Storymap of Roxbury
Orange Line Train – As heard from the Southwest Corridor near Stony Brook
Roxbury is one of Boston’s most historically rich neighborhoods. It started as an ideal settling location for colonists due to its abundance of natural resources. Over time, the neighborhood shifted into a predominantly African American concentrated area. This was the result of housing and zoning practices that segregated areas in major cities like Boston into either black or white areas. Currently, Roxbury faces a concerning amount of renewal. Although this process brings investment and people into the area, it does so at the cost of those currently living there. The influx of developers that are building high and low-rise condominiums is bringing along a new wave of coffee shops and other businesses that are driving up property costs. Unfortunately, this does nothing to adjust current residents’ income which is proving to be too little to keep up with the higher price level in the area. The only choice for many of these residents is to leave their historic homes. Our walking tour of this area has sites that tell their own stories of how current renewal and/or past renewal have influenced their respective landscapes.
When I visited my sites to collect pictures and record other observation I was on a run. It was interesting to see running shift from being the thing that I am doing to becoming a vehicle with which I am visiting these sites. It also showed me first hand how neighborhoods shifted in their sights and sounds. Starting a Franklin Park – a popular destination for many of the area’s runners – you experience a spacey park that shows signs of aging. Located in Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and Dorchester, Franklin Park is Boston’s largest park. The park itself is not enough to illustrate the disparities that renewal has created in the area, but rather the park serves as a useful comparison we can come back to at the end of our tour. Our next site is the Egleston Square Public Library. Located in, and named after, the historic Egleston Square, this library is part of the Boston Public Library system. Egleston Square is located on the border of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. The library, as well as the square, has seen its share of renewal since its creation. Notably in the latter half of the 20th century, the square saw the destruction of many of its buildings in place of newer ones that accommodated different types of people. The effects of this still linger today.
Next is Horatio Harris Park. Horatio Harris was one of Boston’s most well-known merchants in the 19th century. The park, located in Roxbury, serves as a greenspace for the surrounding neighborhood. Dog walkers and children use the park for recreational activities. Upon visit to the park, I immediately noticed the development and noise that occurs around it. Houses look a little more rundown and it is fair to think that because of that, the area is being renewed. Next is the Malcolm X Park. Named after the influential civil rights leader who once lived in Roxbury, Malcolm X Park is a large open space that houses many recreational amenities such as basketball courts, tennis courts, a pool, and a walking trail. From this site we see a contrast with Horatio Harris Park. Whereas the area surrounding Horatio Harris is currently being redeveloped, the area around Malcolm X Park has already seen that redevelopment. Houses look more modern and factors such as noise pollution are less apparent. It is ironic that a park named after such a great civil rights leader is in the middle of an area that was redeveloped at the cost of people he fought for. Highland Park, our next site reflects this same dichotomy. Fort Hill, the neighborhood in which Highland Park is located, is a historic Roxbury neighborhood. In the last few years, development of townhouses in the neighborhood has increased property prices and thus changed the landscape of the area. Though beautiful with its scenic views of Roxbury and downtown Boston and its Fort Hill Tower, one must ask, “at what cost to its former residents and its nearby residents has this been made possible?”. Being able to run between the sights gave me a unique perspective in that I was able to see the gradual shift in housing and neighborhood quality. It was palpable for me the differences between relatively wealthier areas like Jamaica Plain and Lower Roxbury as compared to the deeper parts of Roxbury.
The next three sites I examined demonstrate that difference. Located in Roxbury, Madison Park High School, Reggie Lewis Track and Field Center, and Roxbury Heritage State Park are all within a 2-minute walk of one another. Roxbury Heritage State Park is the site of the historic Dillaway-Thomas House, where the Continental Army was headquartered in 1775. The community gardens and other greenery in the park suggest that the park does not see much sustained usage. Aside from street access, visitors must climb a steep staircase from the opposite end to access the park. Close by, the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center is a notable track and field location in the city of Boston. Though it features a banked indoor track with space for hosting large meets, it lacks the refinement that are seen in other tracks in city. It does is not as well maintained as a track such as the one at Boston University. These conditions reflect the property taxes in the area that go toward the maintenance of this facility. Madison Park High School is the last of the sites in this cluster. Though a large school, it does not serve as many students as it is equipped to serve. It seems to have been left out of many school programs that have been aimed to ease the wait listing problem associated with Massachusetts vocational schools. Without the proper filling of students, the school will not be able to make a case for itself in receiving resources from the city. This will result in a loss of opportunity for the students attending the school. A possible solution to this problem would be diverting resources used on redevelopment in neighboring areas to assist the school in the resources it needs to help its students succeed.
The last of my sites revisit the developed side of the Roxbury/Jamaica Plain areas. Taking the Southwest Corridor back down toward Forest Hills serves as a recap of what we just covered. We see again both the developed areas and the areas that have suffered consequently. The Murphy Playground, located in Jamaica Plain, serves as another opposite of Horatio Harris Park. The surrounding area of this park is quiet and residential with newer looking houses and a well-maintained play area. Arriving at the Forest Hills ‘T’ station we see a blatant case of renewal. New sidewalks, intersections, buildings, and the station itself highlight the massive redevelopment that has occurred in this area. Right next to the station is the Arnold Arboretum – another park in the Emerald Necklace system. Here we can make a comparison to Franklin Park. Where Franklin Park shows signs of age and lack of maintenance, the Arnold Arboretum is a pristine collection of well-maintained trees. This is mainly due to the renewal that has occurred in the area surrounding Arnold Arboretum that has contributed to higher tax income for the upkeep of the site. This renewal has shaped the two landscapes, the arboretum and Franklin Park, and created a disparity between the two in their different conditions.
“Amid Bold Aspirations, Boston Turns a Blind Eye to Underused Madison Park High School - The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com, The Boston Globe, 22 Feb. 2019, https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/letters/2019/02/22/amid-bold-aspirations-boston-turn-blind-eye-underused-madison-park-high-school/6Gtj9BrwNhNr0n8R2w96YI/story.html.
Johnson, Megan. “So You Want to Live in Roxbury.” Boston Magazine, Boston Magazine, 27 Aug. 2018, https://www.bostonmagazine.com/property/2018/08/28/roxbury-neighborhood-guide/.