Thursday, August 07, 2014

Wanton Act of Creation

On July 18th, the Jamaica Plain Gazette reported on an illegal bike path constructed in the Francis Parkman Woods - a small piece of the Frederick Law Olmstead's "Emerald Necklace", and adjacent to the Jamaica Pond.

If you haven't seen it, you should. And soon. Although the City hasn't put enough resources forward over the past 10 years to create a skate park or BMX park, apparently they will find the resources - pegged at about $10,000, to "fix" the problem of the illegal bike path and the approximately 12 trees affected.

In Yvonne Abraham's Boston Globe column today, she writes (link), that for a decade these woods have been used by bikers. (full disclosure, she mentions my work in the article) The monumental ramps and jumps you can find there now have been there for years. Only a few weeks ago did members of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy and the Friends of Jamaica Pond become aware of the situation.

This parcel of land, what Google Maps labels as Parkman Memorial Park, is a triangle of manicured lawn and woods between Francis Parkman Drive, Prince Street, and Perkins Street. The site was the former home of Francis Parkman, noted American Historian and member of the 19th Century Boston elite. Born and raised predominantly on Beacon Hill, Parkman's house on the shore of Jamaica Pond was called "Sunnyside", and it was his summer retreat from the hustle and bustle of downtown Boston. The house, demolished to make way for Olmstead's vision, was featured in a book called The Homes America by Martha Johanna Lamb (h/t Remember JP?).

It is easy to forget that for every act of creation, there is, by necessity, a corresponding act of destruction. Drive in a beautiful hybrid, lithium battery powered car? - somewhere in the world a mountain was demolished to mine that lithium and all the other rare earth elements that go into the batteries and motors for your car. The Rose Kennedy Greenway? - hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed to make way for the elevated expressway, that then was destroyed to make way for the Greenway. The Emerald Necklace? - the Jamaica Pond was ringed with homes, mansions, and industry (the Ice House), prior to Olmstead's plan. The Pond itself is no where near its original glacial kettle pond self, its shores having been filled and manicured to fit the ideals of late 19th Century urban planners. In Abraham's article, she quotes the tireless green-space advocate and President of the Friends of Jamaica Pond, Gerry Wright, as saying. “People can say it is just one dirt bike track, but that one track has damaged many trees,” says Wright, “It’s a small symbol of what is happening across the world.” An image of the Parkman Memorial on a postcard from 1912 (at online postcard retailer Cardcow), shows the memorial on a nearly barren hillside. 

If it's the trees we are worried about, it seems as though they are doing fine. Or better yet, check out the BPL's image of the Memorial here. You can also see a picture of Parkman's home before it was destroyed at the Boston Public Library's flickr page here

For ten years the City of Boston has ignored its citizens for whom BMX riding (and skateboarding) is an important activity. For the past ten years, some of those disenfranchised youth took matters into their own hands, and built a spectacular playground that the City should be envious of. That it has taken years to come to the notice of authorities is a testament to how well placed it is - hidden in a nearly inaccessible and little-used corner of the Emerald Necklace. The singular paved path that runs most of the length of the park is so underused that a large tree branch - clearly down for some time - partially covers the path. If this were on the path around the Pond, you can bet it would be removed within a day.

I took the pictures shown here today, as I wanted to see for myself these epic structures before City bulldozers flattened them. I had to climb over two guard rails to get there from the Jamaica Pond. On my return, I looked for sanctioned pedestrian crossings from the Pond to the Parkman Memorial Park, and guess what - there are none. At least not at the intersection of Perkins, Cottage, and Parkman Drive. The sidewalk that runs along the Parkman Park and Cottage Street, much like Shel Silverstein's sidewalk, just peters out and ends. No cross walk. 

If the City is planning to use $10,000 to eliminate this wanton act of creation, they should instead take pause, ask why these young, energetic, and resourceful individuals created this (most likely in broad daylight!), and put the $10,000 towards helping to stabilize the site and make it a resource for anyone who wishes to ride their bike there. Do we really imagine that youth raised primarily in the digital 21st Century in this City could in any way interface with the analog bureaucracy that is City Hall? In light of our City's fiasco that is the BRA for the past 30+ years, it would be so great to see the City embrace its citizens, and find the value in this project, albeit unsanctioned. 

To do otherwise would be a pathetic continuation of the ageist discrimination against the creative and energetic youth of Boston, and indication that Boston only supports certain kinds of citizens, not all. 


matthew hincman said...

I updated this post with a link to the BPL's online image database of a pic of the memorial probably closer to its installation date, and there are NO trees around it. You can see it here.


Anonymous said...


Just leave the path.

xdementia said...

Great post. This is so sad and is a perfect example of pathetic bureaucratic hypocrisy of Boston at work. Although I don't BMX I skateboarded for 19 years - 10 of those years I spent waiting for the skatepark in Boston to happen. I am now fully convinced I will be in adult diapers before it ever does. All that money is going to some bureaucrat's morning latte and not to the park.

I also remember a few "renegade" skaters improving on the Hyde Park Skatepark only to have their improvements torn down by angry police and community workers who somehow decided they didn't want a halfway decent skatepark to exist anywhere in Boston.

My only faith is in a DIY and underground effort. If this track is destroyed another will pop up somewhere in a secret place and exist once again until it it discovered and torn down. DIY or DIE.