Commonwealth Mall Statues – Leah Novelli

Reflective Essay

In my Emerald Necklace Transect project, I attempted to connect together many of the varying stories being told by the statues on the Commonwealth Mall, despite the fact that the figures depicted may be unrelated. All of the statues feature important figures to Boston history, some telling the stories of the specific neighborhood that they are placed near. Others are monuments dedicated to people who have died. Monuments and statues are an important way to establish the goals and accomplishments that a community values, and I am exploring that in the context of Boston history as well as landscape architecture history. I also have some sites that focus on the surrounding neighborhood, one that happens to be extremely rich and white; Because America’s history is incredibly whitewashed (and straight/male centric as well) I wanted to give racial context to all of my sites in order to paint a more accurate picture of Boston and my landscape specifically. I tried to take note of my own appearance when walking through this neighborhood. It was in the early afternoon, and I was wearing joggers, a sweatshirt with the hood on, and a long black jacket. I know that many people of color, specifically Black men, are hyper aware of the fact when they are wearing a hoodie, and I wanted to acknowledge my privilege as a small white woman able to wear that outfit without fear. I also was able to take phone photos of my surroundings easily without anyone being disturbed or noticing me, which is a privilege as well.

I had considered the Globe spotlight series on racism in Boston frequently during my outings to the sites and while writing my reflections. Because my locations were in an affluent area, most of the residents in the area were white, and I tried to make that clear in most of my site essays. I thought a lot about how divided the different neighborhoods in Boston are, and how inaccessible certain parts of the city are if you are lower-income. I also was thinking about what 'accessibility' is, and how it doesn't just mean whether something is physically or financially accessible. Accessibility can also refer to whether or not an individual or group of people feel safe or welcome in a space, and for many people of color, predominantly white spaces are not accessible in that way. Making sure people of color feel safe in public parks and landscapes should be a top priority in social movements and city planning in the future. With one of my narrative sites, I brought up the issue of accessibility in terms of disability access, which is something else that should have the attention of future architects. Making sure everyone is physically, financially, and emotionally able to visit a public park is the only way to determine a park's success.

Because most of my sites were the statues on the Commonwealth Mall, I had to do a lot of research about the figures themselves as well as the history of the physical statue. I tried to connect many of the historical figures to modern-day Boston, and luckily it was very easy in some cases, like with William Lloyd Garrison and Phyllis Wheatley. If I chose the statue as a narrative site, I focused more on the way I saw park visitors interacting with the statue. I was very surprised by the amount of historical information I was able to find about the Clarendon street playground; I was initially worried that I would not find enough sources but it ended up being one of the most interesting sites I explored. I was glad that I was able to connect it back to one of the first readings we had in class as well as connect it to modern day problems with wealth disparity in Boston.

I also ended up having a strong attachment to the Vendome firefighter's memorial, because it was the only monument in the park dedicated to regular Bostonians as opposed to one individual with national claim to fame. Community is an important aspect of what makes a park a successful and useful piece of architecture, and something about that monument captured a sense of community better than any of the other sites. What I learned about the Commonwealth Mall elm trees made me think about Jane Hutton's discussions about the plant life in New York City in her book Reciprocal Landscapes. Keeping trees in a city environment is never easy, and I was inspired by Stella Trafford's dedication to keeping her neighborhood beautiful and full of nature.

I stand by my statement that the Commonwealth Mall is underappreciated, but I also recognize how inaccessible it really is to the majority of Bostonians, especially taking race and economic status into consideration. I believe that the statues are a helpful chance to learn more about famous historical figures from Boston, yet they do not tell the whole story and these individuals certainly should not be revered with no criticisms. However, public art is almost always a good idea and elevates public spaces like parks by getting involved with local artists.