by William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum and Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

Happy New Year to our members and colleagues around the world. This month we are excited to launch opportunities for neighbors, community groups, local and state administrators, and you—as essential supporters of our mission—to gain information and share perspectives on our Entrance Improvement Project. As part of our sesquicentennial focus on preparing the Arnold Arboretum for its next century, we envision making our landscape more engaging and welcoming to a growing and increasingly diverse community of visitors where their individual pursuits intersect with our own—at the 16 formal and informal entrances around our 281-acre perimeter. This issue of Silva kicks off with a feature story on our aspirations and the selection of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates as our partners in the design and development of five Arboretum entrances for the project’s first phase.

The design of our landscape reflects pioneering landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s belief that shared space and access to nature strengthens the democratic agency and commonweal of urban dwellers. Olmsted underscored this value by making the Arboretum landscape open to visitors at numerous points, designing formal gateways that created a sense of arrival and provided open access to America’s first public arboretum. As time passed and the Arboretum expanded, additional entrances were created of varying formality and aesthetics, creating inconsistencies that have had ripple effects in terms of public perception, community outreach, and inclusivity. Building a sense of harmony among these disparate portals will play a crucial role in connecting with all visitors and building long-lasting relationships marked by mutual learning and respect.

This initiative represents a huge leap in our long-term vision to advance “radical accessibility” for the people we serve every day as a public garden, an objective pursued previously in the redesign of our website, the development of our multi-lingual Expeditions visitor app, and the opening of our mobile visitor center. In initiating this imperative—perhaps the most ambitious and transformative renewal of our landscape since Olmsted’s time—we are committed to bringing as many voices to the conversation as possible to ensure the most effective outcomes. To help us embark, I hope you might consider taking a 5-minute online survey to share your perceptions of our entrances and their service to our visitors. I also invite you to register for an open house at Weld Hill this weekend (Saturday, January 21 at noon) to meet our design team, learn more about the discovery phase and guiding concepts for this project, and provide feedback as we look ahead to next steps.

First impressions are lasting and can determine the course of future encounters. Our Entrance Improvement Project aims not only to renew and ennoble our portals to the City of Boston, but also to reaffirm our institutional values and recalibrate our relationship with the public and society as a world-class museum of biodiversity. Taking this on will require a significant investment in capital funding, for which we will rely on major donor support for both planning and execution. We are confident, however, that the end results will truly be transformative to you and the millions of people who enjoy our landscape every year. I hope you will share our commitment and enthusiasm for shaping a more inclusive, engaging, and welcoming Arnold Arboretum for all.