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Laura Jasinski: And I think that’s what city parks, in general, are for. They’re for gathering. They’re for people to have these kind of informal interactions with people they might not see otherwise in their day. In sharing information people ask questions together, they hear the responses, and create this kind of engaging environment where you do speak to people you wouldn’t normally talk to everyday.
Anita Walker: Hello, I’m Anita Walker at the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Welcome to Creative Minds Out Loud. With us today is Laura Jasinski. She is the Director of Programs and Planning at the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Thanks so much for joining us.
Laura Jasinski: Thank you for having me.
Anita Walker: You know, people still can’t get away from those two words, the big, dig. I have to tell you if they have not been out to the Greenway lately, they are missing a bet. This is something that has been an evolution.
Laura Jasinski: Exactly.
Anita Walker: And what is happening there now is spectacular, but roll back the clock a little bit, and let’s talk about something that it feels like a minute ago was a thoroughfare, and now we’re supposed to turn it into a park. How daunting was that?
Laura Jasinski: I would say very. The Greenway Conservancy really inherited the Greenway Parks. They were designed by a number of really talented and great landscape architects, but I don’t think anybody could really envision what that space was going to be from highway to park. That’s hard when you’re looking at plans, and drawings, and renderings. So I think when the park emerged with kind of young plantings, everybody as like, “Oh, this is it.” But there was no activation plan yet, and I think that’s where the Conservancy really stepped in. Our organization is unlike other park agencies in the city. We’re a soup to nuts organization, like they like to call it. We do the horticulture, the maintenance, the programming, the fundraising, all of it, which means we can have a really nice, coordinated effort in all of those different areas.
Anita Walker: So a big part of the success, especially lately, is we’ve seen new features and new activities on the park is sort of a combination of inspiration from people like you and the Conversancy, but real local engagement, so that the people who live near and by, and use the Greenway feel like they’ve got their fingerprints on it.
Laura Jasinski: Exactly. The Greenway runs through a lot of different neighborhoods, very diverse neighborhoods, from Chinatown, through the Financial District, up to the North End, so each park district really has its own, personality based on their abutters. Some people see it as a very residential park in the North End, and want to talk about doing more yoga classes, and, you know, events there. Financial District, there’s a lot of food trucks, because folks come out there for lunch and really activate that space. What we try to do is work very closely with each of the communities when we’re doing a project in their neighborhood, whether that’s the Wharf District Council, or school children. Actually when we worked on the Greenway Carousel, our first stop was children. Who are the people that were gonna be using this the most was the kids. So I actually had the great pleasure of going into four different elementary schools in different neighborhoods in Boston, sitting down with the kids and said, “What kind of character would you want to ride on a Boston carousel?” In my former job I was a model builder, so I built these Styrofoam carousels, these kind of miniature models of carousels, and the kids drew on them what they wanted to ride, whether it was a sea serpent or a skunk, or a fox, and we put their drawings on index cards on popsicle sticks and populated these model carousels, and they loved them, and then worked with a local artist out of Newburyport to turn those drawings into the carousel characters that are there today, the lobster and the cod.
Anita Walker: We have a great deal of pride, by the way, at the Mass Cultural Council, in the carousel, in particular.
Laura Jasinski: Absolutely.
Anita Walker: That was one of our Cultural Facilities Fund projects, but also because you not only engaged a Massachusetts artist, and you talked to Massachusetts kids, but it is one of the most handicap accessible carousels anywhere. What made you think about that?
Laura Jasinski: Again, we wanted this to be available to everybody, and that means people from all different ranges of ages, abilities across the board. We were able to work with the Institute for Human Centered Design, Valerie Fletcher and her crew over there are fantastic in thinking creatively, not just on things like ramps, but on sensory different issues and activations, so the fur on the carousel characters is really defined. The sculptor made it really defined so people can really feel the fur of the fox on the carousel. I think it’s really fantastic.
Anita Walker: So these are neighborhood parks, but they’re also the Greenway, so it’s both a local destination, but a journey from end to end. It’s kind of a paradox, isn’t it?
Laura Jasinski: Absolutely. And I think that’s something that the Conservancy, we talk about that a lot. A lot of people will come and they’ll experience one park, one piece of the park, or the whole park, and really however people choose to experience it is great. We love that they are coming to see all the different activation we’re doing, and want them to understand what was there, and what else they can do with their time, if they would like to, but we’re really excited to see that people make their experiences their own.
Anita Walker: You know, it’s not like you don’t have enough to do. Programming many parks, and the horticulture, and taking care of the plants, and taking care of it, but you also try to keep it fresh. It’s not like you’re putting in, you don’t see everything as a permanent installation. Talk about that philosophy.
Laura Jasinski: Exactly. When we were thinking about our next step of activation, we were successful with our organic horticulture program, engaging volunteers, our food truck program. Public art really seemed to be the next step, so actually 2012 we engaged some consultants to do a public art strategy. And what came out of that was really identifying and owning that the Greenway is a different kind of park in Boston. The Common and the Public Gardens are fantastic parks, but we’re kind of a new park, a new innovative park is how we see ourselves. So out of that came contemporary and temporary public art, and we’re committed to that, which is great. We can, I think, expose Bostonians to a lot of different kinds of art and artists that way, different mediums, different inspirations, and if people don’t like it, that’s okay. It’s gonna go away. And if people do like it, sorry, it’s gonna go away. But we think it’s a really great way to keep things fresh, rotating curations, one in Chinatown based on the Zodiac calendar. We did have sheep this year. Lucas Callan was a genius with that one. And next year it’ll be monkeys, you know, just rotating and keeping it interesting.
Anita Walker: So what’s the biggest challenge? I mean, you obviously are infinitely creativity, but how do you keep it going? How do you really face the constant maintenance requirements, the pressures of fundraising, the pressures of coming up with a new idea on a regular basis, the constant interaction with, you know, the local neighborhoods and the people who really feel a sense of ownership. How do you keep all those balls in the air at once?
Laura Jasinski: I think part of it is being the type of organization we are with kind of everything under one roof. That doesn’t mean it’s not challenging. I think especially this year, with more people in the parks, taking care of the parks has gotten a lot harder. Our lawns have a lot of feet on them. Sometimes they’re dancing. Sometimes they’re sitting. Sometimes there’s public art on them, and that takes the toll, so we really work internally and try to communicate with maintenance and horticulture staff, and public program staff, on what’s happening when, so we can take care of the park before and after. But a lot of it really is the people. I can’t say enough about the staff at the Conservancy, and how committed they are to what they do every day, and how much they love it, and the energy they bring. And so we are certainly fueled by the great ideas that come to us with that. I think people read our commitment and see that the Greenway is really a place to show their new ideas, so they come to us with them and it’s kind of this constant back and forth energizing.
Anita Walker: This is really an example of a new kind of park, as you’ve said a few times. It’s not the Common. It’s not the Public Garden, which are wonderful and have a really special place in the heart of the people of Boston. But give us a little peek into the future. What is the newest, freshest, craziest ideas out there that we might be seeing coming to the Greenway?
Laura Jasinski: I’m excited to say we don’t entirely know yet, right, which I think is great. We were just talking about this recently with our board, with our staff, on what’s our next big thing? There will certainly be more public art in the Greenway to come throughout the next couple of years, and it’s hard to believe the Greenway will actually be celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2017-2018. So I think our next, big, public art piece will really be targeted around then. What we have noticed, especially with the Janet Echelman piece over the Greenway, is that people have come to the Greenway and seen everything we have been doing for the past few years. We’ve gotten a lot more proposals for events, so I think there will be a lot more event activation next year. We did a great series with the celebrity series, and the Let’s Dance Boston. We brought people out to do dance lessons five nights a week with professional dance instructors, and live bands of different kinds of music every night, so I think we’ll see more of that coming, in the near future, with some interesting rotating curations.
Anita Walker: So bronze sculptures?
Laura Jasinski: Not permanent. We won’t be working. I won’t say– we may be working in some bronze coming up, and I think that’s all I can say right now, but not permanent.
Anita Walker: One of the distinguishing features, and maybe you can talk more about it, on your checklist of characteristics, what works in a park like this, a new kind of park, a modern park, a newly made park, and I feel like interaction. Functionality, you put in some new benches on the North End that are actually swings.
Laura Jasinski: Yeah.
Anita Walker: So what’s your kind of punch list? If we’re gonna do it, we want it to be like these kinds of characteristics.
Laura Jasinski: Fun, sustainable, green and engaging is what we talk about a lot. We listen to what our communities are saying, you know, our abutters are asking for, and think, okay, how do we do that in a really, fresh, new way, or how do we work with what we have and kind of update and reactivate it. That’s what the swings really did in the North End, is we had this great architectural feature of the pergola, and the benches underneath it weren’t quite working. Nobody was really sitting on them, so we made a change with that, added some swings, and now they are packed. So really kind of listening to what our abutters are looking for, listening to new ideas out there.
Anita Walker: It almost feels like the park has become almost like a community center. You mentioned yoga classes, and you mentioned food trucks. You mentioned things that people might never in the past have gone to a park to access. Do you see the park having a different role than our traditional vision?
Laura Jasinski: I absolutely do. I mean, I think that’s what city parks in general are for. They’re for gathering. They’re for people to have these kind of informal interactions with people they might not see otherwise in their day. We’re seeing that a lot, whether it’s just, you know, asking a stranger to take a picture of you in front of the carousel, or in front of the Echelman, or we’ve very purposely wanted to activate with arts ambassadors, which are our great volunteer program that have educated kind of the public, and people with questions underneath the Echelman sculpture, ’cause we got a lot of what is that, you know. How did this happen? And so anticipating that, we grabbed this and combined this great fleet of volunteers who are incredibly fantastic. I can’t say enough about them, either, and educated them so that they could then share that with the rest of the public. So I think in sharing information people ask questions together. They hear the responses, and create this kind of engaging environment where you do speak to people you wouldn’t normally talk to every day.
Anita Walker: Where do the volunteers come from?
Laura Jasinski: We also have a great volunteer coordinator. She’s fantastic, Keelin Purcell, has been working with volunteers mainly in the horticultural side of things, but anticipating us working with Blue Gifts, we put out a request, kind of a posting for volunteers for this project specifically, and Boston being as creative as it is, with all of the universities and colleges around, we had a really great response.
Anita Walker: So once again, it’s another way for the community to have ownership.
Laura Jasinski: Exactly.
Anita Walker: Of this wonderful feature in their community. One thing that I’m curious about, as well, is that it’s not a park that’s sequestered aside, on the edge. It’s right in the middle of streets. There’s traffic on all sides. What kind of a particular challenge has that presented to you?
Laura Jasinski: Oh. That’s a very interesting challenge in that both from the design of the parks and how we’re updating those, we’re constantly thinking about safety, and edges, and buffering. At the carousel that was such a huge part of that conversation is we’re gonna have kids running around here between two pretty busy streets, so how to design accordingly. Also there’s really great exposure to what we’re doing in the park, so we try to use it as we can, and we have a lot of eyes on the Greenway all the time. So there’s pressure to make sure it’s looking good, but it also gives us that platform to show what we’re doing all the time.
Anita Walker: So you get to dream about what’s going up next. What are you dreaming about for the park?
Laura Jasinski: I would really love to figure out other ways to bring in kind of the next ring of community in Boston. I think we’ve done a really great job of connecting with our immediate abutters, and there’s really great work happening in other neighborhoods in the city, and how do we bring that to the Greenway and have it be a platform for the entirety of Boston, and beyond, to show what’s going on in the area?
Anita Walker: Congratulations on a fantastic project.
Laura Jasinski: Thank you.
Anita Walker: You know, I don’t honestly think when people thought about a park instead of a highway, they could never have imagined sheep, swings, and the amazing horticulture, and all the work that you’ve done there. It’s just got to be– you just must have one of the most fun jobs.
Laura Jasinski: It’s incredibly rewarding. It is different every single day, and within every single day, but I work with really fantastic people at a really great location, and I’m very grateful.
Anita Walker: Laura Jasinski from the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Thanks for sharing a bit of your creative mind out loud.
Laura Jasinski: Thank you.
Anita Walker: To learn more about this episode and to subscribe visit creativemindsoutloud.org.
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