My Neighborhood?

July 6, 2007
By

John Ruch

City offers odd JP map

Are Daisy Field, the Hennigan School and the VA Medical Center in Mission Hill? Is Fisher Avenue atop Parker Hill part of Jamaica Plain?

It’s unlikely anybody in either neighborhood would agree. But those are among the odd claims made by the city’s “My Neighborhood” web site (www.cityofboston.gov/myneighborhood), which offers residents community information based on a street address.

The Gazette learned of the oddities from Steven Nutter, a Mission Hill resident and architect, who decided to turn “My Neighborhood” results into a neighborhood map.

“I think the strangest thing is the Back of the Hill almost all the way to Hyde Square is Mission Hill,” Nutter said. “If you asked anyone in those areas where they live, I don’t think that’s the answer you’d get.”

Of course, neighborhood boundaries are often fuzzy, especially where there’s no highway, river or other prominent dividing line. However, the city is known for producing maps that fly in the face of undisputed definitions of JP and other neighborhoods—sometimes with significant results.

The strangest, and most damaging, is a Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) map that lops Forest Hills, Woodbourne, Parkside, Brookside and Egleston Square from JP while including almost all of Mission Hill in the neighborhood.

That map is used to analyze census data. The demographic results are then distributed to various city agencies, where they are used to help determine policy and funding. Virtually all such neighborhood-specific policies are based on incorrect information.

For example, the BRA’s results reported that from 1990 to 2000, JP’s population dropped 6.8 percent and saw a decrease in minorities. The Gazette’s own census data analysis found that, in fact, JP’s population remained about the same and saw an increase in minorities.

When the Gazette revealed the map inaccuracies a few years ago, the BRA acknowledged it purposefully used broad, relatively arbitrary neighborhood definitions for census analysis because it was faster and easier. The map divides Boston into 15 neighborhoods, when the city actually officially recognizes 22. With modern technology, an accurate analysis could be done much more easily, but the old map is used so current data can be compared with old data—even though it’s all inaccurate on the neighborhood level.

Defining JP

The quirks in the “My Neighborhood” definition of JP are not so severe and don’t appear to have direct policy impacts. However, it is unclear what the site bases its neighborhood definitions on. City Council districts appear to be a significant factor. The city press office did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

Following Nutter’s method, the Gazette reverse-engineered a JP map by entering various addresses into “My Neighborhood.”

In most areas, the map exactly or closely follows accepted neighborhood boundaries.

Hyde Square/Back of the Hill is not one of those areas. There, JP and Mission Hill are reported as interlocking in a strange, mutually invasive way—with Mission Hill extending so far, it abuts the Blessed Sacrament Church complex on Centre Street.

According to “My Neighborhood,” JP ends and Mission Hill begins at Bynner Street on the Jamaicaway, and Evergreen Street on S. Huntington Avenue.

The supposed boundary runs down Evergreen, jogs up Day to meet Bynner again, then follows Creighton and Minden to Heath Street, the commonly accepted neighborhood boundary.

However, the “My Neighborhood” version of Jamaica Plain then runs across Heath Street, following Estey up the Back of the Hill to Fisher. That area is firmly within Mission Hill’s ZIP code. The boundary then wends its way down Bucknam, Wensley and Bickford Avenue before rejoining Heath.

All of the contortions appear to be following recently redrawn City Council districts 6 and 9, which follow similarly interlocking voting precincts. But council districts sprawl across various neighborhoods and are not considered as neighborhood definitions.

According to the map’s definition, the Hennigan School is in Mission Hill. But it has a Jamaica Plain ZIP code, and Boston Public Schools considers it Jamaica Plain.

Other well-known JP institutions in the area, including the VA Medical Center and the Mt. Pleasant Home senior residence, are in this map’s Mission Hill. So is about half of the Jamaicaway, including Olmsted Park’s Daisy Field, the home field of JP’s Regan League baseball and JP Youth Soccer.

A border curiosity is the new American Brewery Lofts condo development at 251 Heath St. It has a JP address, and its marketing describes JP, Brookline and the Longwood Medical Area as its “immediate neighborhoods.” But it went through a Mission Hill community approval process, and “My Neighborhood” lists it as in Mission Hill. However, the site also instructs residents that their representative from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services is the one for JP.

“It’ll be interesting, once those people move in, [when] they look it up and see everything about them is Mission Hill,” Nutter said of the condo building.

Another possibly controversial area of the “My Neighborhood” map is Egleston Square and an adjacent part of Parkside. However, that’s already commonly recognized as a JP-Roxbury border with varying opinions about its boundary. The Gazette includes all of Egleston Square in its coverage area.

“My Neighborhood” essentially considers Washington Street to be the border, with everything to the west as JP and everything to the east as Roxbury. Perhaps controversially, it also counts everything between Peter Parley Road and Columbus Avenue as Roxbury. Much of that area has the JP ZIP code.

On the southern end of JP, “My Neighborhood” dips down to Claxton Street in Roslindale. But by and large, the boundaries are in agreement with ZIP codes and common understandings.

None of the JP quirks are as bad as those in Mission Hill. There, “My Neighborhood” places Mission Church, the source of the neighborhood’s name, outside Mission Hill in Roxbury.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Nutter said.

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