Tried-and-True Urbanism

Sometimes the Oldest Tricks in the Book Are What It Takes to Connect City Residents to Economic Opportunity

May 12, 2014

Planner / Architect, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This was written as part of a series of posts prompted by Meeting of the Minds, who asked, “How could cities better connect all their citizens to economic opportunity?” Visit the group blogging page for links to this and other thoughts on expanding opportunities for city residents.

Boston has a reputation as an innovative hub filled with young, smart and well-educated entrepreneurs. With that comes an expectation that new innovations (think Uber, or Hubway) will drive towards new and novel solutions for improving transit and connectivity. But Boston is still a city deeply divided by race and income and even access to technology. The southern districts of the city comprise a concentration of lower-income neighborhoods and are characterized by low access to technology and transit, higher obesity and diabetes rates and lower rates of regular physical activity. Sadly, while the districts have lower income levels than the city as a whole, they are also more dependent on driving and have some of the lowest walking levels relative the rest of the city. When high-tech workarounds are being advanced for those without smart-phones or bank accounts, other, more traditional solutions that have worked for decades, even centuries, are perhaps the most innovative of all.

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Fairmount Indigo Line (Courtesy BRA)

Several focused initiatives are addressing this issue. First, the city is rehabilitating an historic, but underused, rail line that runs through the southern corridor with increased service at reduced cost. Four new stations will be opened, thus providing more convenient access from underserved neighborhoods to the major downtown employment centers and regional transit network. When fully implemented, the Fairmount Indigo transit line is intended to reduce auto dependency within the corridor and enhance the walking environment around the future stations with higher density mixed-uses and an improved public realm.

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Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston (Courtesy Wikipedia)

The second initiative is a city-wide campaign to relink the historic park system that remains as a legacy of the national urban parks movement of the 19th century. The Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston includes not only landmark parks, but also more than a hundred miles of multi-use parkways connecting them to each other and to the neighborhoods and cities of a growing metropolis. In order to enhance these parkways and extend their benefits to neighborhoods such as the Indigo Fairmont corridor, the city will identify missing links between neighborhoods, parks, libraries, schools, transit and recreation that, once established, will complete the greenway network. The new greenways and the historic parks and parkways will be updated to support walking, cycling or running along safe corridors. Community members that may have been discouraged from seeking alternative means of transportation will have safer routes that connect them to jobs, transit and educational resources.

The two initiatives combined are intended to address the inequity of public health and access to jobs and resources that are so visible in the City of Boston. Even while high-tech solutions to mobility are being advanced city-wide to serve tech-savvy Millennials, basic access to affordable public transit and safe alternatives to driving offer the residents of the South Corridor something with potentially longer-lasting benefits: an affordable, healthy alternative to an expensive dependency on vehicular use.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

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