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Lechmere Canal Park

Cambridge, MA

Built in 1895, the Lechmere Canal functioned as an active seaport for Boston Harbor until the Charles River Dam Bridge cut off access in 1910. The canal fell into disuse and the surrounding industrial area became blighted through the 20th century. In 1978, the city adopted the East Cambridge Riverfront plan in an effort to revitalize the neighborhood with commercial and residential development. Landscape architect Carol Johnson was hired to create a 7.5-acre linear park which wraps both sides of the canal and connects with the Charles River walkway. The canal is edged with sunken gravel paths and bermed lawn panels, maximizing the sense of greenspace along its length. Weeping willows, sycamores, and red maples are planted at regular intervals alongside evergreen shrubs, ornamental grasses, and groundcovers. The canal terminates at a circular basin with a tall jet fountain at its center. This area has a secondary circulation network composed of a raised brick path which provides direct access to the surrounding buildings. The seawall at the basin offers docking for light watercraft, and a small stepped amphitheater and open air pavilion serve as orienting focal elements. Intended as a shady place to sit, the pavilion also incorporates plexiglass panels that interpret the industrial history of the canal. Wooden benches line the canal’s pathways, while moveable tables and chairs provide seating in the retail areas. The project also established urban design guidelines for private developers whose buildings edge the basin and canal.

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