For the Emerald Necklace Project, our group focused on the relationship between the Emerald Necklace and the surrounding communities of each park and parkway. In order to connect the Emerald Necklace to the surrounding communities as a relational landscape, we will look at how Olmsted’s green spaces interact with the communities economically, socially, and environmentally over generations. This will be done through both historical research and personal narratives of primary observations. We are particularly interested in understanding the history of each park and how the landscape and use has changed over time to adapt to different groups of people. We will analyze the functionality, through access and perceived access, of the corridors that affect the use across our sites. Are people walking along the paths or taking another mode of transportation? Do the corridors give an impression of safety? Are they used by the local communities or by people visiting from out of town? In order to do this, our transect spans the length of the Emerald Necklace and includes specific sites and locations that were researched or naturally stumbled upon during preliminary observations.
We begin our transect with the Boston Common and neighboring historical sites including Park Street Church, and the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill. The neighborhood of Beacon Hill in which the African Meeting House is located is primarily a white neighborhood where 87% of residents are white while only around 1% of residents are black. (1) However, from more digging and research, we found that this was not always the case. In fact, Beacon Hill was home to one of the largest black communities in the City of Boston; “between 1800 and 1900, most of the free African Americans in Boston lived in an area now called the North Slope of Beacon Hill.” (2) Looking now at this neighborhood, it is far from 80% black residents as it was in 1865. (3) Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, as we discuss in our storymap this shift in demographic is largely a product of space racism. A definition which we use from Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to Be An Antiracist, as “a collection of policies that lead to resource inequity between racialized spaces or the elimination of certain racialized spaces, which are substantiated by racist ideas about racialized spaces.”(4) As we have come to understand, the demographic shift is also likely to be connected to the ideas and instances present in Richard Rothstein’s book, The Color of Law, since the movement and restrictions of movement of African-Americans in residential sectors is not happenstance.
We then moved to the neighborhood of Back Bay and looked at several sites with distinct history and cultural relation to the city of Boston and the Emerald Necklace itself. One primary narrative site includes the Bagheera Fountain. This fountain, along with three other fountains in the Boston Public Garden, were sculpted by women. This fountain in particular, sculpted by Lilian Swan Saarinen in 1939, peeked our interest and eventually led us on a path to uncovering the extent to which women are recognized in statue or monument in the City of Boston, connecting back to early class discussions about the forgotten legacies of women throughout history and the lack of recognition for their contributions. The residential area of Back Bay is home to the Commonwealth Avenue parkway, which is fascinating as it is far different from other parkways and corridors in the Emerald Necklace. This difference in use prompted us to look into the motives behind the design in order to understand why it is particularly effective. This same parkway holds another two of our narrative sites that we discovered while doing primary observations in the area. Finally, our last stop in the Back Bay neighborhood, The Newbry at 501 Boylston Street, was inspired by findings in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston. Within this book, we discovered that the site today functions as an office and retail space. However, beneath the surface, there is evidence of fishing structures built by indigenous tribes and these artifacts are considered the oldest known traces of indigenous peoples in New England. (5) This is particularly interesting considering that the same area which used to be ruled and occupied by indigenous peoples and an important hunting ground for native peoples, now serves the people of Bay Bay in a completely different way.
There is a disconnect between the Commonwealth parkway and the Fens in the Charlesgate Bridge that spans over the Mass Pike Highway. This observation of a disconnect in the Emerald Necklace was particularly interesting as it raises questions surrounding why it was designed this way. The interest in the disconnect is also based on conversations in class surrounding the highway system and its impacts on communities in the area, specifically in ways that function to segregate the different communities. By the end of the Fens, we will research the Landmark Center along with how the corridor to the Jamaica Way over recent years has changed to expose the Riverway along with research into how the Fenway community has shifted over time. Finally our transect takes us close to the Arnold Arboretum with the St Claire Monastery, the Forest Hills T-Station, and the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital/Correction Unit. One neighborhood that connects with the Arnold Arboretum is Jamaica Plain. This neighborhood is particularly fascinating as on paper this is a comparatively diverse community compared to most US neighborhoods with 13.5% black residents, 22.2% latino residents, and 53.6% white residents. (6) However, this does not mean that Jamaica Plain has avoided racial segregation and older established minority communities continue to be gentrified. For the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital, we wonder whether its circumstance is similar to that of other Hospitals in Boston such as the Boston Medical Center, which was mentioned as part of the Boston Globe series as being somewhat undermined by Massachusetts General Hospital, connecting to the theme that segregation patterns are deeply imbedded in Boston health care. The close proximity of the sites we chose to the Emerald Necklace itself makes it easier to understand the narratives and histories of the sites in relation to the parks since their presence distinctly ties them to the fabric of the surrounding communities.
To conclude, our transect highlights the relationships between the Emerald Necklace and the communities that surround it. Neighborhoods we will particularly be focusing on include, Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Jamaica Plain, and Roxbury. The sites themselves vary in nature and history yet there is a consistent focus on unveiling economic, social and environmental differences over time through landscape. All too often we found many of these differences stem from space racism and segregation. On top of cultural differences, we also discuss the design of the parks and parkways in relation to the surrounding communities. With a particular focus on the corridors between the parks to analyze their functionality as well as understanding why they are used or even avoided. Finally, our sites were chosen either through historical research or preliminary observations that we happened to stumble upon that furthered our understanding of the Emerald Necklace as a relational landscape.
(1) Boston Planning Development Agency, Beacon Hill, 2017, http://www.bostonplans.org/getattachment/632f3e9ff425-4ece-8b54-633c35491e99
(2) Massachusetts: Boston African American National Historical Site (U.S. National Park Service). (2017). Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://www.nps.gov/articles/bostonafam.htm
(3) Hayden, B. (2019, June 14). Boston's black population took a long path to Roxbury. Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://www.baystatebanner.com/2019/06/14/bostons-black-population-took-long-path-to-roxbury/
(4) Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be An Antiracist (New York: One World, 2019) pg.18
(5) Joseph Nevins, Suren Moodliar and Eleni Macrakis, A People's Guide to Greater Boston (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2020) Pg. 80