North Bank Bridge and the Creativity Phenomenon

From the creativity and knowledge of individuals, using an incredibly creative and collaborative process come spaces for creativity to further take root.

Just recently an extraordinary footbridge was opened that links two historic neighborhoods and two lovely parks.  The North Bank Bridge is a remarkable engineering feat that opened up access to public spaces and reconnected parts of cities that had previously been divided by elevated roads.  And the parks provide a needed respite from the hub-bub of the cities that surround them (Boston and Cambridge)

Over the past several weeks since the bridge opened, I have walked the bridge and the parks several times.  Each time deepens my appreciation for what I’ll call the creativity phenomenon:  the set of activities ranging from input, through processes, to output, that describes what individuals address when they exercise their creativity.

First: the inputs – As the article “Twist & Turn,” published in Issue 65 of Bd&e available at, points out in careful detail, the design of the footbridge demanded considerable creativity on the part of the engineers and designers who were involved.  The site posed significant problems and constraints.  “The bridge has to provide clearance above an amphibious vehicle launch ramp and railway tracks, has to go between a historic building and a parallel highway ramp, below the Leverett Circle Connector Bridge, above Millers River and below the Zakim Bridge.”  It also had to skirt a sand and gravel plant!  In addition to the concept and engineering constraints, the bridge also challenged the communication skills of those involved in the collaboration.  Because of its location and potential impact on neighboring communities, the new bridge brought out many different neighborhood groups who wanted to have a say in its design and execution.

Next, the process:  The process that resulted in the footbridge was a mix of extensive discussions, meetings with interested parties at community, city and Commonwealth levels, site visits, and design charettes.  As the design evolved, the process also required a good deal of modeling and experimentation, since the designers had to balance a wide variety of specifications, such as user experience, maintainability, and accessibility. Several iterations were required before sometimes conflicting specifications could be integrated and the design and construction completed.

Finally, the result:  The outcome of all this input and these incredibly innovative and collaborative processes is what engineers call a “sinusoidal bridge because of its snaking, undulating form.”  It is a testament to the creativity of all involved (pictures can be seen in the above referenced article and from the photos on my Facebook page.)

It’s a captivating experience to walk the bridge over the river and the railroad tracks, under the majestic Zakim bridge (with its towers that mirror the famous Bunker Hill Monument in the distance in Charlestown), beside the gravel plant, over the launching pad for the Duck Boats, and down to the parks with their winding waterways, incredible views, and native vegetation.  It’s a treat to watch people stroll along the paths and children enjoy the playgrounds, see new vistas of Boston, watch boats go through the locks (themselves  a centuries-old  ingenuous engineering invention), and to lose myself in creative reflection along the Charles River Basin.  The parks are places and spaces to play and muse, to get rejuvenated, and let creative ideas incubate.

Congratulations and deep thanks to the engineers and designers, to the Department of Conservation and Recreation at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and to the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act funding that made this win-win solution possible.

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