For my Emerald Necklace transect project, I chose to examine how proximity to Franklin Park impacts the health of a given neighborhood and its residents. As I got farther and farther along in my work, I realised that it relied heavily upon my own subjective observations and opinions, but this is neither here nor there. The four sites for which I chose to do historical profiles were Bikes not Bombs, a social justice-oriented bike shop in Jamaica Plain; White Stadium in Franklin Park, the site of many Boston high school sporting events; the William J. Devine Golf Course, a public golf course, also in Franklin Park; and the Blue Hill Boys and Girls Club in Dorchester. I hypothesized that the benefits of being near a park would apply more to Jamaica Plain, to the west of the park, than to Roxbury and Dorchester to the east, as Franklin Park’s northern and eastern borders are defined by busy, difficult-to-cross streets, and there is a large cemetery directly to the south.
I did indeed find more health-related sites in Jamaica Plain, where quiet residential streets blend easily into footpaths in Franklin Park. In fact, the majority of my sites lie to the west of Franklin Park. What I found in doing this project is that, even though Roxbury and Dorchester are just as geographically close to Franklin Park as Jamaica Plain, in the minds of Roxbury and Dorchester residents, their perceived distance is much greater, since the bulk of this area is cut off from the park by two busy dual carriageways that are intimidating and inconvenient to cross. While I have not been able to find data on any health-related factors that is accurate to individual census tracts, I did find such data on median household income in 2016 that backs up my hypothesis. According to maps on Social Explorer, the median family income of the two census tracts directly west of Franklin Park, Tracts 1202.01 and 1203.01, was $77,000 and $80,000, respectively. In stark contrast, none of the census tracts directly to the east of Franklin Park had a median family income above $40,000. For two neighborhoods on opposite ends of the same park, this is a shocking discrepancy. Less shocking is the fact that Census Tracts 1202.01 and 1203.01 are both majority-white while the eastern Tracts have an overwhelming black majority.
The data clearly paints Franklin Park as a boundary between a rich, majority-white area and a poor black area, while my observations show the park as a boundary between a healthy neighborhood and an unhealthy one. Obviously, there is a strong correlation between the race and income of these areas, and my perception of how healthy they are, but I do not think that it is a huge leap to talk about causation. I would speculate that Jamaica Plain’s ease of access to Franklin Park compared to Dorchester, as well as its location on the Orange Line, makes it a more desirable neighborhood to live in. This means that its population is wealthier, and thus, they are in a better position keep themselves and their neighborhood healthy. This tracks logically, as wealthy people have more disposable income for buying fresh food, and more free time to spend exercising or relaxing. Essentially, the rich have more resources than the poor, so it is easier for them to engage in health-beneficial pursuits.
This is a bit of a departure from my original hypothesis, that areas near parks were healthier because the culture of health and fitness that parks cultivate spreads to the park’s surroundings regardless of wealth or race. I do still believe that this is true, but I have grown more and more intrigued by the connection between race, wealth, and health. General inequality between whites and African-Americans in Boston is very well-known and heavily studied, including by this class. We have plenty of statistics that objectively demonstrate the gulf between black Bostonians and white Bostonians, but, as I have come to realise, my transect shows that gulf in terms of health, which is one of the most important factors in quality of life.
My transect is important because, at the risk of sounding like a middle school health teacher, a healthy lifestyle, both physically and mentally, is a crucial part of a happy and productive life. Healthy kids miss school less, and if their parents are also healthy, they are absent from work less often. Combined, healthier people are more productive in general, and they spend less money on medical care. In the status quo, in Boston and most other big cities, lower-income, often minority, people are shunted into poor neighborhoods lacking sufficient access to recreation and other health-positive activities, while richer white people can afford to live in neighborhoods with better access to parks, fresh produce, etc. This strikes me as a vicious cycle of poor, unhealthy people getting poorer and less healthy because the very environments in which they live are so profoundly bad for physical and mental health. This is unjust, and we have a duty as people to make sure that everyone can live the most healthy and productive life possible.