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A new master plan could help transform Boston Common into a ‘better version’ of itself

City officials are hoping to revamp the country’s oldest public park over the next decade.

The Boston Common Master Plan provides a road map for possible upgrades to the park over the next decade.City of Boston/ WESTON & SAMPSON DESIGN STUDIO

The popular playground on Boston Common, which draws children from across the city and beyond, would nearly triple in size. A revamp of the equally popular Frog Pond would include multiple fountains, while a soccer pitch would be added to the athletic fields. More restrooms, everywhere. And, a place to get a beer or glass of wine.

Those are just a few of the big changes that could be coming over the next decade to the nation’s oldest public park, according to a new master plan for the Common that was released by the city and Friends of the Public Garden on Wednesday.


The grand reimagining calls for both ambitious new projects and more subtle improvements, with a goal of making the Common even more inviting and navigable. So, dog owners would have an enclosed park to let their pets run free. The Parkman Bandstand would have a ramp for people with disabilities. And the athletic fields would welcome soccer and basketball players for the first time.

“This really is a park for the entire city, not just a neighborhood park,” said Liz Vizza, president of the Friends of the Public Garden, a nonprofit that collaborated with the Boston Parks and Recreation Department to craft the Boston Common Master Plan. “Which is why we need it to be the best version, the most resilient version, of itself in order for it to play this role into the future, and be the highest quality it can be.”

A timetable has not been established for completing any of its components, Vizza said, although she said work would likely begin first on projects that would improve accessibility. For now, the blueprint is meant to establish a vision of how officials intend to transform the park in the next 10 or so years.


The release of the 362-page document comes as the Common prepares to welcome a monument to Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, called “The Embrace.” The large bronze sculpture, set to be installed on MLK Day in January, will be located between the visitor center and the Parkman Bandstand, where King led an antisegregation rally in 1965.

In a statement, Mayor Michelle Wu celebrated the proposed improvement, which she said “honors the Common’s history, reflects the community’s vision, and creates a space that will be more accessible, more resilient, and more inclusive for generations to come.”

Wu shared details of the longterm project during a press conference on the Common Wednesday.

Among the more dramatic changes people could expect to see in coming years is the renovation of the athletic fields along Charles Street, where the adjoining baseball and softball diamonds would be transformed into a multi-use area that for the first time includes two basketball courts and a soccer pitch.

And next to those athletic fields would be roughly 15,000 square feet of enclosed space for dog owners. Once the dog park is operational, the city would phase out the current practice of letting people’s pets roam off-leash elsewhere on the Common.

As for the Frog Pond, the plan includes installing a new splash pad dotted with fountains and a second-floor space at the existing pavilion — complete with a restaurant. After facing years of pressure to follow the lead of parks elsewhere in Boston and other cities, officials also envision the sale of beer and wine at the site.


The nearby Tadpole Playground, meanwhile, would be outfitted with modern play equipment, and expand from 5,500 to 15,000 square feet.

The Common would also see a number of long-sought improvements for visitors with disabilities, including a wheelchair ramp located by the Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial on Beacon Street. Another ramp would lead up to the platform on the Parkman Bandstand.

To address a common complaint, officials would install a series of new restrooms throughout the park, including near the athletic complex, inside an expanded Visitor Information Center, at the Frog Pond, and by a new public plaza.

An emphasis on improved navigation would also help direct visitors, and a “Landmark Loop” — an oval-shaped network of pathways modeled after the Freedom Trail that lead to major destinations in the park — would be established through maps, signage, and sidewalk markers.

The proposal comes three years after former mayor Martin J. Walsh announced the city would take a fresh look at how to improve the Common after dedicating $28 million to the park from the sale of a city-owned downtown parking garage where the Winthrop Center skyscraper is under construction. Around $5 million has been set aside in a trust fund for day-to-day maintenance, leaving $23 million for improvements.

Roughly 10,000 people shared their hopes and priorities for the park at a series of public meetings, driving many of the changes outlined in the plan, said Vizza.


A map of the changes proposed in the Boston Common Master Plan.City of Boston/ WESTON & SAMPSON DESIGN STUDIO

Since the money from the garage sale won’t cover anywhere near all the improvements sketched out in the blueprint, Vizza said the city and Friends group will have to look elsewhere, including city money, revenues from programs and events, and user fees.

“We will need to be raising money and leveraging what we already do to bring more money into this park in every way possible,” Vizza said. “We all would love things to happen quicker than they can, but it really is contingent on getting the funds and being able to move through the process.”

New event infrastructure, including sound and electrical hookups and designated areas for stages, would be intended to take some of the pressure off of the Parade Ground, where large events often take a toll on the park’s grass. Hardtop courts would serve an additional function as backstage areas for performances and speeches.

“That place gets beat to death,” Vizza said. “So we have recommended that there be other parts of the park that are available for those uses, so that we can spread activity around.”

While the highly researched proposal is extensive, the new additions are hardly set in stone. Vizza said it may be tweaked over the next decade to meet the city’s needs.

During a 45-day public comment period that runs from through Nov. 30, Bostonians will be invited to share their thoughts on the document and advocate for the projects the park should tackle first.


“It’s going to be important to be as strategic as possible,” Vizza said. “We’ll definitely be interested to see what people have to say, and we hope that people will weigh in. Because $23 million goes in a heartbeat.”

Spencer Buell can be reached at Follow him @SpencerBuell.