HOHP #30: Nathaniel THOMASRead Now
Here is a special Father's Day edition of Humans of Hyde Park!
Tell me how you came to Hyde Park and what you do in Hyde Park?
My wife and I were looking to settle down and she was adamant about what she wanted in a house, and I was adamant about it being in Boston since I’m a 5th generation Bostonian and Hyde Park was the perfect place where we felt like we would get what we wanted out of a home as well as a community environment to raise our kids in. We came here 6 years ago and we love it! It reflects the reasons why we chose the neighborhood and because of that it’s just more compelling to want to give back to the community.
What are the reasons that made you come here and the reasons that keep you here in Hyde Park?
We have 2 children and what I remember from growing up in Boston that I loved most is that I grew up with kids from everywhere and I grew up seeing those kids in the neighborhood, seeing those kids around, and I see there’s parts of the city where that’s not as prevalent as I remember which correlates to the recent Boston Foundation Study that showed the shrinking child population. So when we came here and I saw that there was diversity, kids playing together, families, access to green space where the kids can congregate, it reminded me of the best of Boston that I had and I want that for my kids too. That’s what it is here! And the data speaks for itself: the prevalence of green space, family households - that’s what attracted us. Since then we’ve met other families who are active and engaged and that’s inspiring to me because at the last Reimagining Engagement session we heard Rep. Consalvo speak about how it’s not a surprise that Hyde Park is rising to the top as a place to live because it’s a reflection of it being a collaborative community. All the assets that our community has is driven by community efforts and collaboration with the reps and officials to funnel those resources here. I’ve seen that happen and I feel like there’s a sense of community. That’s what drove us here, but when you’re actually living it and experiencing it, it makes you want to stay.
What do you do professionally and what community projects have you been involved in?
I’m a public land use planner; I’ve done land use planning for a number of things from schools, housing, infrastructure, open space conservation, and land protection. The Moynihan Playground (at 920 Truman Parkway) has been one of the larger projects I’ve been involved in. There’s also an outstanding request for getting municipal signage. It’s still in the works since 2018. You go around the city and see them - Readville has them - there’s two in Hyde Park. You see there’s no real placemaking so people can have a shared community identity and shared history. There’s a perfect place for it at the base of Wakefield Avenue and Truman Parkway - it’s part of a city streetscape.
How are you building a coalition in the community?
If you bring up an idea and people are responsive to it, it’s the responsiveness that validates whether it’s worth pursuing. Because I’m aware of how certain processes work, I feel that it’d be irresponsible of me not to take it to the next step once there’s consensus around it. If it’s a good idea and people are going to benefit from it, then why not? That’s literally how it started, “Why don’t you write a letter?”
How did the Moynihan Playground project get started?
The playground started with my son. Children tend to like to play and they tend to know what they like to play and where they like to play it. We used to go around different playgrounds and he asked me, “How come we don’t have a playground like the other ones?” He was basically asking me why don’t we have modern equipment, and I didn’t have an answer. It was at a playground in Readville and a playground in Milton that I actually met neighbors who live in Fairmount Hill and they were there because their kids also liked those playgrounds so then I’m like, “OK. I’m not tripping!” Once I started to realize it’s a shared issue, it led me to believe there’s a trend of other families going to playgrounds in other neighborhoods instead of ones closer to them.
I applied for CPA (Community Preservation Act) funds - this is where the theme of jurisdictional impasse comes into play. I applied for the first time in 2018. They have an eligibility form and the city’s initial response was, “This is DCR (Department of Conservation & Recreation) property. Have you talked to them?” Regardless of who owns the park, it’s in the city of Boston which means the primary beneficiaries are the Boston residents and although the city distributes CPA funds the mechanism to enact the funds is established at the state level. I reached out to DCR as the city suggested and requested a site visit. The city of Boston came out in October of 2018 and the staff of Councilor McCarthy’s office and a few other members of DCR staff - now that we were in person we could ask those questions: “Can you see this park? Do you see clearly it’s being used?” It’s hard to avoid the potential when it’s in your face. From there we were able to get a potential scope in the eyes of the state identified.
We re-applied in 2019 after taking up the city’s encouragement in 2018 to connect with DCR. DCR has its own partnership matching fund so I decided to create a Go Fund Me page so we could apply to DCR for the matching funds, then go to the city to show them matching us and ask for money. We didn’t raise enough money but DCR awarded us, but wouldn’t give it until we had a match. The city let us know we didn’t get the money because there was a higher priority for housing.
2020 came around and I remember being up late and my wife walking in the living room and asking, “Are you still working on that playground thing again?” For me, I gotta see it through - I can’t see it unfinished! For the 3rd application I went deeper into the data - I’m gonna go full on planner on them. It was like, “Families are leaving Boston, but they’re coming to Hyde Park. Why wouldn’t you want to invest in things that are conducive to families?” When I first wrote the application, I had one kid and now if it were to start this year I’d have two.
Our application was for $450K and it was based on DCR’s estimates and it was a matter of going to the committee hearings and listening to their priorities and it was about doing something for families. I spoke at the hearings and pointed out here’s a playground that checks the boxes of all of the priorities. I wrote to the committee members to follow-up on the comments to reiterate why the project aligns with the priorities let alone that it’s been years.
The project went from not fully considered to being partially funded for $200K. I was so excited because I was able to tell my wife, “This year I stayed up and it worked!” This project shows how when there’s a multi-jurisdictional effort to collaborate for constituents that benefit from the resources they pay taxes to, things can happen. The city gave us partial funding and I applied to the state for a match where the one-to-one match happens and they gave us $140K. Now there’s $340K going to Moynihan Playground. Last I was told the design will be complete in summer/fall and construction will start in spring.
What’s next? Do we still need to raise funds?
With costs going up around the country in general, $340K from 2018 might not be the same today. Maybe members of the community can reach out to local councilors to see if there’s funding in the parks budget. It could be a matter of asking a state rep or senator to have money funneled to DCR to offset increased costs. Once they go out to bid we’ll have a sense of the costs - DCR will be the first ones to know what the costs are.
At the end of the day, even though I wrote and called, it showed we need the city and state to work together to benefit the community of Hyde Park.
If you're interested in supporting future efforts of the Moynihan Playground project please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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6/19/2022 07:06:25 pm
Great article. Collaboration was truly the highlight and community.
7/8/2022 08:46:55 am
Amazing civic engagement. I am inspired, Nathaniel!
10/14/2022 01:08:38 am
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Quiana first came to Boston as a college student, graduating from Wellesley College in 2002 and returned in 2016 to live in Hyde Park with her husband and two children.