Southwest Corridor Park- Income and Space

Southwest Corridor Park is the linear park going from Back Bay to Forest Hills, built in the 1980s. As it’s a pretty long way and it travels through many neighborhoods, many factors about the park may vary in different sections of it. Among them, the public space type is certainly the most obvious one. If you travel from Forest Hills to Back Bay, you may find the space type has different tendency in different sections. From Forest Hills to Jackson Square, the park is mostly vast lawn with a path in the middle (or on one side) of it. After passing Jackson Square, you find that the park becomes narrow, with little green space beside it. The park is really close to the road and some industrial buildings, which is quite unfriendly to pedestrian. Later, from Massachusetts Avenue to Back Bay Station, the park becomes more delicate and well-maintained, which makes it more like a garden. It’s quite interesting to see the change of household income along the Southwest Corridor Park has similar tendency, and the points where they change sharply are almost the same. Coincidence or not? If not, why? How do they influence each other? I decided to explore the question in the project.

If we want to know the relationship between household income and space alongside the Southwest Corridor Park, we have to take a look at the Highway Movement in the 1960s, after which the park was built. At that time, the government decided to build highways in the city. Which they believe would help ease the traffic. In the place where Southwest Corridor Park is now, the Interstate 95 was planned to be built. This tore down a lot of houses, most of which belongs to black and poor people. So a movement was started. People walked on street organized, with signs reading “people before highway”. It was a difficult fight, but people managed to force the government to cancel the project in the end.

And as the construction of the highway project stopped, another question came up. Since the houses have already been removed already, then what to do with the empty land became the main concern. This is how Southwest Corridor Park came out. On the empty land, they built the park alongside with Orang Line. The design was made by professionals such as urban planners and landscape architects, the MBTA company, as well as neighborhood residents. In process of design, the park was divided into three sections. Section Ⅰ goes from Back Bay Station to Massachusetts Avenue, SectionⅡ from Massachusetts Avenue to Jackson Square Station, and Section Ⅲ from Jackson Square to Forest Hills.

It’s easy to notice that the point that divides the sections is identical to the point where space and income change sharply. This revealed one of the strongest connection between income and space. That is, in the designing process, neighborhoods with different average income are concerned about different things. Besides, the wealthier neighborhoods have more power when fighting with government and MBTA, so they could ask for more. For example, in Section Ⅰ, the railway is almost all underground, where in other sections it’s mostly left open. Because to cover the railway would be very expensive, Section Ⅰ residents fought hard to achieve this. So how could they achieve this while others can’t? There are many reasons, but all of them are well connected with income. First, they were better educated, and were able to carry out experiments to show the necessity to cover the railway. Second, they have clout in the government and MBTA, which can also help them win the battle. Third, and maybe the most important, because they were wealthy, their major concern is the quality of their living space, while in other areas like in Roxbury, people are desperately fighting for low income housing and industrial development. So in the end the park indeed reflected their need: Section Ⅰ is as peaceful as a garden, while Section Ⅲ it’s a path beside the busy road and industrial buildings.

This is how income influences the space, but space can influence income in the neighborhood, too. For example, in Franklin Park, when the park is badly maintained, the crime rate went up, and people started to move out. The landscape made it a worse place to live in, and become a place for people with lower income.

And if we take a look at the race distribution alongside the park, it’s not surprising nor coincidence to see people of color, mostly black, are living in areas with poorer space quality. It’s widely acknowledged that black people usually have lower income and that is natural, so this is not segregation nor racism. However, the fact is that it is not natural but mostly intended. In the past it was more obvious that many policies and regulations were made straight against black people, but nowadays they began to hide themselves behind the factor of income. So although the relationship between income and space seems to have nothing to do with racism, they are also strongly related. At first they restricted black people from getting into better-paid jobs or getting professional training, as well as excluded them from social security, minimum wage protection, and the recognition of labor unions. Later, with more and more criticism coming up, their unequal policies went more invisible to keep the black people poor. For example, they charge more tax for black neighborhood. The property tax is calculated by taking the property’s assessed value and multiplying it by the tax rate set by the government. However, the assessed value of black neighborhood is usually higher than it should be, while the properties in white neighborhood are usually underassessed.