With the summer months quickly approaching and everyone getting outside to soak up the sun, it might be easy to take for granted all the work and community organizing that goes into creating and maintaining Boston’s beloved outdoor spaces. In fact, the Boston cityscape has changed dramatically in the last 50 years, though this change wasn’t exclusively done with poured concrete. Just since 2014, Mayor Marty Walsh has greatly increased the city’s focus on the establishment and maintenance of green spaces throughout Greater Boston. Before that, countless communities all over Boston were those doing the heavy lifting, fighting for their neighborhoods and advocating for proper green spaces in their area.
For this month’s spotlight, we are highlighting three of Boston Cares’ community partners that provide community enrichment and environmental benefits while being very different green spaces in unique parts of Boston. The Shawmut Corridor Gardens, Southwest Corridor Park, and Rose Kennedy Greenway are all evidence of the immediate importance of making room for natural areas in the heart of a concrete jungle. The histories of these spaces have a common thread that make each of them such successful transformations; a passionate community, committed volunteers, and an appreciation for the earth.
The Shawmut Corridor Gardens is a result of the tight community that surrounds it and, being spearheaded by passionate neighbors, it is a volunteer-run organization tailored to the needs that are heard from the community.
The gardens started long before the MBTA picked up on their existence. In the 1980’s, neighbors in the area came together and would plant whatever plants they had overrunning their yard into the 10-foot bare-soil strips of land that ran on either side of the 3-block long walkways. The gardens were the inspiration of Jenny Moye, an individual who lives very close to the walkways around the Shawmut T stop that now make up the Shawmut Gardens; mobilizing neighbors in partnership with the MBTA and the City to make things happen. As Jenny mobilized the neighborhood, dedicated community members started to have monthly clean-ups for the makeshift community garden in the early 2000’s. The new decade also brought about many upgrades in partnership with the MBTA and the City, one of which being the Shawmut Gardens getting awarded a grant from the City of Boston to create an educational garden.
Pictured above on the right and left is a volunteer group along the 3-block stretch of the Shawmut Gardens, maintaining the green spaces that hug either side of the top of the Red Line at our Shawmut Gardens Clean-Up project!
The Red Line’s focus on renovation in the mid-2000’s brought many changes to the walkways, including new pavement and lights, and the community-organized development of the bordering areas into the gardens. Boston Cares has partnered with Shawmut Gardens to send volunteers since the early 2000’s, and Sarah Weinstein, one of our volunteer leaders and partner staff, reports that with the help of these volunteers they have been able to expand what they are able to do throughout the garden space. Shawmut has many facets to its garden and keeping them maintained is nearly a full-time job!
The educational garden started in full swing with a botanical guide written for the local flora and fauna, and signs with little explanations for different plants telling you about what they can be used for. The curiosity for nature is easily shown through the countless passersby that stop to read a sign before running off to their train, ask about a local medicine plant, or just throw a big “Thank you!” to a volunteer working in the garden.
The Shawmut Gardens are more than peaceful spaces in the neighborhood, it has become a community resource. Shawmut Gardens hosts neighbors stopping for conversation, children learning to ride bikes (since there are no curb cuts in the whole city block), and students stopping to finish homework. The Epiphany School is also around the corner from the gardens and students use the garden to learn and grow an appreciation for the earth. During the winter holiday season, the community has gathered along the gardens and sing holiday songs of all types. Shawmut Gardens shows us the intricacies of the relationship between a community and their green space, highlighting a deep value that goes beyond blooming flowers.
SOUTHWEST CORRIDOR PARK
Transfer from the Red Line over to the Orange Line to visit another beloved Boston green space; the Southwest Corridor Park is 52 acres of green space that runs along the Orange line and commuter rails from Back Bay to Forest Hills. This park is unique because of how it came about; in the 1950’s and 1960’s, a proposed addition to the I-95 highway alongside the orange line led to mass protests throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. Even with the strip of land running from the Back Bay station all the way to Forest Hills already completely cleared, construction (or rather, demolition) of the proposed highway was ultimately cancelled in 1972, and the communities that rose together to advocate for their neighborhoods were rewarded with Southwest Corridor Park.
The park continues to flourish decades later, further thriving since 2007 under the new direction of Franco Campanello. After seeing the park under-maintained outside of his window for years, Franco started the Southwest Corridor Park Conservancy to maintain and tend to the parks. The development of Southwest Corridor over the decades was gradual, with Boston Cares beginning to send volunteers to projects and clean-ups around 2010. The park has been tended to by passionate community members and volunteers since, including one active member of the neighborhood who turned a section of the park into a butterfly meadow.
Karen Hohler first put in a proposal to start the Butterfly Meadow over a decade ago and has been spending years since ensuring its success. “Last year was the first year we saw monarch eggs on the milkweed!” Karen excitedly said, expressing a small testament to the resilience of the natural world. She then explained that another volunteer neighbor raised the eggs to ensure their success, demonstrating the importance of pollinators throughout the city.
Karen Hohler, founder of the Butterfly Meadow, is pictured above at our project, Tend To The Butterfly Garden, where she leads volunteer groups every other week to help maintain the garden– just blocks from her house!
Volunteers are what help keep the butterfly garden alive, explained Karen, mentioning that even the garden’s current irrigation system that was originally put in by the state has been significantly improved by a dedicated volunteer. The volunteer addition uses the original system, with added piping that gives the butterfly garden spigots every 10 feet rather than having the 50-foot stretches installed by the state. This is significant because the meadow uses soaker hoses, and with their generally weak water pressure and spigots far and few between, the volunteer’s work now makes it much easier to lay the soaker hoses and evens out the pressure problems, ensuring better care for the meadow. “It was a blessing,” Karen reports. “We really couldn’t be doing this without Boston Cares.”
With over 2,000 hours of labor per year keeping the park multi-faceted and engaging to the community, the Southwest Corridor Park is the most heavily used park in the State Park System, with 7 modes of transportation running on or through the park. Franco describes the park as a “refuge” just two blocks from Copley Square, this language highlights the positive impacts that a quiet natural space can bring to a community. Volunteers tending to the park can expect innumerable strangers saying, “Thank you!” as they care and maintain these green spaces in our city.
Our third partner spotlight, the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, is the non-profit organization that holds full operating control and maintenance responsibilities along the entirety of The Greenway, which runs 1.5 miles through the Chinatown, Financial District, Waterfront, and North End areas.
Developing on top of the new underground tunnel, a large-scale investment project known as the “Big Dig” in Boston that rerouted the Interstate 93 (I-93), into a highway tunnel starting in the early 1990’s, The Greenway replaced what used to be the above-ground highway. Being so close to the water, The Greenway had many environmental impacts to consider during its development. Something that makes The Greenway particularly special is that it is completely organically maintained. This means that there are no chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers used. This is important for both those enjoying The Greenway and those that inhabit it. In addition to being organically maintained, The Greenway has an incredibly talented staff of horticulturists to ensure a greater resiliency along its green spaces.
Pictured above on the left is a group of Greenway Conservancy volunteers tending to the Viewing Garden! Pictured above on the right are blooming peonies near the Chinatown Gate at our Garden Along The Greenway project!
One of the reasons that using organic practices is so important for The Greenway is their proximity to the Boston Harbor. Runoff can damage marine ecosystems, so when chemical pesticides aren’t used the impact is greatly reduced, and visitors and travelers can enjoy the lawns without worry of pesticide exposure. The benefits of eco-friendly management are shown through the complex ecosystem that is already forming in and around The Greenway. The lack of synthetic nutrients encourages more biodiversity and supports all kinds of life including larger birds of prey, such as owls, which have been spotted in the parks. With our local and global climates becoming more and more unpredictable, the resilience of green spaces is more important than ever, and the Greenway Conservancy is leading by example.
While talking with the Director of Programs and Community Engagement for the Greenway Conservancy, Keelin Caldwell, she excitedly shared that they would be adding bee hives, a meadow, and much more in 2019. This will hopefully boost pollinators in the area, provide rest and refuge for those that migrate (like butterflies), as well as improve the overall quality of the green space.
These new additions are only the most recent of many celebratory projects for their 10-year anniversary at The Greenway. It has come a long way, Keelin explains, saying that “things have really grown in” since the Big Dig. The Greenway Conservancy prioritizes community involvement, making a very targeted effort to incorporate local Boston influence into the fabric of the space, partnering with many different local organizations to host over 450 free and open events to the public annually. From working with 35 local businesses for the park’s food trucks to running a public art program and hosting numerous festivals and art shows, The Greenway certainly earns the title, ‘People’s Park.’
Boston is a place of fast-paced, friendly folk. The gardens along the stations, miles-long walkable green spaces replacing highways, and countless beautiful pockets of nature are taking back the Boston landscape. There is something about green space that makes it an oasis for many, whether it be to stop and smell the roses on the way to work or to have a quiet afternoon of studying amongst the butterflies, it’s clear that green space is not only worth maintaining, but rather an initiative worth prioritizing in the city.
Are you excited about getting outdoors this summer, checked the latest news on climate change, or just want to give back to local green spaces?