Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Forest Hills that might have been

{ed: additional images added since first publication}

During several years worth of contentious public debate in Jamaica Plain, some have claimed that a "highway" is being built through their town where the "beautiful new bridge" of their dreams could be. Here's a look at the nightmare that an actual highway might have created if car and truck travel had taken precedent over all other interests fifty years ago:

By the 1940s and 50s, Boston highway planners were considering building a massive Southwest Expressway through Milton, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain and Roxbury neighborhoods approximately where Southwest Corridor Park is now. The park was eventually one of the legacies of these halted plans, and yes: I'm leaving out reams of heartache for affected residents and hard work by many advocates that are an important part of the story - a part of local history best told in book or at least longer form.

It is also worth noting that Southwest Expressway proposals were meant to hook up with the proposed Inner Belt, a never-built highway dlicing through Somerville, Cambridge, Back Bay and the South End that would have had a huge impact on those communities as well. Again: a longer saga than I am qualified to relate here.

These concept paintings and schematics are from the 1966 "Basic Design Report Southwest Expressway- Interstate 95, Route 128, Canton to Jackson Square, Boston" document prepared by Brown Professional Engineers, Inc (available at the main branch of the Boston Public Library) and they give a sense of what one conception of this expressway might have looked like.

The first concept painting shows the Forest Hills section of Jamaica Plain looking north, with the Arnold Arboretum along the top left and the old State Lab building prominent. South Street into downtown Jamaica Plain is the narrow green strip heading north from the cloverleaf at the top of the painting. The current Casey Arborway Project is taking place where the east-west road slices across. There appear to be at least 8-10 lanes of highway plus another 8 or so of frontage road. There were rail lines and stations down the center of the expressway (accessible to riders through tunnels under the highway) along with all the ramps and bridges. Pedestrian and bike friendly? Not so much...

Here is the plan drawing for Forest Hills

This second painting depicts the expressway near McBride Street in JP. The old Jamaica Plain High School (now apartments) is along the left side.

This scheme called for altering the course of the Neponset River further south:

 And for cutting a wide swath through Hyde Park at River Street, below.

Those mid-century visions of the future - which were perhaps commissioned by concrete salesmen - are substantially more terrifying than this rendering of the project currently under construction, in my opinion. A highway? Not by mid-century standards: