Opportunities to reshape a part of Boston do not come along very often. But reconfiguring the Casey Overpass in Jamaica Plain presents a chance to finally realize the vision of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted by knitting together the broken link in his famed Emerald Necklace.
In 1893, Charles Eliot, an apprentice of Olmsted, succeeded in convincing the Massachusetts legislature to create a metropolitan parks system in Boston comprised of linked parkways that would offer the public solace and respite from the daily stresses of life.
But the visions of Olmsted and Eliot never took hold in this small stretch of elevated roadway, which has connected the Arnold Arboretum with Franklin Park since it was built in the 1950s.
A redesigned connection, via a smaller bridge that provides for a pleasant experience for pedestrians and bikers, would immensely improve the environment. Also, this link could provide a great opportunity for education — spanning the Forest Hills MBTA station, the overpass is at a nexus point of the parks system and the urban transportation system. Planners should consider installing displays that highlight the city’s transportation history as well as the evolution of the parks system. Children and adults could enjoy the Arboretum and learn about horticulture, and then learn about city history on the way to the Franklin Park Zoo.
As the Department of Transportation analyzes possible replacements to the bridge, an optimal solution would be to design a structure that addresses the needs for enhancing the environmental and parks aspects while taking advantage of other amazing opportunities that exist in the neighborhood.
Ilyas Bhatti is a former commissioner of the Metropolitan District Commission and a professor of construction management at Wentworth Institute of Technology.