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Can A Dodgy Underpass Inspire Community Revitalization?

What was once considered the ass of an overpass has become the heart of a community revitalization movement. The aerial view shows Interstate Highway 93 (I-93) as an imperative connection of South Boston to Boston's South End.  The view from the ground looking up once showed a much darker function lurking beneath.  Bostonians are looking beyond what seemed to contain a future holding fallen trash, criminal element, and the forgotten homeless to envision a byway for community revitalization. From dead space to enriching place, the eight acres of I-93's underbelly is transforming. It illustrates the potential for notoriously dodgy locations to become hubs for successful business and community connection. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), partnering with Community Members has been brainstorming possible community enriching functions for this underused space since November of 2013. Now these visions are becoming a reality. MassDOT planned the parking and safety infrastructure while community members contributed creative uses to unite Boston's quickly growing community. And, that is just the beginning...

The Unlikely Path To Community Revitalization

Just how much opportunity has been created in a short amount of time, from under the essential byway? The pillars that hold up I-93 recently framed an “If-those-walks-could-talk” underworld of dark shadows and crime-infested corners. Bostonians recognize the undercarriage of this freeway as a multi-dimensional resource to the community. Economic and environmental benefits alone are reason enough to embark on such project. The resulting cultural draw of people from inside and outside of Boston is the sustainability-icing-on-the-cake. A compilation of transit personnel, designers, planners, and community members are tirelessly working to complete the pathway to economic and social improvement. I-93 connects Harbor Walk, China Town, West Broadway Business districts, and the Inkblot neighborhood. A pathway for innovation, inspiration, and creative community revitalization has been forged from the underwear of a busy roadway.

 

Two Phases: One Goal

Phase One brought the completion of 235 Parking spaces, staffed 24hours per day, improved pedestrian amenities and temporary ornamental lighting to bring color to a dark stretch of space that was once avoided. The underpass was formerly used for storage of equipment and materials for highway and tunnel maintenance. According to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), $2.5Million was contributed by MassDOT, and $250,000 was contributed from public-benefit-funds collected during development of the massive Troy Boston residential complex.

Phase Two is in-process and has activated even more desire for community usecommunity revitalization, revitalizing Boston and greater involvement. As the project progresses, the benefits ripple wider into the community. The Boston economy is being invigorated by the underpass utilization project, which includes:

  • Artistic, colorful and functional lighting upgrades,
  • Green open space 
  • A pedestrian walkway connecting the South End to South Boston,
  • A plaza to support events, performances, and art installations.
  • A gateway to an eventual Boston Harborwalk along the Fort Point Channel
  • A Dog Park
  • A Sports Facility
  • A state-of-the-art storm water runoff system

This could be the first revitalization project of this type and magnitude. It is certainly the first in Boston. I can't help wondering how much of it could be crowdfunded. Each portion of the project has very marketable benefits to a myriad of people, including investors. If the current momentum is maintained, Boston will be able to toast the completion as soon as July 2016.

The I-93 underpass rehab project probably seemed impossible during the earliest planning stages. Yet, Bostonians are relishing the excitement of watching a wad of ideas unfold into reality. A cultural hub is rising from one of Boston's most unlikely spaces and may revitalize Massachusetts at large. Every viaduct frames opportunities for usable space that are only limited by human creativity. We can create what we need in the space that we face, instead of waiting for one that we hope to find.

Related: Green Space~ From Wild To Simple

Which project in I-93 phase two would you be most interested in helping to become reality? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.



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6 thoughts on “Can A Dodgy Underpass Inspire Community Revitalization?”

  • Nathan

    Nathan commented October 1, 2015

    Such creativity reminds us to never say never with our communities of need. Something can always be done.

    Karen Perkins

    Karen Perkins reply October 8, 2015

    Nathan,
    Very well said! Please let us know if you discover such a space that you would like to collectively brainstorm a use near and dear to you.
    ~Karen

  • Kerri Buie

    Kerri Buie commented October 2, 2015

    Wow. What an amazing example of a community pulling together to increase its own value both internally and externally.

    Karen Perkins

    Karen Perkins reply October 8, 2015

    Thank you, Ms Buie. I encourage you to find a downtrodden space that we may collectively brainstorm bringing to life. I look forward to your discoveries.
    ~Karen

  • Laurie

    Laurie commented October 2, 2015

    So heartening to see what dedication and creativity can accomplish - what a gift to this community! Quite an inspiring article.

    Karen Perkins

    Karen Perkins reply October 8, 2015

    Thank you, Laurie. All efforts made in Boston could be emulated just about anywhere. As lon as we don't let traditional funding and traditional thinking limit us. Exercise creativity in recognizing the potential that is framed in the spaces we have. Please let us know if you discover a unique, or disparaging space that you would like to utilize in some way. We can collectively brainstorm

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