Editorial: Organizing Forest Hills

April 11, 2014
By

Rumblings about a special Forest Hills committee for the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council and a new neighborhood association forming around Wachusett Street are different expressions of a similar truth.

The Forest Hills/Woodbourne area is JP’s hot new epicenter of development and gentrification. It is also by far JP’s least politically organized sub-neighborhood.

That is not a healthy combination.

There are a couple of small but active neighborhood associations around the T station, but nothing to unite the larger community. Forest Hills lacks any distinct business association, let alone a Main Streets organization. Forest Hills and Woodbourne also fall into the borderlands of City Council and State House districts. The area boasts such major institutions as Arnold Arboretum and Forest Hills Cemetery, but they generally stay out of local politics.

Several years ago, as the MBTA put various local parcels up for redevelopment, a very effective neighborhood-wide organization called the Greater Forest Hills Task Force formed. It spurred the Boston Redevelopment Authority to create a helpful master plan for the area. The Task Force essentially disbanded following that plan.

That work continues to bear fruit; the new Harvest Co-op Market is among the results. But a lot has changed since then. Unanticipated, massive development is already booming on Washington Street along the Forest Hills/Stonybrook border. Developers are eager to replace local single-families with denser housing. More gentrification is sure to follow the Casey Arborway project, and in the meantime, the construction impact on local traffic and business is being reviewed by no one.

Whatever form of organization Forest Hills/Woodbourne residents choose as best, they are following a good instinct in coming together. Effective community and business organizing has greatly benefited other areas of JP, and it will benefit them as well.

  • Othemts

    As a Forest Hills resident, I don’t see developers seeking to “replace single-families with denser housing” at all. I see them meeting a demand for dense, transit-oriented urban living. Many people want to live in the city including increasing numbers of retiring Baby Boomers and Millenials who desire to give up car-based lifestyles for the social connections of the urban environment.

    And yet Forest Hills, a perfect location for transit-oriented development has actually seen its density go down in recent decades. Gentrification has driven up housing costs in the Forest Hills/Woodbourne area making it difficult for average people to afford to live in walking distance of the station. Houses that a generation or two ago were home to multi-generation families are turned into condos and occupied by childless couples or individuals. Housing cleared for the Southwest Expressway was never rebuilt when that project was canceled. More housing stock is necessary to allow ordinary middle class and working class families and individuals a place to live near public transit, rather than being forced to “drive until you can afford it.”

    Most of the development proposals for the area will not replace existing housing but supplement it through infill development in places such as the empty lot at Parcel U, the former trolley yard now being “temporarily” used for buses, and replacing the decaying industrial buildings along Washington St. I hope the Forest Hills Improvement Initiative will come to fruition and develop mixed retail and residential space in place of the large parking lots that currently isolate the MBTA station from the surrounding neighborhood. I see a future where the de-facto park & ride for suburban car commuters (that lays idle outside business hours, about 2/3′s of the week) is transformed into a transit-oriented development where people live, work, shop, dine, and play.

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