longtime champion of creating any open space at schools, parks and greenways as a way to add more greenspace to the neighborhood.