Good books about the fight against I-95 and the Inner Belt

Shocks asks:

Has there ever been anything good written about the Boston highway revolts?




As a bonus

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There's a photograph of a young Chuck Turner in the book.

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Lived through it

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There are still some of us that still live in the area that lived through it and sweated the threat of an elevated highway out our back door and looming above our heads.

The taking of land by eminent domain reached Roslindale and was stopped near Canterbury St. and Hyde Park Ave.

There are still a few remaining parcels of land that are in state hands (MBTA) that will eventually be sold for development in the area as well, though some have easement issues.

Once the road was stopped all of the land taken had to be used for transportation projects and could not be developed otherwise due to a moratorium placed on the parcels for a 30-plus year period. In recent years some parcels have been released for development. Some, due to access issues or quality of the land may never see development and remain vacant.

The land where the Orange Line and Amtrak-MBTA trains now operate through Boston, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain and which makes up most of the Southwest Corridor Park, is a majority of the land taken for the highway, and later became the route of the relocated railroad right-of-way. In some areas streets were also taken (wholesale) or truncated and re-routed, especially in JP.

Unless you lived through it you may not be aware that some vacant parcels, especially in Roslindale, once had homes on it, or were sold for redevelopment and now have new(er) homes on the same parcels.

Case point... The Southwest Boston Community Garden at Cummins and Rowe was saved from redevelopment by the MBTA thanks to Mayor Menino. How long that will last (multiple years or permanent) is unknown to me. But when the land was taken by eminent domain there were at least 15 or more houses on that parcel which were demolished because an exit ramp was planned for that location. Homes were addressed on Fowle St, Rowe St, Cummins Highway, and Shanahan Place.

Shanahan Place.?? Yes. A small private way that cut through what is now the middle of the garden property. A combo of single, 2-family and 3-decker buildings were demolished in that parcel alone.

And if you want to view a remnant, visit the house at the corner of Cummins Hghy and Florence Street. The nice little single-family home with the kids play area. That building used to stand on Cummins Highway next to the Joe Donato (railroad) bridge. The owners moved it, on a truck in two pieces to the current location when their land was taken by the state. There are new owners there now of course but that home was not original to that parcel.

The so-named Roslindale Woods on Rowe Street has several buried foundations as well. In those days they were less careful about demolitions than they are nowadays. Of course, since the 1970s it is thoroughly overgrown now. Those would be between about 10 Rowe and going southerly toward the "elbow" at the bottom-most part of the street by the fire hydrant. There are new(er) homes on Brown Ave, and Blakemore St in that neighborhood that are new(er) construction and the result of land being cycled back in to development. Ditto homes on Palfrey St Extension.

I'm sure there are other stories to be shared. The great shame here is that neighborhoods were broken and demolished, not unlike the urban development that demolished the West End that gave us Government Center and vicinity. People were forced to move, friendships lost, and many good solid homes, not ramshackle tenements, were leveled.

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As a bonus, the I-95/I-695 debacle also gave us

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an early example of political flip-flopping. Before Francis Sargent was Governor, he was Commissioner of the Mass Dept of Public Works (now MassDOT Highway Division). As Governor, he ultimately stopped construction of highways that he previously championed as DPW Commissioner.

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Surely you meant to say

an early example of political flip-flopping.

Surely you meant to say "A praiseworthy example of serving one's constituents rather than stubbornly refusing to change one's mind."

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They could never build the Interstate system today

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I've thought about that many times and not simply about Boston. Where I grew up, they blasted through mountains and wetlands and cut through an uncountable number of streets. Hardly anyone protested. Most saw it as the right thing at the right time. Imagine the US without the (mostly) wonderful Interstate system.

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I once read

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I once read that President Eisenhower, on seeing the destruction to one urban neighborhood, remarked in disgust to his driver "I told them build freeways to the cities not through the cities" but I've never seen it confirmed as an authentic quote, or even a likely presidential sentiment.

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If we didn't have the Interstate Highway system

we would still have the great passenger (and freight) train systems and streetcar systems that we had before the 1960s, except that by now they'd be upgraded to what you now see in Japan or Europe. The road not taken.

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Rededication Cambridge mural celebrating defeat of highway

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Earlier this summer, the Cambridge Arts Council (where I work part-time) restored Bernard LeCasse's "Beat The Belt" mural celebrating activists' victory over one of these planned highways that would have torn up the city's Cambridgeport neighborhood. On Thursday, Sept. 28, from 5:15 to 6:30 p.m., we're having a free, public rededication where people can meet the artist and some activists from back in the day. Details:

Also, I've read Jim Vrabel's "a People's History of the New Boston," which is excellent. I'm acquainted with Jim himself, and he's pretty excellent too. ; )

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