Green Spaces and a Gentrified Boston – Gianni Panno


The city of Boston is home to numerous parks and green spaces that allow for the residents of the city to escape their industrial and working world and relax in a “natural” world. These green spaces come in many different types and forms. They range from small community gardens to large open fields in parks, yet they all provide to the communities around them. The parks bring together the community and bring about countless athletic activities. Yet this community that is brought together is not always of the most diverse kinds. This is because of the separation that results from the implementation of green spaces in the urban design. The high desire for these spaces led to wealthier residents seeking out living spaces near the parks, which in turn led to the price of housing in the area rising to the point where the lower-class residents could no longer afford their rent and had to move out to other communities. This separation of different racial groups through the gentrification of the area around parks has created the urban layout of Boston that is still so racially defined to this day.

To allow for a common understanding of concepts used in the essay, the idea of gentrification must be defined. In the context of this Emerald Necklace transect, gentrification is the direct improvement of facilities around certain communities and neglect of facilities in other communities that lead to a greater disparity in communities and separate them further. Gentrification can bring about positive outcomes such as well-funded school systems and living establishments, there is no argument over that, but for these improvements to occur other communities must suffer. The communities that most often are suffering are the poorer and lower class ones, which have been found to also be the communities that are dominantly made up of African American families. The communities prospering from this gentrification are ones that have high percentages of middle to upper-class white families making up the demographic.They receive much higher quality scholastic buildings, hospitals with much greater funding, and on average have a much higher net income to increase their standard of living in households. The African American families found in places such as the Roxbury and some central spaces in Jamaica Plain do not have the same level of facilities. Their hospitals are less funded, the school systems are not nearly as sought after as ones in the white communities, and even many of the parks in their area are less maintained. Parks like the Back Bay Fens and Arnold Arboretum were originally either empty land spaces or less desirably housing before Frederick Law Olmsted came in and redesigned the areas to support a vibrant and green park ecosystem. With the construction of these “natural” parks came the desire of the wealthier residents of Boston to suddenly want to move into surrounding living spaces. With the rise of standard of housing in these gentrified areas around parks came the improvements of many of the necessities of the residents, such as restaurants and health services, and shopping. My walking tour of the transect covers many of the disparities seen in these facilities between certain neighborhoods that have directly experienced this gentrification.

The neighborhoods of the Fens and Jamaica Plain undergo most of the focus of the tour, as they show a great difference in the living conditions of families in each community. The housing that is found between Fenway and the Fens park is mainly apartment style. Taller, roughly five to ten story buildings occupy the landscape, and they all are found at higher prices on the housing market. Around the housing are nicer restaurants, many of which have the more expensive tags when viewed on maps, such as one of the stops Tiger Mama. These types of higher end restaurants are aimed at drawing in wealthier commercial customers, which is the exact demographic found in the Fens. These stops are both found directly next to the cause of the area’s separation of race, the Fens park. The park itself holds a large turf field, river moving through it, and the Famous Victory gardens. The gardens are of great quality, as the people who live in the Fens further invest themselves and their money into improving the gardens. This turns full cycle as these park conditions further increase the value of housing in the area. The living spaces average around two bedrooms and one bathroom, yet they sell for higher prices than the houses found in Jamaica Plain, which hold 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Jamaica Plain faces entirely different demographics and conditions than the Fens. Their population contains a much higher percentage of African American families their median net income in the area is far less than the Fens. The practice of redlining labeled neighborhoods in Jamaica Plain as risky investments for banks, just as what had happened in many of the cities that are discussed in the book, The Color of Law. The banks were afraid to put any investment into a house or neighborhood that they believed would not be able to repay the investment or make enough profit to be of a benefit to the bank, so instead of providing money to communities with a dominantly African America population, they put all of their investments into the communities that held white residents. This demographic is visible in the establishments that exist in Jamaica Plain. Taking the dining options in the area, most are on the  opposite side of the spectrum of pricing when compared to their Fens counterparts. Places like the Old Havana are aimed at families looking for normal night eating out, not the commercial business targeting seen elsewhere. They hold a much more intimate feeling within them, as the businesses in Jamaica Plain understand the incomes of the residents in the area using their stores.

These improvements in the dining and living services seen in places such as the Fens inspire a cycle that is heavily shown in the walking tour. This cycle exists between the living facilities of the communities and the green spaces that improve them. After the facilities have been improved and wealthier residents have moved in, these residents have the money to put more back into the same parks that drew them to live there in the first place. The parks in the gentrified areas then undergo their own improvements while the few parks in places like Jamaica Plain stagnate and decrease in quality over time. This leads to a greater disparity between the conditions of the parks in the different communities, and this disparity makes the wealthier locations even more desirable. This leads to even wealthier residents moving in, which leads to the improvement of the facilities, which then leads to the improvement of the parks even more. The cycle continues to repeat in places like the Fens simply because it was started once and has repeated ever since. In places like Jamaica Plain, the cycle has not truly ever begun and therefore the cycle cannot be repeating and the living conditions cannot be constantly improving in the area. The green spaces that make up the landscape of Boston are beneficial to the neighborhoods that they serve, but these benefits are constantly providing a cycle that is putting neighborhoods like the Fens with far greater advantages than the neighborhoods of Jamaica Plain.