Boston Common, here you are at the oldest urban park in America. Here are 50 acres in city-center that served as the spot for “until-you-are-dead” hangings–always in public–until 1817 (not so long ago, really, when you think about it), and had cattle and other edible critters grazing there until at least 1830 (who kept these records!?). Now, the City Fathers say that The Common–as it is usually known–is at the center of an urbanatural feature called “The Emerald Necklace,” a circuit of green-spaces that snake their way through some of the finest of neighborhoods of Beantown. All the greats have spoken here to cheering crowds: John Paul II, Gloria Steinem, and Martin Luther King, who said told a crown here that Boston’s schools had to fully desegregate, just before he told the Massachusetts State Legislature the same message later the same day; the message did not seem to work up there in the North, at least not for a long, long time. In any case, Boston Common may be the best urban park in America, unless you live in Manhattan and have that Frederick Law Olmstead masterpiece called central Park outside of your front door.

Approximately 100 years ago Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s initial landscape architect, (Olmsted) envisioned a place where humans could connect with nature.  Today, the ‘Emerald Necklace’ that stretches around seven miles, covering land from Back Bay to Dorchester in Massachusetts, does just that. Run by the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, this large park system is home to over one millions tourists and visitors each year, the Franklin Park Zoo, the Arnold Arboretum, sports fields, a golf course, and many other attractions (Em Neck Cons). The Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University was established in 1872, serving as the first public National Arboretum in the nation. The arboretum covers nearly 300 miles and contains over 15,000 plants of over 4,000 different species (arboretum). There are several highlighted attractions including the Bussey Brook Meadow, Hemlock Hill, the Maple Collection, and Rhododendron Dill, among others.

Credit to gconservancy

Photo: gconservancy

In the mid-1900s, the idea for a ‘Central Artery’ roadway system in Boston to combat congested roadways took off. Construction and planning were tedious and destructive. To make room for the new highway, roughly 1,000 buildings were destroyed and tens of thousands of people lost their homes (Boston News). Not long after completion, new problems arose, and the city realized the benefits of the system did not significantly surpass the negatives. Thus, a new construction plan unofficially titled the ‘Big Dig’ came into effect. What is considered one of the most expensive and advanced construction megaprojects of its time, the Big Dig served to relocate the six-lane Central Artery underground (Mass Dot). Rather than rebuild on the area where the foundations for the Central Artery used to stand, several civic groups and organizations along with the Massachusetts Turnpike Association, the City of Boston, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had other plans (Rose Kennedy). The stretch of parks running through the heart of the city extends about a mile-and-a-half. The park is organically run and overseen by the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. Among the attractions of the parks are the Greenway Carousel, a plethora of plant species, and varying food vendors.
In recent years there has been an increase in linear parks present in urban settings. Often, these lengthy stretches of greenery are refurbished railway tracks, highway foundations, or border inner-city canals and streams, among other examples. There are nearly twenty linear parks located in the United States, including Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway and the High Line in New York. These once-novel parks are a perfect representation of urbanature, for not only do they incorporate a more natural setting into predominately urban space, they often utilize elements of the urban setting to enhance and create a more natural one.

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