Making our Emerald Necklace Transect project, we decided to create an itinerary that would allow individuals to view Boston through the lens of racialized landscapes. To do this, we chose to focus on the laws that governed many of our sites, with all of them including racist policies to some degree. In the landscapes we explored, we saw that the built environment has been used by society as a means to emphasize the existing social and economical hierarchies in those areas, which in turn has led to an increased severity in wealth gaps and marginalization of racial groups in the present today. The walk from Jamaica Plain through Roxbury to the upper areas of Boston took us through landscapes of contrasting backgrounds, with some neighborhoods’ histories giving them certain advantages over other areas. For our research, we were interested to study how our twelve landscapes had developed over time and what role race had had to play in that development. Furthermore, we also looked at how the development and evolution of those landscapes impacted the people that originally lived in them as well as how developmental design determined what type of people would live there in the future. During our journey along the Emerald Necklace, we would come to study the roles that elements such as gentrification, transit, and accessibility have played in racializing the city of Boston.
Over the course of this journey, the general trend that we saw was a gradual improvement in the living conditions of Bostonians as we moved from the south part of the city up to the north. Studying Boston through the lens of a racialized landscape, we found that oftentimes, the low living conditions in a given area were either directly or indirectly related to the advantages held by another. For example, the transit problems faced by Roxbury were caused by an active effort from wealthier parts of Boston to cut themselves off from certain southern parts of the city, which served to strongly reinforce a segregation which had already existed. We also observed that the worsening conditions on the Methadone Mile were largely accelerated by the building of clinics in the area, which concentrated more poverty into an area that already had an impoverished population to begin with. These were just two of the examples where we found that without active intervention and a movement to implement anti-racist policies, a racialized landscape would have a tendency to racialize itself even further.
By setting up our transect as a continuous route from one end of the city to the other, we got to see how the stories of the various landscapes we explored are all connected to one another, rather than seeing them as individual and unrelated accounts. This gives them more meaning, as we could more accurately see how actions and decisions taken within the frame of one landscape have impacted another. Observing the landscapes that surround a site also often provided some helpful background and context as to why that landscape came to be where it is located today, as well as why it turned out the way it did. For example, we now understand that much of what makes the Rose Kennedy Greenway so appealing is its location, providing one with relief from the corporate environment of Boston’s financial district while providing a green space by the harbor. The Fens, on the other hand, would be considered by some to provide less solace and repose for its visitors. Observing the withdrawn area that this park finds itself in has helped us to better understand why some individuals might get those feelings when they visit it.
By looking at Boston as a collection of racialized landscapes, we were able to get a better look at the ways in which many of the city’s projects ended up segregating landscapes in the long run. For example, efforts to rid Melnea Cass Boulevard of its status as a hub for drug addicts by setting up new buildings and businesses along the street, while perhaps done with good intentions, ended up posing a threat of gentrification to the neighborhood. In this sense, the desire to “preserve” or improve the landscape clashed with the needs of the people who lived there. Similarly, tearing down a part of the orange line which traveled through South Boston was a method by which the city preserved areas. However, this method turned out to be convoluted and miscalculated, because the reason for which the plan to remove the railway had come to be in the first place was because it lacked investment and had been neglected by the city, thus falling into disrepair. Therefore, the only means for preservation was demolition, which in turn segregated Boston even more when the city failed to follow that demolition with any adequate improvements afterwards. In both of the case of Melnea Cass Boulevard and the orange line, as well as many other sites across Boston, we therefore found how improving an area isn’t as simple as constructing lots of tall buildings, and that cities often fail in this regards by overlooking the needs of residents presently living in that given area.
With the points mentioned above, we noticed that our findings resonated with much of the reading we had done in class over the past few weeks. By studying projects that had benefited a certain area, population, or community in the city while putting another at a disadvantage, we saw Jane Hutton’s reciprocal landscapes take their racialized incarnation within the city of Boston. We saw, much like the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team had signaled, that the lack of diversity in many of Boston’s neighborhoods is not due to a generally low number of black Bostonians, but is instead the result of intense segregation which causes a black underrepresentation in wealthier neighborhoods. Finally, we saw modern day examples of the incidents of de jure segregation mentioned by Richard Rothstein in the many landscapes ruled by the racist policies Ibram X. Kendi wrote about.
As a result, the main takeaway from our journey across the Emerald Necklace is that the racism seen in Boston finds its strength less in de facto and the day-to-day interactions between people of different backgrounds, but rather by the laws that govern the city and the lack of proper interactions between those people when racist policies segregate them from one another. The fact that Boston’s racism is more in its policies rather than its streets is what makes it less visible, while at the same time making it more powerful, insidious, and influential. Therefore, as Kendi wrote in his essay, fighting these with actively anti-racist policies is our only chance of having a more integrated Boston.
Melnea Cass Boulevard
Boston Symphony Orchestra
A People's Guide to Greater Boston-Boston’s Historic Core