More than 100 people gathered at Riverside Community Park on Thursday (June 10) to officially dedicate Cambridge’s newest green space, the result of a partnership between Harvard University and the city.
“This is a significant win for the city and a significant win for this community,” Cambridge Mayor David P. Maher said at the event. “We could not have done it without Harvard. This is a good example of town-gown relations working for the better of a community.”
Situated on three quarters of an acre at the corner of Memorial Drive and Western Avenue near the Charles River, the park boasts a shade structure with picnic tables, a broad lawn, and fountains to frolic in on hot days. Designed by Halvorson Design Partnership, the park is intended to reflect community desires for a peaceful, reflective, inviting open space.
After the event, families lingered to enjoy barbecue and to socialize. As cloudy skies threatened rain, children played in a fountain, splashing and laughing as if the sun were bright. Nearby, a family tossed a Frisbee on a broad green lawn, while a group of older women chatted on a bench.
“To see the park being enjoyed by the residents is a great thing,” said Christine Heenan, Harvard’s vice president of public affairs and communications.
Kevin Bonanno, a graphics associate in the University’s planning office, was on hand with his wife and two children. The family lives nearby in one of the affordable housing units built by Harvard as part of the agreement. Family members enjoy walking to the park on weekends and after dinner on weekdays.
“It’s really great,” he said. “It brings a ton of people from the neighborhood out, so we’ve been able to meet a lot of other families with kids.”
Since the park opened, Zainab Himmat, who lives across the street, said she’s had trouble keeping her four children inside. “When they come home from school, they want to go out and play there,” she said. “They love it.”
That sentiment was precisely the goal when Harvard and Cambridge reached an agreement in 2003 that enabled the University to construct graduate student housing on several sites in the area. Harvard provided an open-space easement for the park as part of the accord. Residents presented their ideas through an expansive community planning process led by the city. Significant funding to create the park was provided by the city and by Harvard.
As part of the 2003 agreement, the University created bed space for 500 graduate students in the new environmentally friendly dormitories and apartments at Cowperthwaite, Grant, Akron, and Banks streets, an effort that supported the city’s longstanding goal for local universities to house more students to alleviate pressure on the local housing market. Harvard also built the 39 affordable units for working families, including six in wood-frame houses adjacent to the park and 33 in the renovated historic Switch House nearby. All of those units are occupied by Cambridge families.
“Developers often pit the desire for open space against affordable housing,” Cambridge City Manager Robert W. Healy said. “This is a tribute to the fact that one can do both.”