Old Urbanist is one of my favorite urbanist blogs (and not just because of the name), and Charlie’s got a post up about Boston that I think has a good market urbanist lesson in it. He describes how the formerly elevated Central Artery, buried by the Big Dig, was replaced with a park, with nobody seeming to understand that highways’ damaging effects comes from what they demolish – buildings, and lots of them. An excerpt:
With no one able to agree on anything in particular, the environmentalists of the late 1980s stepped in to offer the compelling alternative of nothing, packaged under the name “open space,” and obtained a requirement that 75% of the land above the buried highway be set aside for it. The realization has only recently sunk in that even “nothing” must be paid for, as the conservancy tasked with maintaining the Greenway has now proposed taxing abutting property owners to raise funds, the largesse of Boston’s citizens, already maintaining several very large parks in close proximity, apparently falling short. Thus, land that, under private ownership, might have provided millions of dollars in tax revenue to the city, and hosted thousands of jobs and apartments, has become a money pit.
The missed opportunity is even more tragic given that one of the very few neighborhoods in the United States laid out in truly traditional fashion, the North End, with its narrow winding streets and attractive mid-rise architecture, sits right next to the Greenway. The blank side walls of 19th century townhouses, their adjoining buildings demolished for the Artery in the 1950s, cry out to be extended southwards by new neighbors. The elusive vision is right there, a reality, not a fantasy, yet somehow it escaped the attention of Boston’s elected officials, planners, architects and the public itself.
On the day I visited, the North End was jammed with tourists snapping photos of the streets, students standing in long lines at pizza parlors, and many residents simply going about their daily business by foot. The few on the Greenway were walking briskly either toward the North End or back the other way, and indeed, with such an extraordinary neighborhood so close by, the appeal of lying on a shade-less grass lawn between six lanes of roaring traffic loses any appeal it might have otherwise had.
It reminded me of this great comment by Benjamin Hemric on a post last year, in which he quotes Jane Jacobs on parks in Death and Life (emphasis Benjamin’s):
We can already see that city districts with relatively large amounts of generalized park, like Morningside Heights or Harlem in New York, seldom develop intense community focus on a park and intense love for it, such as the people of Boston’s North End have for their little Prado or the people of Greenwich Village have for Washington Square, or the people of [Philadelphia’s] Rittenhouse Square district have for their park. Greatly loved neighborhood parks benefit from a certain rarity value.