Dewey Square, South Station, Boston MA 02111On May 21, 2008, the City of Boston calendar (screen shot) announced the opening day of the farmers’ market at Dewey Square/South Station in Boston. The Boston Public Market Association website listed the same information.

We walked over to the square, but there wasn’t any market.

Here’s what we did about it:


[2008.05.21] We called the City of Boston phone number on the calendar listing and were told that the city was waiting for information about the market schedule.

[2008.05.22] We emailed and received a prompt reply from Howard Leibowitz, Executive Director of the Boston Public Market Association, explaining that the Association will not be offering a seasonal market at Dewey Square this year because they were unable to resolve logistical issues (loading/unloading on Atlantic Ave) that drove up costs.

[2008.05.22] We emailed the Mayor of Boston asking that the city step in and facilitate the opening of the market. (10 days, no reply)

[2008.06.02] We sent an open letter to the Mayor’s Office.

Help Restore Farmers’ Market on the Greenway.

Dear Mayor Menino:

We live with our two children in downtown Boston a few blocks from South Station and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. On May 21, 2008, our family walked over to the opening day of the Dewey Square Farmers’ Market on the Greenway.

But there was no market.

We had read about the event on the City of Boston calendar, so we called the phone number on the listing. A city employee answered and couldn’t say why the square was empty. We contacted Howard Leibowitz, Executive Director of the Boston Public Market Association. He explained that the Association has cancelled the seasonal market at Dewey Square because they were unable to resolve logistical issues (loading/unloading on Atlantic Ave) that had raised their costs.

This news is a blow to residents who live east and south of the Common—in Chinatown, the Leather District, and Ft. Point Channel. It is also a step backwards for Boston as a whole, at a time when the city is trying to develop vibrant urban neighborhoods surrounding the Greenway.

Unlike the loss of James Hook & Co, a remarkable family business that burned down a few blocks away, the closing of this market is no accident. The feeling among our neighbors is that the empty square represents a lack of vision and absence of will on the part of our civic leaders, in particular those charged with putting something worthwhile atop the Big Dig.

Everyone is losing in this situation: local residents, commuters who stream across the square each day, tourists, conventioneers, and, of course, the vendors who could have sold to them. An urban event like a farmers’ market can connect people, build community, and spark other activities and commerce. But nothing is going to grow here unless someone plants a seed.

Sam Davol
Boston MA 02111

Nancy Brennan, Executive Director, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy
Howard Leibowitz, Executive Director, The Boston Public Market Association
Denny Chin, Neighborhood Coordinator Chinatown/Downtown

[2008.06.03] We forwarded copies of this letter to local newspapers, blogs, and neighborhood associations.

[2008.06.04] Two bloggers reached out to us: The Chinatown Blog and The Leather District Gourmet. Also, an article about the idea of year-round farmers’ markets appeared in the Boston Herald, so we posted a comment:

“A year-round market is a terrific long-term goal for downtown Boston. But the City needs to work harder to improve the existing green market situation while we wait for these ambitious ideas to be realized. For example, the decision to abolish the Dewey Square farmers’ market at South Station has left residents and workers on the southern end of the Greenway without a green market this summer. We think people in Boston should demand first class programming (like green markets) in our public space, especially the Greenway, without delay. There are smaller cities, with fewer resources, whose leaders find ways to burn the candle at both ends, nurturing “temporary” solutions while still marshaling resources for long-term projects. —littleimpact 6/4/2008″

[2008.06.05] The Herald ran an editorial about the recurring idea of a market on the Northern Avenue Bridge, so we posted another comment:

“One small correction to your editorial, which only further supports your point:

There is currently no farmers’ market at all in this part of downtown Boston, because the relocation of the Northern Ave Bridge market to South Station also failed. According to the Boston Public Market Association, the market at South Station/Dewey Square quickly became too expensive due to loading/unloading costs, so they decided to close the market for 2008 and they have no plans to develop a market in the area.

This city withers today, while it dreams of an overly-grandiose tomorrow. Will someone step forward and lead downtown Boston, by taking small, innovative steps towards the creation of a vibrant, world-class urban neighborhood and local economy?” —littleimpact 6/5/2008

[2008.06.10] The Leather District Gourmet obtained a statement from the Boston Public Market Association about the situation, and she pointed out examples of thriving year-round markets in downtown Seattle and San Francisco. She also provided an early report from a visit across town to the market at Copley Square. Click here to view her post.

[2008.06.17] The Boston Globe published an editorial calling for a return of the Dewey Square market with this lead:

THERE IS an effort afoot to create a year-round indoor-outdoor public food market on a par with Seattle’s Pike Place, but Bostonians can’t eat ambitious plans. This summer and fall, the city needs a lively farmers’ market in the downtown area, preferably in Dewey Square across from heavily-traversed South Station.

and ending with this “quote” from the Greenway Conservancy:

Conservancy director Nancy Brennan says there could be a “new factor” in the coming days that will allow for the reopening of the Dewey Square market.

[2008.09.11] With the end of summer, I’d like to round out this post with a few observations about this web site, the market, and the Greenway:

During the minor flurry of attention to Dewey Square market, several people involved with the situation contacted us. Some left comments on our site. One official called us but s/he is not identified here. (Our web site was just coming online at the time, and the official was not expecting to be quoted.)

Based on what we’ve learned (on and off the record) since this post began, I believe that civic leaders squandered a unique opportunity to re-invigorate downtown Boston during the past few years. Specifically, I believe there should have been more small-scale, innovative, temporary projects deployed on the Greenway, even in its “unfinished” state. This summer, a seasonal farmers’ market would have been a perfect part of that mix.

The newly available, “in-progress” parcels of the Greenway—with their dust, occasional chain-link, and emptiness—were a stunning urban canvas. The spaces were marked by a sense of possibility, fluidity, and anticipation that is generally missing from Boston’s landscape. We were handed a remarkable moment of immaturity in the heart of a mature city, and Boston seemed flummoxed, unwilling to experiment, unable to take advantage. Instead, our attention drifted towards slow-moving, large-scale, institution-based plans. Eventually, we watched grass, planters, benches and other bland street furniture arrive. The moment passed us by.

It would have been difficult to pull off a farmers’ market on the wind-swept, traffic-encircled plaza at Dewey Square. Similarly, it would have been difficult to launch an art installation or temporary program on the Greenway during this time. Among the reasons: “the process is so complicated”, “there are numerous players involved”, “there’s a shifting jurisdictional context”, “there’s a need to get it right for a project so many years in the making.”

But it would have been inspiring to see someone try. If the multiple players on the Greenway had nurtured several small projects during the past two years, it would have been even more invigorating than the big budget inauguration planned for this fall. We would have noticed someone taking a chance, and we would have cheered the adventurousness of it all.

I believe downtown Boston needs a sense of drama, spontaneity, and daring that will encourage people who love urban life to move here. To achieve this, I believe that city government, civic and business leaders, should take some risks and plan on making a few mistakes. The “raw” period of the Greenway was a unique opportunity to experiment. I hope we’ll make better use of the next chapter in downtown Boston. -Sam Davol 9/11/2008

[2008.09.29] Here’s a press release from a company which will apparently sponsor a market at Dewey Square during the Inaugural Celebration on Saturday, Oct. 4

[2008.10.03] The Boston Globe published an editorial on the eve of the Oct. 4 event, including this comment:

[At the Inaugural Celebration], Conservancy director Nancy Brennan is promising “the joyful side of city life” along the Greenway, including free concerts, Duck Tours, Ferris wheel rides, yoga classes, and tide pools for children. That should make for a good day. But a bigger test will be Brennan’s ability to site a more permanent attraction – an ice skating rink – next year, perhaps near the Aquarium or in the Dewey Square area between South Station and the Financial District.

While sections of the park in the North End and Wharf District between Christopher Columbus Park and Rowes Wharf are attracting good use, the overall experience of the Greenway remains as underwhelming as some of the immature saplings that line the park. Providing programs and light distractions for residents, workers, and tourists will be especially important given that much of the park is paved and several of the major cultural attractions planned for the Greenway are struggling to raise funds.

[2008.10.04] The farmers’ market returned to Dewey Square for a day, during the inauguration of the Greenway.

[2009.05.28] The Dewey Square Farmers’ Market re-opened today for the season. We’re glad to have it back in 2009.