You may have read one or more of the articles published by the Boston GLOBE recently about the dispute between the Beacon Hill Civic Association and the City of Boston about the ramps in the Beacon Hill area. We wrote the following blog on our website, www.cbc-brick.org which also includes a photo of Cambridge Street around MGH in Boston with beautiful sidewalks and brick ramps completed as recently as 2011. The City of Boston has said that molded brick would be abandoned in future projects done around the city -- another result of a policy toward the brick sidewalk legacy that reflects a lack interests in the preservation of our historic brickwalk legacy. Too bad the historic areas now have to become the place where concrete ramps are installed without the consent of the people who live in the area. Will the City patch the concrete ramps and brick cuts with asphalt in Boston as has become common practice in recent years in Cambridge? We hope not.
We have reached out to the Beacon Hill Civic Association to lend them our support. They need help in maintaining the historic nature of the area while at the same time they have to fight the GLOBE's bias in reporting the nature of the dispute.
In an effort to move quickly on the ramps in Beacon Hill the City of Boston has missed the point. The Beacon Hill area is one of the most historic areas of Boston and should be treated with respect by all. It is what separates Boston from other parts of our country. There are not many areas left in Boston which show people how the city looked when our country was just starting.
Yes, the disabled have to get around. The Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) agrees. We all agree. The BHCA has suggested that granite or brick be used for ramps. It is more expensive. However, it is a small price to pay to save the historic legacy of the area. And considering the entire budget for the work, the cost is not exorbitant. We should all be in favor of saving some references to our past.
The historic nature of the area should not be put at risk with ongoing ramp work while the parties are at odds over whether it is even legal to do that work in the historical areas of Back Bay and Beacon Hill. The appropriate response to the lawsuit filed by the BHCA would be for the parties to negotiate their differences. Failing that, the court should issue an injunction barring further ramp work until a ruling by the court is rendered. Doing otherwise will lead to irreparable harm to the historical brick sidewalks of Boston.
Lost in the conversation thus far, is how to find better balance in the program to meet the needs of the disabled while preserving what makes Boston unique.
The Boston GLOBE publishes articles that play on the wealthy vs. the disabled or the political payback of our Boston officials. The point really is using the compatible materials to preserve what we can in historic districts. The conversation on how to find that balance through the use of historically compatible materials has not been given a proper forum. It seems easier for the GLOBE to point fingers. Too bad the BHCA has to pursue this issue legally rather than simply discussing this issue with the City.
A walk around Boston shows brick being used successfully in ramps. Although we are told Boston will not do this again, the area near MGH on Cambridge Street is a great example of what can be done today.
We should all be working together to make sure the historic districts are preserved. The brick work done years ago is a legacy worth saving.
We welcome your feedback and support.
Cambridge Brickwalk Conservancy, Inc.
Why we exist.
The Cambridge Brickwalk Conservancy, Inc., (CBC) was formed to preserve, maintain, and extend the traditional brick sidewalks in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The brick sidewalks represent a legacy of over 200 years duration and are a signature feature of Cambridge.
Regrettably 15 to 20 years ago the policy of City of Cambridge changed so that it no longer protected the brick sidewalks and began to replace fine brick sidewalks, especially the ramps, with concrete. These changes are not required or mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. And with a hard climate for any material, the budget did not support proper maintenance and the streets have become a patchwork of concrete, asphalt and brick.
The popular belief that concrete better supports the needs of the disabled is just that, a belief. Vibration studies at the University of Pittsburgh support brick as a better street material than concrete. The proper design, installation and maintenance of brick creates walkways that are functional both for both disabled and non-disabled pedestrians. A more balanced approach to sidewalk construction and maintenance can be effective in preserving the legacy of brick sidewalks in the City while also serving the needs of the disabled.
This is the inaugural update of the activities of the Cambridge Brickwalk Conservancy (CBC).
CBC’s mission is the preservation, maintenance, and considered extension of traditional brick sidewalks in Cambridge.
The organization seeks to address the neglect and active alteration of brick sidewalks in Cambridge that has been occurring with the blessing of the City since the late 1990s -- and which represents a marked departure from previous City policy which zealously sought to maintain and enhance this signature feature of Cambridge
We are mindful that this change in policy was prompted in large part by a desire to be sensitive to the needs of the disabled -- and we, too, are sensitive to those needs. However, we believe that a more balanced approach to sidewalk policy is possible that both preserves the legacy and serves the needs of the disabled. In future updates we plan to discuss the research summarizing the sound science showing the path to a policy of greater balance.
To that end, CBC has reached out to important constituencies with influence over sidewalk policy.
For instance, we have met with members of the DPW as well as City Government. Most recently we met with Kathy Watkins, Chief Engineer with DPW, Charlie Sullivan, Executive Director of the Cambridge Historical Commission and Michael Muehe, Executive Director of the Commission for Persons with Disabilities.
At the last meeting with them, there were two encouraging developments from our point of view. The first was the continuous flow of brick into raised cross-walks. This would apply to many sidewalk areas off the main thoroughfare and would address most of our concerns about preserving the legacy brick sidewalks represent. The second development was that the City would maintain the brick sidewalks left undisturbed by the five year plan.
We agreed to focus our early efforts in these two areas where CBC and the City agree.
We also noted that NSTAR is ignoring its contract with the City to replace bricks after making cuts to do repairs. NSTAR has made "temporary" patches with asphalt hoping that the City will allow them to remain indefinitely. We sent DPW a file of photos and street addresses of these patches. NSTAR under its contract with the City is obligated to either do the repair with brick or pay the City for work to replace the asphalt patches.
As part of our program to raise awareness of the importance of brick sidewalks to the image of Cambridge and of CBC as an organization focused on this issue, I have met with various groups in Cambridge as well as attended meetings with relevant officials of the City..
A key constituency in the City are its world class universities -- so part of my effort has been to reach out to relevant staff at both Harvard University and MIT who meet with the City on buildings and street improvements. These institutions have different approaches to integrating newly developed and existing buildings with the City’s sidewalks -- but both are concerned with their image. The City allows fairly wide latitude, subject to certain city-wide limitations, to these institutions when they make improvements to achieve a desired design result. An example would be the recently completed Harvard Art Museums project on the site of the Fogg Art Museum which is now bordered by newly laid brick sidewalks.
Of course the historical societies agree that the sidewalks are important to the look and feel of the City. The sidewalks are important not only historically but also commercially as their unique New England character attracts visitors to the City.
CBC is a member of the Harvard Square Business Association. Attending their board meetings has helped us gain access to members of businesses in Cambridge.
We have interns from various colleges starting to work with us this summer. With their help we are almost done with our website. It will include photos and topics that we hope will raise awareness the value of brick sidewalks in Cambridge. The website will also connect to our Facebook page and a Twitter account.
We appreciate your interest in the work we are doing and look forward to your input.
Diane Whitney Beck