Spacing out urban green spaces throughout Boston

Andrea Dettorre at a public park in Jamaica Plain. Photo by Marian LaForest / BU News Service

By Marian LaForest
BU News Service

Depending on where you live in Boston, your access to parks and urban green spaces drastically varies. For example, Mattapan and Hyde Park have 30 percent tree coverage, while East Boston has only 7 percent.

In 2007, in an effort to increase tree coverage throughout Boston as a whole, former Mayor Thomas Menino announced a plan to plant 100,000 trees by 2020. Now two years from the deadline, only 10,000 new trees have been planted and the city admits that the commitment will not come to fruition.

The promise of trees goes hand in hand with the creation and improvement of public green spaces and parks. 100,000 new trees would help even out tree coverage between neighborhoods and increase public access to urban green spaces.

Andrea Dettorre has lived in multiple Boston neighborhoods:  Somerville, the South End, Kenmore Square, Allston and, currently, Jamaica Plain. Jamaica Plain is a comparatively leafy neighborhood and is surrounded by the Emerald Necklace — a large park system.

Dettorre enjoys living near Jamaica Pond, visiting two to three times a week. However, she wasn’t always such an avid park user.

“Where I lived before I wasn’t very close to parks, so the best I could hope for was a smattering of trees on my street,” she said. “Now that I’m closer to a park, it’s almost, it feels like a waste of a beautiful thing in my neighborhood if I don’t go out of my way to spend time there.”

Dettorre feels that park design and usability are important factors for park use. Parks in her previous neighborhoods lacked running trails and the sense of community she craved. Jamaica Pond’s running trails, events, and public art creates a sense of community that keeps bringing her back.

Overlooking the sports field and running trail at Franklin Park in Jamaica Plain. Photo by Marian LaForest / BU News Service

Parks offer a range of health benefits to those who use them, such as a place to exercise, cleaner air, an escape from city noise, and a feeling of community.

When discussing the locations of parks, Dr. Judy Ou, an epidemiologist at Huntsman Cancer Institute, said, “Parks are a really valuable public resource in terms of just having a place to go and seek peace of mind.”

Dr. Ou’s research on parks in Chelsea, Massachusetts found that while distance affected park use, other factors such as acts of violence, perceived safety, use of the park, and design of the park all influenced park use.

Without actually using the park, a lot of the health benefits are lost.

The key she says it to really consider the population that the park serves and what their needs are when designing a park. Safety elements like lighting and line of sight can help residents feel safe exercising.

Dettorre believes that the park design of Jamaica Pond meets the surrounding population’s needs.

“Here at Jamaica Pond there are actual trails, there are pull-up bars, there’s a dock, there’s a boat house. The park supports many of the hobbies that people in the neighborhood might have and that sort of reinforces the use of the park.”

Going forward with the Imagine Boston 2030 plan, Boston plans to connect and grow the Emerald Necklace, add new parks on the waterfront, and invest in current parks with the goal of increasing the city’s tree canopy from 27 to 35%.

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