By Douglas Yu
To make the best use of all the green space in Somerville, the Mayor’s office is planning on building a new park, named Symphony, at the corner of Florence Street and Pearl Street. Somerville residents joined the meeting at Capuano School to give applicable suggestions.
“To increase trees planting is one of our goals of building a new park,” Director of Parks and Open Space, Arn Franzen said. “We’re also trying to use the water in the park to make a planting bed.”
Franzen, who works for the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning & Community Development, said that building the new park also proved the accountability of the City of Somerville. “We are able to provide recreational areas and dog spaces in the city,” Franzen said.
The design of the green area at the corner of Florence and Pearl Street has been under discussion for years. Franzen reassured the Somerville residents tonight that the park construction was definitely going to happen. “We applied a park grant, and it’s quite possible that the grant will be awarded,” Franzen said. “If everything goes well, the construction will start next June or July.”
The property was originally purchased by a Boston grocer in 1869. He built a house there shortly afterwards, according to Franzen. In 2004, even though the house was abandoned as a shell, it was considered noteworthy. In 2008, the house burned down and left the property empty.
“The City of Somerville did a soil test on the property in 2010, and there is nothing to worry about,” Franzen said. “It laid the foundation for planting trees and building a new park.”
Somerville was going to work with the community to design the park, said Franzen, even though there were issues out there. “The area is very dense, and people in the community want it to be a backyard,” Franzen said. “People also want to hang out with water features which is understandable, especially in summer.”
Considering the number of senior citizens that live around the property, Franzen also mentioned that it was a necessary idea to build exercise equipment.
Joe Coigley, who lives right across the street from where the new park is going to be built, shared his concern about the design of the park and questioned the responsibility of the Somerville’s government officials. “If you walk down Pearl Street, there is parts of the sidewalks that literally looks like an arch. It’s very dangerous, because there are disabled people living around,” Coigley said. Most residents also noted that the empty property had been abandoned for 35 years and nobody dealt with it.
“Whatever is in that area, it’s going to move on,” Franzen assured the Somerville residents by promising to send the residents’ concern to Department of Public Works very soon.
The new park would meet standards and be accessible to vehicles, according to Franzen. However, it raised residents’ concern about the traffic in the neighborhood. “There is dense parking on Pearl Street,” Coigley said. “I have to park my car a block away even on weekends.” He suggested leaving a certain amount of the property for extra parking.
Franzen addressed the suggestion that part of the property be turned into parking. He explained the difficulty of building extra parking spaces in urban areas like Somerville, saying the constraints actually were from the city itself. “More parking space may increase traffic problems. Because that brings more cars in and creates more parking problems,” Franzen said. He added that the parking problems should be approached in response to local neighbors.
As Somerville residents considered how to redesign the empty property, most of them thought building the new park was a wonderful idea. “I drive down the Pearl Street almost every day and I though a park will beautify the neighborhood,” Elio Lorusso, one of the candidates for Alderman Ward 1, said. “We don’t need more residential units, especially in one of the most populated cities in New England.”
The grant for building the new park is $400,000, which is the maximum grant the City of Somerville can apply for, according to Franzen. The city is also applying for a block grant to pay for the park’s design.
“We are hiring a landscape architect now,” Franzen added. “But we need to write a proposal first and select the best firm to work with the community to design the park.”
More information about the new park will come up in the following meetings. Somerville residents are encouraged to share their ideas for the final designs.