Boston, MA | November 2018

Park Partnership Engagement

The Charlestown Navy Yard, a historic waterfront park in Boston, is managed by the National Park Service (NPS). City Parks Alliance began working with NPS in May 2018, conducting interviews with a diverse range of stakeholders to better understand the challenges of this national park site and explore how community partnerships could be part of the solution. A half-day workshop was designed that would bring the community together to address these challenges and foster dialogue between participants around concrete solutions. A second half-day workshop was held 6 months later to share innovative ideas from other cities and continue the discussion about solutions.

An article in Next City expands on the important partnerships and new community-driven strategies that grew out of the Charlestown Navy Yard workshops.

Key Challenges:

Charlestown Navy Yard (CNY) was struggling to engage with the adjacent low-income Hispanic and black communities in Charlestown, a community with the largest concentration of public housing in the Northeast, adjacent to an increasing number of high-end condos and townhouses. Interviewees indicated that Charlestown residents felt that the Navy Yard was designed and programmed for tourists and new upper-income residents and was not a welcoming and engaging place for them. There was great interest in having the park serve more as a communal gathering space that could bring together and build bridges between their racially and economically diverse community.

Workshop:

The first of two half-day workshops was held on November 30, 2018, in partnership with the Trust for Public Land (TPL). It focused on using arts and culture to build connections among Charlestown residents, organizations, and the Navy Yard. The workshop included an interactive case study exercise focusing on Civic Commons work around Summit Lake in Akron, Ohio, followed by facilitated dialogue around strategies for fostering collaboration and engaging Charlestown’s diverse residents. Over the next five months, the local planning team held community focus groups to continue the dialogue and relationship building between the Navy Yard and the Charlestown community.

The second half-day workshop was held on June 5, 2019, with a pre-workshop evening event taking place on June 4. The evening event included a performance by the Charlestown High School band and a presentation by Akiima Price, Community Liaison for the National Park Foundation in Washington, DC, who discussed innovative strategies to connect low-income and stressed communities with positive experiences in nature.

The next morning, the workshop began with updates and next steps identified during the community focus groups. Guest speakers included Lori Lobenstine, Director of Programs for the Design Studio for Social Intervention in Boston, and Marcus Davis, Program Manager for the TRACE Program in Chicago, who each talked about their approach to engaging diverse communities and youth. The rest of the workshop was dedicated to a group discussion about the relevance to Charlestown of the ideas presented and a brainstorming session about potential pilot projects that could be achieved in 2019.

Impact:

The presentations, interactive case study, and community focus groups established the relationships, context, and ideas necessary for a deep and honest conversation about race relations in Charlestown and what makes the park unwelcoming to brown and black residents. The conversation led to creative ideas for what the National Park Service and its partners could do to make the park a welcoming and engaging place for all residents. It was agreed that finding meaningful ways to engage youth and schools from the neighborhood in the park and its programming was an important first step in welcoming families to the park and bringing the park programming to the community.

As a result of this workshop, new partnerships were formed between NPS and a number of neighborhood public schools and social service organizations, including Charlestown High School. The partnership with the school led to the high school band’s regular participation in the park’s Summer Concert Series and teens offering ukulele lessons to residents and tourists at the Navy Yard. NPS built on these new relationships by engaging the students, social service organizations, and other members of the community in the design of a new building on the site that would serve as a community programmed hub with space for teens.

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.