Boston, MA: Roxbury Community Garden Toughs it out
- Subject: [cg] Boston, MA: Roxbury Community Garden Toughs it out
- From: Adam36055@aol.com
- Date: Mon, 3 Apr 2006 23:07:11 EDT
Morley Street fights for its own green spot
By Christine MacDonald, Globe Correspondent | April 2, 2006
It's a triangle of land no bigger than the house that once stood there,
before it was destroyed by fire decades ago. But the patch of grass on the corner
of Morley and Highland streets in Roxbury has served a larger purpose.
Neighbors get together to mow the lawn, plant flowers, and hang out. Moms and
dads pull out lawn chairs and chat while watching one another's children.
Weekly potluck dinners are held there in the summer.
''It's so special to live in a community where everyone knows everyone and
looks out for the person next door," said Carol Shearer-Best, who started
renting an apartment on Morley Street in 1985 and liked the feel of the place so
much that she purchased a house there two years later and started a family.
''I have a 6-year-old and an 11-year-old. I can sit inside and know they are
This informal park is so important to a couple of dozen local residents that
they have been fighting for more than a quarter-century to persuade Boston
officials to make it official and ensure that the vacant land will always be a
This spring the group, the Morley Street Neighborhood Association, has teamed
up with the nearby Edward L. Cooper Community Gardening & Education Center
in what they hope will be a final push to persuade the Boston Redevelopment
Authority to transfer ownership to the center.
''Within the next week or two weeks, at the latest, we should have found a
way to get everyone together to sign something" committing to the arrangement,
Willie Brown III, the Cooper Center's chairman, said last week.
Longtime Morley Street residents Odean Higginbottom, 75, and her daughter
Rosa Higginbottom-Hubert, 54, say the parcel has been used as a park since at
least the mid-1970s.
''My kids and my grandchildren played here," said the elder Higginbottom, who
recalled that the house there burned in the mid-1960s.
During all those years, residents have done the gardening and upkeep except
for a couple years in the mid-1990s, when the neighborhood association briefly
gave up hope and abandoned its efforts. The park quickly became a dumping
ground for trash and old automobile parts, prompting the neighborhood
association to step in once again, cleaning it up and planting the grass and flowers
that are beginning to grow again this spring.
''There was a moment when it could have gone either way, but the Morley
Street neighbors have kept it up," Shearer-Best said.
The neighborhood association renewed the battle with the Boston Redevelopment
Authority last July after the BRA announced plans to sell the park parcel
and two other city-owned parcels on Highland and Morley streets.
The association sent yet another letter reiterating its long-held desire that
the land remain a park and objecting to building more housing or allowing
off-street parking on the parcel, today known as 33 Morley Street.
The BRA came back with a few other ideas: giving the land to the church
across the street; selling it to homeowners with houses on either side of the
lot; or giving it to an organization like the Cooper Center that would be
willing to assume ownership and provide liability insurance.
Those possibilities are still on the table, according to BRA spokeswoman
''We are definitely committed to keeping 33 as open space," she said. ''Right
now we are trying to decide who to designate it to."
While they have been this close to a deal several times in the past,
residents are optimistic.
''We've done everything that the BRA has asked us to do" to open the door to
the land transfer, said Quita Sullivan, who lives across the street and
helped recruit the Cooper Center, which could take ownership and pay the liability
insurance for the park, if the BRA agrees. Association members would
continue to maintain the park and help raise funds to pay for the insurance, she and
''We're at a point where the community is just angry enough that people will
keep an eye out on what's going on," said Sullivan, a lawyer for Alternatives
for Community and the Environment, a Roxbury activist group. ''The BRA is
well aware that we are frustrated."
Residents might not be even this close to victory, if one Morley Street
resident hadn't given Shearer-Best a thick file of correspondence between the
neighborhood association and the BRA dating back to Oct. 17, 1980. Deals were
almost close a few times, including one that would have transferred ownership to
the Boston Natural Areas Network.
Valerie J. Burns -- executive director of the network, which owns parks and
urban gardens around the city -- said that what makes the Morley Street case
unusual is that residents have refused to give up.
''Though the residents have changed," she said, ''they all seemed really
committed to keeping this property for everyone and assuring that it will remain
Among the residents hoping that the park will receive official recognition
this year is Shearer-Best's son Ayinde, a first-grader who has spent the brief
span of a lifetime playing there summer and winter.
He said he would be devastated if the park is lost. ''I'd feel really bad,
really bad," he said, ''because I really like the green space."
Christine MacDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org_
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