City Hall Plaza rolling out new Astroturf ‘front lawn’
The red brick and concrete canyon that is City Hall Plaza may not be Boston's most-loved or most-bustling space, but on Wednesday it was host to toddlers kicking soccer balls, workers lounging in Adirondack chairs, and city employees playing catch.
The center of this unusually outdoorsy activity was a patch of green, synthetic turf city officials had rolled out in an effort to make a space that is so notoriously unappealing feel like a destination worth having fun in.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh is calling it the "front lawn," and he wants this faux stretch of field to draw people to City Hall Plaza even when it's empty — the circus is not in town, concerts are not planned, and memories of the ice cream doled out at "Scooper Bowl" have melted away.
"It really hasn't been opened up unless it was a special event on the plaza," Walsh said.
"And what we're trying to do here is bring more activities to the plaza. It's a public space, it's owned by the people of Boston, and we're trying to bring more excitement, more energy, here."
And for a day, that's what happened. Children from the day care center for City Hall employees tossed bean bags and Frisbees, danced to pop tunes blaring through speakers, and smiled wide while hula-hooping on the 36- by 72-foot field.
Juli Desautels, an accountant who works near the plaza, sat in one of the lawn chairs and took in the scene, happy to get a break from her office.
"It's a rare sight," she said of the busy plaza.
"People used to just use it as a walkway."
She said activity in the area has been on a steady incline since the chairs were introduced a few weeks ago.
Walsh suggested that the lawn is only a piece of a larger, still unformulated plan for the plaza.
An ice rink, a soccer field, restaurants, a "place to hang out," are all possibilities, the mayor said, but for now, he is waiting to see what comes from the city's solicitations for longer-term ideas from developers and the general public.
One consideration, Walsh said, is that there may be structural limitations, like how much weight the plaza can hold.
"We're going to look at it all," he said. "We're going to take the appropriate steps."
For now, the patch of synthetic grass is "an experiment," said Juli Hanscom, a spokeswoman for the mayor.
She said the lawn games — the hula hoops, beanbag and frisbee games, and mini soccer — will be out for public use from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
She said the city plans to leave the turf, which she said cost less than $2,000, in place until the fall before snow starts to stick.
"City Hall is just known as such a blight," Hanscom said.
The lawn chairs and field were a simple solution to help what many view as desolate and uninviting space, she said.
Count Catherine Walsh as one of those.
"It's ugly," Walsh, a mother of three from Milton who has no relation to the mayor, said of City Hall Plaza after dropping by to check out the new lawn. "It's great they're trying to make it more friendly. This looks good."
Dan Koehler, who works as an environmental consultant at a building that overlooks the plaza and who walks through the space every day, never thought anyone would sit in the Adirondack chairs when the city first put them down.
But on Wednesday, many of the chairs had occupants. Koehler himself was planning to take his children over to the field to join in the play.
"The area is big and unused in a lot of ways," he said.
For Wednesday's "lawn party," the city had added a section of red chairs featuring the seal of Boston and offered them to residents of the nearby at New England Center for Homeless Veterans.
After playing catch on the field and chatting with food truck workers, Walsh held a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony in which he thanked the veterans for their service.
He acknowledged that a permanent fix will take time.
"It's still a long way to go to bring life back to the plaza," he said.