March 9, 2023
A funny thing happened to the Geneva Cliffs Urban Wild on its way to becoming an official Boston park: A large, adjacent swath of land next to it owned by the utility company Eversource but long used for community gatherings, suddenly became off-limits and the company wasn’t returning phone calls from community members and city officials.
But after a fiery Boston Parks & Recreation meeting last month where turning the urban wild – another term for preservation land that isn’t maintained – into a city park that would not include the Eversource property, the utility told the Reporter in a statement that “we are always willing to engage with our community partners regarding the Geneva Cliffs Urban Wild and our adjacent property.”
The statement added: “We have long partnered with the City of Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department, and we remain committed to collaborating with local stakeholders to develop a framework for public use of the property until it is needed to meet the future energy needs of the neighborhood.”
That’s welcome news to neighbors in Bowdoin-Geneva, the Parks Department, and the Friends of Geneva Cliffs (FOGC), who had petitioned to change the Urban Wild to a park in 2018 and then renewed the request in 2021. The Geneva Cliffs Urban Wild dates to 2008, though activities took place there informally before that.
For almost 15 years, up until around 2016, the Cliffs were used for community celebrations and stargazing events, among other things. The abutting Eversource fields were routinely used with permission for the gatherings, with the rougher Cliffs property used mainly for walking paths.
Cathy Baker Eclipse, a Parks Department official, said at some point that changed when Eversource asked that the property stop being used unless community members could provide the insurance needed for holding events. The result has been increased crime, litter, and disuse.
“We are definitely interested in those parcels when Eversource is ready, but they have to be ready,” Eclipse said.
Citing the company’s request for insurance, she said, “That’s why events dipped off and it’s been hard to create any excitement and wonder about the space because the gathering space is off limits to us now.”
During a Feb. 9 meeting, city officials tried to push the community to stay on the topic of the park designation, and ignore the Eversource issue, but neighbors said the Eversource land cannot be ignored.
“You can’t talk about the Geneva Cliffs without addressing what is now the Eversource property,” said Davida Andelman, a key neighbor in the development of the Urban Wild. “You can’t have that flat piece of land sitting up there being land-banked because Eversource doesn’t even know what they’re going to do with it tomorrow or even 100 years from now…I would propose this is an environmental justice issue.”
Linda Loska, a member of the Friends of Geneva Cliffs, said the conversation about the land happened just a few years ago with Eversource and city officials, but no one followed up.
“They kept putting off answers and they said they would get back to us and they just never got back to us,” she said. “It was a meeting at 1010 Mass Ave., and it was a table full of lawyers, I might add.”
Mariama White-Hammond, Mayor Wu’s environmental chief, said she had misunderstood that the community still wanted to address the Eversource issue. She said she had been led to believe the friends group wanted to only work on the park designation. “I am more than willing to go to the table again with Eversource,” she said.
By this week, the city indicated that although there had been no conversations with Eversource, a park designer has been selected for upcoming meetings that will focus on priorities for a new Geneva Cliffs park.
Paul Sutton, a Parks Department employee who manages urban wilds in the city, said any park designation would be a great opportunity for the Geneva Cliffs, whether Eversource cooperates or not. He said Urban Wild maintenance is usually done by volunteers. That all changes when land becomes a park.
“You’re never going to get a site in a state that’s safe and usable without a redesignation,” he said. “Be aware of that. This is a big opportunity and it’s not either/or. It doesn’t mean you remove all the trees to get a park.”
Meetings on the Geneva Cliffs situation and the potential park designation and design are expected this spring. The design process is expected to last one year.