The Commonwealth Avenue Mall stays bright every winter through community efforts – The Huntington News

March 11, 2022 by No Comments

For over 20 years, the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, or the Mall, has been lit up every winter. But the bright lights have prompted a mix of opinions from the public, from charming to controversial. 

After art philanthropist Ted Cutler returned home about 20 years ago from a trip to Paris with his wife, Joan, they were inspired to wrap the trees along sidewalks with lights. Matthew Sidman, current president of Committee to Light the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, continues their legacy to keep the lights on after Ted and Joan Cutler passed away in 2017 and 2010 respectively. 

“They really deserve the credit for starting this whole process,” Sidman said.

Sidman once spoke with Cutler and discovered only a handful of people donated to support the annual project about 15 years ago. That was when Sidman stepped up to keep the Mall lit by reaching out to the community. 

“Through my thinking, I found out that it needed to be more of a community effort, but [Cutler and I weren’t] going to be around forever … and you need to create organizations and survive people,” Sidman said. 

Chairman of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall Committee — a joint committee of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay and the Friends of the Public Garden — Margaret Pokorny said the committee sustains the Mall. This includes grass cutting, irrigation system check-ups, tree planting and preventing disease in the trees. 

When the lights went up 20 years ago, it caused mixed reactions among Back Bay residents. 

“A lot of neighbors who lived along Comm. Ave. did not want the lights. They thought it looked too commercial and it was inappropriate and would hurt the trees. One of the important things was that the trees were not damaged by the lights, which turned out not to be a problem,” Pokorny said. 

However, the consensus among Boston residents and visitors has changed for the better. 

“People do love it in the wintertime because it gets dark so early,” Pokorny said. “That’s when it’s really important to have the lights on the Mall for public safety, which is great, and also just so people can use the park more. In the last two years, all parks have gotten a tremendous increase in usage, so they were really appreciated this winter.”

Lynn Page Flaherty, vice president of advancement and external affairs at the Friends of the Public Garden, or the Friends, said her organization maintains Boston Common, the Public Garden and the Mall. 

“Here at the Friends, part of our business is to make sure these parks are welcoming and accessible to all,” Flaherty said. “We want people to use the parks, but it also means we have to really work hard to take care of them so that they’re in the condition that the city deserves.”

Pokorny said the cost to keep the Commonwealth Avenue Mall lights on averages to about $130,000 per year. But this past year in particular, the cost has jumped to almost $200,000 due to necessary upgrades to the underground infrastructure and electrical conduit system after two decades’ worth of wear and tear. 

“Now we’re using LED lights,” Pokorny said. “Every year, we have to buy new lights and the LEDs are more expensive, which is one of the reasons [the budget has] just gone …….



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