26th September 2017

Southwest Corridor Park, Boston, MA

This linear urban park was one of the first of its kind in the US and was therefore an interesting stop to make on my journey back to Chicago. It extends for nearly five miles alongside (and occasionally over) an existing below-grade rail corridor used by Amtrak and Commuter Rail lines. Where the rail corridor has been bridged by the greenway, a number of public spaces have been created, ranging from sports courts to playgrounds, skate parks and open grass.

The rail corridor, which is straddled (and intermittently bridged) by the linear park. Photo taken from one such bridge.

The existing rail line runs underneath this skatepark and the basketball courts pictured on the right.

Though the site for my project on the South Side of Chicago has expanded from the limits of the disused Kenwood rail embankment to include all of the vacant plots throughout Bronzeville, this urban greenway in Boston was still a valuable project to visit to add to my on-going understanding of how long and narrow spaces in the built environment can be adapted for public use. The Kenwood line in Bronzeville is not suitable for a comparable greenway because it does not connect two notably different urban nodes, spanning a relatively short distance (1.25 miles) within one residential area, and also the bridges between sections have been removed to meet contemporary truck clearance requirements, so the remaining fragments are prohibitively disconnected. All this being said, the Southwest Corridor Park in Boston reminded me of a few more general considerations for programming successful public space:

  • Pedestrianised zones should be as contiguous as possible, uninterrupted by vehicular traffic. This was the most glaring issue with the Southwest Corridor Park scheme, where stopping to wait at pedestrian crossings was a frustratingly frequent occurrence. For this reason it could be argued that the Bloomingdale Trail in west Chicago is more successful as a piece of pedestrian infrastructure, since all road crossings are by bridge, preventing pedestrian congestion.

  • Some of the trees alongside the greenway had been planted too close to the trail, resulting in root damage to the trail surface. Landscape architects involved with trail projects need to remember to consider the long term reach of trees in their vegetation plans.

Cyclists waiting at trail crossings often obstruct pedestrians trying to use the pavement in the perpendicular direction.

Nature creating its own speed bumps!