Returning to our roots: The Trustees renew focus on Boston

It is everywhere agreed that a great and growing population such as now inhabits Boston, and soon to be her suburbs, should be for its own best health, provide itself with all possible open spaces.
Boston is far behind in this matter. Large areas in and outside of the old city are wholly unprovided with public open spaces. Boston, like New York, may yet be compelled to tear down whole blocks of buildings to provide herself with the needed oases of light and air.
…The providing of what I call parks, to distinguish them from squares and playgrounds, is as necessary for the preservation of the civilization of cities are as sewers or street lights.

Charles Eliot, our founder, penned these visionary thoughts in a letter in January 1890, following the publication of the first national study on parks in major cities. Boston was last on the list. At this time in the 19th century, the national trend was all about parks at the city’s edge.  

Responding to this trend, Eliot felt an urgency to preserve open spaces as escapes for residents living and working in a city vulnerable to rampant industrialization and a swelling population and his vision was born. The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees) was established in Boston in 1891 and his efforts eventually expanded to stewardship of parks and historic properties across the entire Commonwealth, but less activity within the city itself. Within the same year, Eliot left a lasting impact on the City of Boston as well, helping to establish the Metropolitan Parks Commission, which today is the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation. 

Today, as we work to carry on and expand upon this legacy, we approach another critical turning point for the city. With booming development pushing ever outward toward the harbor and climate change already having an increasing impact, what little remains as open and green space is under threat of disappearing forever.  

In 1976 the Boston Redevelopment Authority recorded that in the prior 100 years an estimated 6,000 acres of coastal wetlands within the inner portion of Boston Harbor was destroyed.  Over half of the city’s wetlands were lost. Flash forward to 2018 and Boston has increased its owned parkland by just 0.7%  over the last century.  

Our city has made strides since those early days when Charles Eliot voiced his concerns about Boston’s placement on the bottom of the list, standing presently at number 13 – but we have a long way to go to achieve Boston’s centuries-long ambition: To be the world class city on a hill – and one that will be here for many more hundreds of years. 

The chance to act is now. We must preserve open green space on the shrinking waterfront for our growing city, for people from all walks of life to enjoy. This accessibility to parkland will have a direct impact on their quality of life and well-being and in the future, for their children and children’s children.  

Our One Waterfront initiative speaks directly to the heart of the Trustees mission, to the history of our founding, and to our commitment to do pioneering work in the conservation movement now and for years to come.  

At The Trustees’ latest annual meeting, I summarized our Boston legacy and this new priority, the One Waterfront Initiative, to preserve and protect Boston’s coast. I invite you to take a moment to watch the video below to learn more about our current work in the city of Boston, and how our work across the Commonwealth for the last 128 years prepares us for this monumental task: 

The time is now, and The Trustees and our partners must all work together to create leadership and sustain momentum to protect our great city. 

Barbara Erickson.jpeg

Barbara Erickson

Trustees President & CEO 2012-Present Since joining in 2012, Barbara has furthered the mandate of The Trustees’ founder and open space visionary, Charles Eliot, by engaging a broader constituency in healthy, active living, and a stronger connection to nature and culture. In the past few years, Barbara expanded The Trustees’ leadership in Boston, promoting the local food system through growing the organization’s 56 community gardens and educational programs; serving as a founding partner of the Boston Public Market; and pursuing The Trustees’ One Waterfront Initiative, a significant multi-year effort to create iconic, resilient open space on Boston’s waterfront. Barbara is a frequent speaker and writer on topics of conservation and community.