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Tiny Story: Southwest Corridor Park

Written by Ava Yokanovich

Images taken by Ava Yokanovich along the Southwest Corridor Path near Titus Sparrow Park


Park bench along the Southwest Corridor Path near Titus Sparrow Park

Preservation can help us understand how cities come to be. Let’s think about what Boston could have looked like by remembering the highway movement that took off in the 1950s. Today, the Southwest Corridor Park is 4.1 miles long and sits where a twelve-lane highway, the Southwest Expressway, was once considered. The Expressway was designed to be an extension of I-95 to run through Milton, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and the South End. Beginning in 1966, more than 500 homes and businesses between Forest Hills and the South End were destroyed for the creation of the Expressway. This included the clearance of Jackson Square and Roxbury Crossing. During this time, tearing things down and completely rebuilding was viewed as progressive by urban planners and highway engineers.

The anti-highway movement and opposition to urban renewal began in 1960 in Boston with residents of Cambridge protesting the Inner Belt that had been proposed under the Eisenhower Interstate program in the 1950s. Efforts included the “Beat the Belt” rally in 1966 and the “People Before Highways” rally in 1969. Another important initiative was the involvement of the Urban Planning Aid in 1966 that empowered people to consider and understand design alternatives. With this momentum, protests against the development of the Southwest Expressway by residents from Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Milton, and the South End began. These residents knew that there would be grave environmental consequences and that thousands of homes and businesses would continue to be demolished for the sake of the highway. They recognized that the decisions that were being made had the potential to influence the physical form of the city for generations to come, and that they were able to come together and protest against the insensitivity being shown toward the existing rhythm of their lives. 

In response to the anti-highway protests and the two year re-study of transportation alternatives that he ordered, Governor Francis Sargent recognized the decision that had to be made and officially stopped the Southwest Expressway and Inner Belt projects in 1972 and turned away federal Interstate money. The anti-highway advocates had won, but what would replace the highways was yet to be determined, making Sargent’s decision all the more courageous. 

Although the highways were successfully stopped, the projects had already cleared a significant amount of land. After an extensive community process that helped determine transportation and community development in a sweeping new land-use plan, recreational spaces were developed on the cleared land and the reconfigured Orange Line was built instead of the Expressway. The new Orange Line opened in 1987 and shortly thereafter the Southwest Corridor Park above and adjacent to it. Its greenery extends from Copley Square to Forest Hills and it offers a glimpse into the fruits of the anti-highway movement.

Orange Line along the Southwest Corridor Path

We sat down with the former Manager of the Southwest Corridor, Anthony Pangaro, to talk about community activism, the anti-highway movement, and preservation efforts that took place with the development of the linear park. 

The development of the Southwest Corridor Park was all about repairing the damage caused by the dreams of large-scale automobile highway access and “urban renewal.” In the South End, for example, attention was focused on five railroad tracks that existed before the highway project and on how to preserve the houses that neighbored them. At one pivotal meeting residents played train noises during the deliberations, making it clear that they wanted the trains to go in tunnels. After the state made the decision to put the five tracks in a tunnel, the park was designed and built on top. In the design of the park, Pangaro explained that it was most important to preserve the neighborhood fabric remaining by carefully connecting to and reinforcing it. For Pangaro, the Southwest Corridor is an example of listening well and responding to what people communicate. The ability to optimize community desire, technical feasibility, and financial means ultimately created harmony. However, that doesn’t mean that everything has always gone quickly or smoothly – Pangaro believes that making changes to the built environment is a process of continuous evaluation rather than establishing and implementing the perfect form or “master plan” from the get-go. The Southwest Corridor Park illustrates how a plan can take its own form as it develops and as a community is able to identify with the past and with changes that are happening to the environment. 

Boston skyline from the Southwest Corridor Path near Titus Sparrow Park

Continued Reading:

People Before Highways: Boston Activists, Urban Planners, and a New Movement for City Making
by Karilyn Crockett 
Learn more about the People Before Highways movement HERE
Take a look at the Southwest Corridor Park website HERE
Explore the Southwest Corridor Park through WalkBoston HERE


Special thanks to Anthony Pangaro, whose insight contributed to this article and whose work as an architect and developer has shaped Boston into the lively and dynamic city it is today.


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