Strolling the Southwest Corridor

In my earlier post about walking to Dorchester, I mentioned a garden area behind Mass. Ave station. My friend Alison responded that that green space is part of the Southwest Corridor, an unassuming name for a space that I found to be uniquely compelling when I walked the length of it yesterday. The weather was odd — sun and clouds, with an occasionally stiff breeze — but it was still possibly the Last Warm Day before autumn tightens its grip.

I didn’t know much of the history behind the Southwest Corridor when I started my trek, but luckily there is plentiful signage along the way that tells the story. Running along the length of the Orange Line between Back Bay and Forest Hill stations, the land was originally acquired and cleared in the 1950s and 1960s to make way for a new multi-lane extension of I-95.  After residents rallied against the highway, the land languished until the community began mobilizing to turn it into preserved parkland. The resultant Southwest Corridor combines park resources (tennis/basketball courts, etc.) and green spaces/community gardens with walking/biking paths and a transportation conduit. It’s about 4.7 miles in length and not particularly wide, but it cuts right through the heart of the city and gives you a great urban perspective.

The most interesting thing about the Southwest Corridor, for me, is how it is such a good example (for better or for worse) of urban evolution. It was originally the location of Stony Brook, a main water conduit for industry in the area. It then became the elevated Orange Linesite of the New York and New Haven train line, and was then intended to become a highway before the community rallied against that. Then it was reclaimed by the community as a green space, closely tethered in purpose to the transit system it runs alongside. It also showcases a lot of vestigial features of the city, like the leftover Green Line signage and tracks at Forest Hills from the long-“postponed” E line. It’s a living history lesson. All of the public art (EDIT: more about the art) and signage lining the path only enhance that.

It was a delightfully Boston day. Not only did I see some new parts of the city, but I even saw the Tricycle Guy and ate lunch at Doyle’s Cafe. On that note, this walk reminded me of two things. One: I am long overdue for a thorough jaunt around the South End. Two: I need to spend much more time south of the river. I am missing out on a lot, and there is a lot left for me to discover.

Check out all of my photos on Flickr.


8 responses to “Strolling the Southwest Corridor

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Strolling the Southwest Corridor « Safe Digression [] on

  2. For a good history of the Southwest Corridor fight, read this:

  3. It’s a great place to walk or ride a bike.

    However, it was not the former location of the elevated Orange Line. That ran straight above Washington Street from Forest Hills to Chinatown.

  4. This is a nice write up. I’m glad you enjoyed your walk through our neighborhood.

    I have two tweaks to your story, though.

    First, the elevated alignment was Washington St. to Forest Hills. The New York & New Haven tracks ran on a high embankment in what is today known as the Southwest Corridor.

    Second, to say “the land was originally acquired and cleared in the 1950s and 1960s” is to minimize the appalling destruction of housing stock, industry, community institutions, and commerce to make way for automobiles. The devastation extended to the current Melnea Cass and MLKing Jr. alignments and, on your side of the river, to the site between Mass Ave and the river of what, I believe, was called Simplex Wire & Cable.

    • Thanks for the corrections, I will amend the post. And I definitely did not mean to undermine the community’s losses — just based on the information I read yesterday, it seems like they were overwhelming. You often hear about how the West End was the victim of similar motivations, but I hadn’t heard about the history of the Southwest Corridor until now.

  5. There are a couple of green features behind the Mass Ave “T” stop including a ‘sensory garden’ for the students of the Carter School (BPS special needs):
    and a community garden; one of many along the corridor.

    The fight against the highway is somewhat more recent than you reference with most of the land clearing happening in the late 60’s. The large granite stones all along the Corridor were part of the original train viaduct that was eventually put below grade. (Amtrak/Commuter Rail)

    It is the first instance of funds designated for a specific highway being diverted to pubic transit in US history. A couple of references for further reading if you wish:

  6. I’m glad you mentioned Alan Lupo’s book Rites of Way. That’s an essential read for understanding the history of what happened in the Southwest Corridor — and what DIDN’T happen, as a result, in the Fenway, Cambridgeport, Central Square, Inman Square, Union Square, etc.

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