One of our newest board members shares why he joined the City Parks Alliance board, Rose Kennedy Greenway’s creative funding strategies, and his thoughts on working with BIDs and creating green space for communities.
What drew you to the City Parks Alliance board of directors?
I’ve been very involved with City Park Alliance for years – speaking at the last four conferences, participating and leading webinars, joining for a “Day on the Hill.” The learning opportunities and networking are great. I think CPA is doing really important work, and parks are more important than ever as democratic spaces where people from all backgrounds can come together.
What are you excited to share with the other board members and the broader CPA membership base?
Parks need more funding, and I hope to continue sharing our experience in growing and diversifying support. Over our ten years of operations, we have dramatically grown earned income to $1.5M/year by introducing popular amenities like food trucks, beer gardens, and the Greenway Carousel at The Tiffany & Co. Grove. We’ve turned stakeholders into annual funders, including the City of Boston and the surrounding property owners. The original financial model was ~50% state government support and 50% philanthropy, but now that’s 15% state, 5% city, 35% philanthropy, 25% earned income, and 20% from a business improvement district.
What makes the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy unique?
One of the largest infrastructure projects in U.S. history buried an elevated highway and created The Greenway, the signature park in the heart of Boston. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts made a bold decision to build these parks, and the Conservancy brings that approach to our programming. We brought to Boston the first organic park care, first gourmet food truck, the first large Wi-Fi network in a park, the first contemporary public art program, the first beer garden, and the first beehives. We’ve ramped up to 450 free events on The Greenway annually and hung a one-ton sculpture overhead suspended from three adjacent buildings. Boston, with its universities and medical centers, is a leader in innovation, and the Conservancy tries to bring this mindset to The Greenway.
Some of your funding is coming from the business improvement district. Do you have advice for other conservancies looking to consider a partnership with a BID?
BIDs form out of self-interest and not altruism. BID stakeholders–developers, owners, and property managers–need to understand how supporting a park helps their bottom line. You may not need an ROI calculation, but you need to speak their language. Understanding their interests helps you build relationships and find the areas of alignment for your park.
Many cities are considering removing or repurposing infrastructure such as rail lines and highways to create or expand parks and connect neighborhoods. What are your thoughts on this trend?
It’s great: more green, less grey! These projects are complex and expensive, but they have huge benefits. The Big Dig was controversial, but it transformed Boston. Removing barriers like highways reconnects cities that were cut apart, allowing communities and individuals easier access to parks, jobs, and other essentials. Replacing highways with green infrastructure can be a far more cost-effective way to address water quality and other issues, both reducing and mitigating the effects of climate change.
What is next for the Conservancy?
We’ll look for ways to expand and showcase our sustainability efforts. For example, we dramatically expanded our “pollinator ribbon” planting effort with the creation of a new wildflower meadow. And we’ve replaced gas-powered vehicles with electric ones.
We’ll work to bring new audiences with new offerings. We’re currently seeking ideas for a portion of the park that has previously held shipping container photo exhibitions and a zip line.
We’ll also look to create new destination spaces. For example, there’s a central portion of the park in which we’re redesigning to be a signature garden and gathering space.
About the Author
Jesse Brackenbury joined the Greenway Conservancy as COO in 2009 and has led the organization for six years. Jesse, named by the Chamber of Commerce as one of Boston’s “Ten Outstanding Young Leaders,” has an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley and has previously worked for the Boston Consulting Group and NYC Parks.