In Jamaica Plain, we are fortunate to enjoy not just world-class green spaces, but also a lush and vibrant streetscape. Our public ways are the seams that bind our civic lives together: culture to culture, “1 percent” to “99 percent,” young to old. When an opportunity to rejuvenate a neglected part of our streetscape emerges, we should pursue it for the enjoyment of our entire community.
The flurry of new residential and commercial development in JP offers us several such opportunities.
The first involves the intersection of Heath Street and S. Huntington Avenue, which many view as JP’s northern border. Far from being a gateway, though, the intersection is a wide swath of pavement surrounding a small, poorly located and visually unappealing parking lot used by the VA hospital.
With the VA currently expanding parking elsewhere on their site, this lot could be replaced by a welcoming park. At the same time, the intersection could be reconfigured to make it easier for pedestrians to cross and saner for drivers and cyclists to navigate.
Adding a Hubway bike station near the park would extend Boston’s bike-sharing network into JP, helping to replace the now-discontinued weekend trolley service and offering VA medical staff an alternate way to commute to the medical area.
In the same general area, new residential units will soon replace institutional buildings along S. Huntington Avenue. New families will join their established neighbors in search of safe, convenient places to walk and play. The Hennigan School and Community Center is one such destination. Imagine how more welcoming the school could be, for students and visitors alike, with new landscaping and sidewalk improvements at its front entrance and rear parking lot. Even minor changes could help transform this part of Heath Street.
In the Hyde/Jackson Squares area, the Blessed Sacrament development is also moving forward. While differences of vision remain, the long-awaited animation of this site seems imminent.
Just across Centre Street, though, the public parking lot lies in disrepair. The long-missing sidewalk planter is a statement to years of neglect. Improvements as minor as new plantings or as major as a total reconstruction could help this well-worn space become safer and more pleasant for the benefit of those who surround it.
While neglect happens a day, then a month, then a year at a time, opportunities for improvement quickly come and go. The City of Boston has limited financial ability to act alone, but it can provide planning and coordination for enhancements through the City’s new Complete Streets efforts. New developers and large property owners should commit to the mutual benefit of integrating their projects with the neighborhood.
Finally, we as a community should challenge ourselves to look perennially at our everyday surroundings, then work inclusively to bring good new ideas to life. Countless men and women have walked JP’s streets before us. It is now our time to make this place be better, for all, than when we found it.