Bad JP map fades from use

April 27, 2012
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A wildly incorrect official map of Jamaica Plain and other neighborhoods that tainted City of Boston programs for decades appears to be rapidly fading from use a year after it was corrected.

The map still lingers in some long-running programs and studies, however.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) created the deliberately incorrect map of Boston neighborhoods 40 years ago to make U.S. Census data analysis easier by erasing many neighborhoods and redrawing others. The map put most of Mission Hill into Jamaica Plain, while removing such areas as Forest Hills, Woodbourne and Egleston Square. In that map, the JP police station was not in JP, but Mission Hill’s namesake Mission Church was.

The BRA called the artificial census areas “planning districts,” but gave them existing neighborhood names. The incorrect map spread throughout City of Boston departments and private agencies, usually presented incorrectly as showing actual neighborhood boundaries. It led to several known incidents of inaccurate City of Boston reports on such topics as public health and foreclosed homes.

Last year, for the 2010 Census analysis, the BRA began using an actual Boston neighborhood map, based on the zoning code. It also continues to use the “planning districts” map.

A recent Gazette review of the City of Boston’s website (cityofboston.gov) found the correct neighborhood map is already widely used by various agencies. The “My Neighborhood” page, a hub of neighborhood information, features a correct map.

The BRA also last year debuted its “myNeighborhood Census Viewer,” a sophisticated online map that provides census info for any area the user wants. It is available at hubmaps.cityofboston.gov/myneighborhood.

It appears that the BRA did not notify City agencies about using the correct map and that they are doing it on their own, according to BRA spokesperson Melina Schuler.

“The bottom line is, this is what neighborhoods seemed to want,” she said about the use of the correct map.

The incorrect map still lurks in old reports that remain in use, including the Boston Parks and Recreation Department’s 2008-2014 “Open Space Plan” and the Department of Neighborhood Development’s “Neighborhood Profiles” reports. Both of those departments’ reports identify the map as using “planning districts” but does not explain that they do not match the neighborhoods whose names they use.

The Boston Foundation, an influential grant-giver and policy-making think tank, also continues to use the incorrect map in its reports. The reports identify the map as showing “census tracts” without explanation, while discussing the results as reflecting neighborhood data.