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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  
public park. 
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  
Jessica Shumaker. 
''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 
Brown  said. 
''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  
a park." 
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 _cmacdonald@globe.com_ 
(mailto:cmacdonald@globe.com) .  

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