Campus & Community

New Library Park in Allston will be quiet, green, tree-filled learning space

4 min read

Last week (July 8), Harvard University planners presented preliminary designs to residents of Allston for the new 1.74-acre public park to be constructed behind the Honan-Allston Branch of the Boston Public Library on North Harvard Street. The current vacant site, once home to a concrete plant, will be transformed into a tree-filled oasis. The park will be completed in 2011.

The preliminary design by the award-winning landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. incorporates residents’ aspirations and reflects the community’s desire to create a unique park. The idea of introducing a new park behind the library originated during discussions with the Harvard Allston Task Force and members of the Allston community approximately two years ago. During more than a year of discussions about the park’s design, neighbors emphasized the wish to incorporate learning as a design element to take advantage of the park’s proximity to the Honan-Allston Library.

The public park will include space for reading and programming, such as storytelling and learning about nature, making the space an outdoor extension of the library itself.

The new park is part of a series of new programs and neighborhood improvements that Harvard committed to providing to the city of Boston.

Other examples include the year-old Harvard Allston Education Portal, where Harvard students mentor more than 80 Allston-Brighton children in science, math, and writing. Another example, the Harvard Allston Partnership Fund, recently gave $100,000 in grants to six local nonprofit organizations.

“Allston’s new ‘Library-in-the-Park’ will provide local families with open green space for educational programming, reading, and community events,” said Harvard President Drew Faust. “We’re pleased to partner with the city of Boston and the Allston community to develop this unique project that will serve as a magnet for this vibrant neighborhood.”

“This new public park will greatly complement the existing Honan-Allston Library, itself a gathering spot and tremendous public asset for the community,” Mayor Thomas M. Menino said. “The Allston-Brighton neighborhood deserves to see this new, quality open space built that will support the great educational programming and cultural activities already offered at the library.”

The design maximizes the available space, relocates the existing parking lot, and is designed for sustainability, from plant choices to water management. The current plans add several new landscape features, including:

• An open lawn

• A small hill

• A tiered area for reading, small classes, or group activities

• An “ellipse lawn” for community events and picnics

• A quarter-mile of paths — lined with benches and lighting — that wrap around the library

• A variety of native deciduous trees and a rain garden that collects and cleans water as it seeps through the soil

“We have Smith Park where people play baseball, and Ringer and Portsmouth parks that both have tot lots, but there’s no park in Allston where you can go sit, read a book and be quiet,” said Rita DiGesse, Harvard Allston Task Force member and vice president of the Friends of Honan Library, who is also a lifelong resident of Allston. “It means a lot to a lot of people to have this green extension of the library.”

The park designer, Cambridge-based Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. Landscape Architects, has worked on a number of local projects including the renovation and redesign of Harvard Yard nearly a decade ago.

The firm received a Design Honor Award last year from the American Society of Landscape Architects for the design of Boston Children’s Museum Plaza.

“The Allston Library is already a truly vital gathering place for residents throughout the neighborhood – the goal of the new park is to build on this sense of community through a vibrant new open space that supports library programming as well as other kinds of community uses,” said Michael Van Valkenburgh, the principal of the firm and tenured faculty member at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.

Planning for Library Park has been a collaborative, multifaceted effort among the Allston community, the city of Boston, and Harvard.

The planning process began last summer with a neighborhood barbecue where hundreds of residents shared their ideas directly with planners. Since then, Harvard and the community have held more than 12 additional meetings to discuss early concepts.

In cooperation with the city of Boston, Harvard supplemented the traditional planning process by utilizing Hub2. The interactive online planning program enabled local residents to enter a virtual world to suggest, create, and experience a variety of potential park concepts.

The design team, Harvard, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority will finalize the design over the next several months, and construction is slated to begin in the spring of 2010.