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Using dam as bridge is key to stitching up the Mystic

By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 2/1/2004

The Mystic River has gone Hollywood with the Clint Eastwood film, but it's also the scene of some of the most exciting placemaking in the Boston area.

The banks of what Native Americans called the "Missi-Tuk," or "great tidal river," along the easternmost parts of Somerville but also in Everett and Medford, could very well turn into another Charles River Esplanade in the years ahead.

Creating this new landscape will be quite unlike the Olmsted-inspired public works endeavor that produced the Esplanade, however. The private sector is being made to pay for this transformation, willingly and otherwise. And the design challenge here is to turn decades-old industrial land into a prime destination park.

Some stretches are pretty straightforward, like the Gateway Park on the Everett side, created through the Superfund designation of the former Monsanto plant there. But other spots require a light touch, such as the Amelia Earhart Dam -- surely one of the least-known features anywhere in the Boston landscape.

Built in 1966 and named for the aviatrix, who lived for a while in Medford, the dam was demanded as a flood-control measure by upriver residents in Belmont and Arlington and is operated 24 hours a day. Its twin is the Charles River dam near the Museum of Science.

As part of an air pollution settlement involving an Everett power plant, set to be announced by the Environmental Protection Agency late last week, the dam is going to get an infusion of funds to be turned into a bicycle and pedestrian connection, linking the now-isolated Gateway Park and the Assembly Square development site and the Draw 7 park on the Somerville side -- the latter surely one of the least-known parks in the Boston area.

The question is how best to create the connection. One $10 million proposal is for the pedestrian equivalent of a highway flyover, so people don't interfere with locks operations. The dam is fenced off, and public access is prohibited.

The more sensible option is to put up colorful railings and a sliding plankway that's handicapped accessible to vault the locks. The goal is to make this an inviting and practical passage.

Other things will have to happen, too, of course, to keep this from being a crossing in the middle of nowhere. No. 1 on the checklist is development at Assembly Square; the furniture superstore IKEA has promised to spruce up the riverside park between the Earhart dam and the Wellington Bridge (Route 28). Residents want something better than big-box development for the site, however, and thus far the state has taken a pass on breaking the impasse. So the banks remain a hodge-podge of beaten-down grass and litter-strewn lots.

Another simple connection in need of funding and direction is an underpass on the Somerville side of the Wellington Bridge, in the style of the Esplanade path under the Boston University bridge.

But the Amelia Earhart Dam is a centerpiece project that could unlock the potential of the area by creating that one ingredient that makes a destination: a connection.

It's not a new idea. Construction renderings of the dam show people walking across it. The Metropolitan District Commission wrote a master plan in 1973 promoting the dam as public space, but the document just gathered dust. (For an agency criticized as useless and redundant, the MDC, now the merged Department of Conservation and Recreation, is in charge of an awful lot of important public space on the Mystic and the Charles alone.)

A coalition of park activists, the Mystic Crossing Group, has formed to be the stewards of the Earhart dam. They have their hands full, to break out of bureaucratic morass, political gridlock, and the stubborn legacy of industrial development on this abused but resilient river.

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Wow, you are psychic...

Here's a picture from my sunday walk checking out sites for future threads.

btw- that's the cars that are imported from Japan. If the picture was better you would notice that they are all white.

Admirals Hill, Chelsea


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I used to date someone who lived in the Ten Hills section of Somerville. I used to walk from Wellington Station to his house sometimes. I was always struck with the potential of the area. But it is so autocentric out there.

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