Friday, May 25, 2012

The definition of Greenspace

"Greenspace": An open lot covered with some form of green plant matter primarily for the purpose of satisfying some kind of aesthetic, bureaucratic or other formal requirement. A greenspace is not intended for direct use or enjoyment by people.
The BRA map and the Google satellite map of the Monsignor Casey Overpass
Mayor Menino went on record yesterday as being opposed to the removal of the Casey Overpass in Jamaica Plain, a project that has already been approved by MassDOT and the community.
Menino said sometimes people have to think outside the box and his vision would have the overpass being rebuilt with green space underneath it. That would connect Arnold Arboretum to the Franklin Park, creating one continuous line of green space, he said.
The Casey Overpass (src: MassDOT)
After that remark, it is quite clear that Menino is unable to think outside the confines of his own box; in his case, it is labeled "1960s Urban Renewal." Actually, it is likely that this statement is some kind of political play, because any moment of thought shows it to be absurd. What would happen to any kind of living vegetation that was planted in the shadow of an overpass? Unless the plan was to literally paint the asphalt green (or astroturf it) then the result would surely turn brown in short order. But this kind of attitude reveals the motivation behind the "greenspacing" impulse: it's an obsession with the placement of lines and colors on a map in the Central Planner's office.

The image at the top of this post is a great example. The BRA has highlighted in green the areas that it considers to be "Greenbelt Protection Overlay Districts." Curiously, nearly all of the space covered by the "Greenbelt" designation is actually occupied by highways for fast moving vehicular traffic, with manicured median strips. Such a "green" space is not created to be directly enjoyed or used by anyone. It is created purely to please the vanity of planners, with nary a thought to the folks who actually have to live with the consequences. From the heights of their offices, or from the windows of their chauffeured cars, they can look out, smile and nod to themselves, "Yes, we have provided the people with more green."

Update: I had forgotten that Nathan Lewis wrote a really good article about this "greenspace" problem a while back: Place and Non-Place. Check it out.

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