Toxic politics, anti-democratic nativism, uncivil behavior and willful stupidity – all dominate our sense of life in the United States today. But every once in a while, something happens that renews one’s faith in the human condition. One example was Saturday’s ribbon-cutting at a new park in Newton called Waban Common.
For as long as I can remember, the center of the village of Waban, one of the 13 villages of Newton, was crowned by an eyesore, two traffic islands surrounded by vehicular confusion and chaos. Ugly and unsafe.
In 2015, after Waban resident David Mofenson, our former state representative and a passionate fighter for human services, died unexpectedly, my husband, Jim Barron, suggested that the islands be combined into a park and named after Mofenson. The idea went nowhere until, fortuitously, decisions made for traffic safety reasons during the rebuilding of the Angier School united the two islands. In 2017, a variety of local residents similarly saw the park potential of the reconfiguration. But they preferred a name reflecting the larger community, and they were right. So 400 years after the nation’s first public park, Boston Common, Waban Common was conceived.
With the all-important backing of the Waban Area Council, in concert with other civic leaders and community activists, a non-profit organization was formed. (Full disclosure: I’m on the Waban Common board of directors.) It raised the money, 20 percent from two large Waban businesses and 80 percent from local residents, who gave of their work, wealth and wisdom to create an oasis in the middle of an otherwise inhospitable landscape. One of the large Waban businesses, The Village Bank, continues to donate each year. As Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller observed at the dedication, this effort – over several years – was the best example of public-private partnership, pastors and pols, landscapers and local Scouts, municipal workers and businesses, ordinary citizens, all pitching in to create this natural treasure. As Waban Common president Sallee Lipshutz describes it, we now have a haven for “rest and rejuvenation after a long walk; a place to sit, to contemplate, to breathe in the flower-scented air and to study caterpillars.”
The park’s best caterpillar, dedicated Saturday, is an eight-foot-long, 1000+ pound bronze caterpillar sculpted by Newton resident Nancy Schon, perhaps best known for her “Make Way for Ducklings” creation in Boston’s Public Gardens as well as “The Tortoise and the Hare” sculpture at the Boston Marathon finish line. Schon, energetic and vivacious at 95, was a guest of honor at the dedication and is shown in this picture astride “Caterpillar.” Dedicated by locals to “the child in all of us,” the sculpture was intentionally named simply, Caterpillar, “leaving any other names to the viewer’s or rider’s imagination.”
The joy of Saturday’s dedication will fade with time, but the enduring smiles at “Caterpillar” from passers-by will endure as a testament to a community-wide endeavor, of the people, by the people and for them as well. Waban Common is a reminder that the enmity, polarization and gridlock need not pervade our lives every day and in every place.