For over 120 years, Franklin Park has been a beloved space for Boston residents, especially for those in neighboring Roxbury, Mattapan, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, and Roslindale. Over time, however, several carve-outs, including the Shattuck Hospital, the William Devine Golf Course, and Franklin Park Zoo have reduced the amount of public park space by 200 acres, or nearly 40 percent. Today, Boston has an opportunity to restore green space to Franklin Park, the geographic heart of the city and crown jewel of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace, while providing much needed supportive services and housing to some of the most vulnerable in our community.
On the northwestern side of Franklin Park, in what was once the park’s Heathfield meadow, the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital primary building awaits demolition. Many of the services on the 13-acre site will soon move to a new facility near the Boston Medical Center, and the state has proposed giving a 99-year lease at the Shattuck site to a private developer to build housing for the formerly homeless.
The restoration of Franklin Park’s historic Heathfield need not come at the cost of supportive housing, health, and social services. Over the past year, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy partnered with Northeastern University on a series of graduate studies of the nearby Arborway bus facility — an 18-acre site controlled by the MBTA. The students determined that the Arborway Yard site, with its proximity to the Forest Hills T stop, would be a superior alternative location for the transitional housing, health, and social services that the state has proposed for the Shattuck site. Equally important, the students’ designs showed that the Arborway Yard is of sufficient size to fully accommodate the social services and supportive housing called for in the Shattuck Vision Plan, the market rate and affordable housing committed to in a 20-year-old memorandum of understanding with the community, and a new electric bus facility that could hold twice the number of buses currently housed.
Furthermore, the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board confirmed that the timeline for the bus yard’s transformation aligns with the proposed five-year planning horizon for Shattuck Hospital’s demolition and redevelopment, and that the MBTA is willing to discuss multiple uses for the site. In other words, Arborway Yard, as an alternative to the Shattuck site, provides the opportunity for transitional housing and supportive services at a nearby facility that is also owned by the state, is closer to public transit, community services, and daily necessities, and does not delay the timeline nor detract from the bus yard’s current function or the T’s future needs.
Governor Charlie Baker recently signed legislation pledging to support climate resiliency and work on issues of environmental justice. This project is the perfect example of an opportunity to work through two agencies under the state’s jurisdiction to make something better for everyone. More important, it benefits the environment and residents of the abutting communities.
Today, Boston has a chance to do right by communities in Mattapan, Dorchester, and Roxbury, whose residents rely heavily on Franklin Park. The future of this public space should be determined in a transparent and equitable public process, one driven by the community — predominantly Black, Indigenous, and people of color — who are directly impacted by proposed changes to the park. It is a chance to achieve environmental justice for all neighborhoods
The Arborway proposal is a feasible proposition that won’t cause delay in the approval and delivery of new social services in the area and has multiple enduring benefits to the city, especially for the neighborhoods surrounding Franklin Park. This is a win-win for affordable housing, supportive services, infrastructure, the MBTA, and Boston’s neighborhoods of color.
Louis Elisa is president of the Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association and a founding member of the Franklin Park Coalition. Ted Landsmark is director of the Dukakis Center for Urban Policy at Northeastern University. Karen Mauney-Brodek is president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.