, 25 tweets, 10 min read
A THREAD on the horrendous, racist practice of redlining and its connection to Massachusetts' current transportation crisis, using Chelsea as an example. This approach is inspired by a meeting @T4Mass had recently with @jeffreytumlin of @NelsonNygaard. #mapoli
This thread assumes a basic knowledge of redlining. Here's a place to start if you would like to learn more: npr.org/2017/05/03/526…
OK, let's start. Look to the left of the "L" in this 1897 map to see Chelsea's Union Park. I haven't yet found an image of it, but we know it took up an entire city block. It probably had trees, park benches, maybe a fountain. In the heart of the city, it likely got a lot of use!
In the 1930s, the federal gov't supported the practice of redlining. It determined that 55% of Chelsea was "Definitely Declining" and 45% was "Hazardous". No part of the city was deemed to be in the top two "A" or "B" categories for investment.
Starting in the 1890s, Chelsea had become a major destination for E. European immigrants, especially Russian Jews. In the redlined section of the city, the estimate was that 90% of families were foreign-born. In the eyes of the fed gov't, this was, literally, an "infiltration".
So despite being a thriving immigrant neighborhood with small businesses, good schools, + strong religious institutions, Chelsea was defined by the federal gov't to be a place of disinvestment + decline. This racist (and, in this case, anti-Semitic) practice happened nationwide.
Redlining was institutionalized from 1935-1940 (though continued after). Then the US entered World War II. And then, in 1945, we entered a post-war era of massive highway construction! By May, 1946, the MA State Legislature had commissioned the Mystic River Bridge.
Today we know it as the Tobin Bridge, named in honor of Maurice J. Tobin, former Boston Mayor + MA Governor. Construction of the bridge began during his term as governor (1945–1947). Tobin went on to serve as Secretary of Labor under President Harry Truman.
This impressive, iconic piece of infrastructure was meant to connect communities north of Boston with the downtown core. What a difference it must have made for motorists -- look at that open road!
The bridge offered some benefits for the community of Chelsea in terms of connectivity, but it also had severe drawbacks. Many residents opposed it - but were steamrolled by highway proponents. The city lost acres of developed land, hurting the tax base. Families were displaced.
And Union Park, squarely in Chelsea's redlined district, sitting between Arlington, Walnut, 5th and 6th Streets, was replaced with...this.
Here's a street-level view of that block today, with the Tobin approach overhead. This was once a large public park.
The harm caused to Chelsea by the Tobin Bridge isn't just about destroyed public spaces, declining property values, and displacement. Because more than 30,000 vehicles travel over the bridge daily, Chelsea is a hotspot for tailpipe air pollution. This chart is from @UCSUSA.
The closer you are to a busy highway, the worse your exposure. It's especially bad if you are a child or senior. But what was built on a corner of the destroyed Union Park, next to the new highway? Senior affordable housing!
The seniors who live in one of the 56 units of Chelsea's Union Park Apartments increase their risk of heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and other illnesses...just by opening their windows. Is this status quo "fair"?
Housing + transportation are linked. And we can't talk about transportation in Chelsea if we don't talk about the 111 bus. It carries 12,000(!) riders to/from Haymarket, in downtown Boston. The Globe's @adamtvaccaro has covered this well: apps.bostonglobe.com/metro/graphics…
Expand this image to find the 111 bus caught in epic traffic on the Tobin. It will regularly take the bus 45 minutes to go 2.7 miles -- an average speed of less than 4 mph. It would be faster to walk or bike over the Tobin, but that's illegal. So riders are stuck.
At $1.70 w/ a CharlieCard (or $2.00 cash), it costs *more* to take the bus than the $1.25 toll to drive over the Tobin. Bus riders take up a fraction of the space + have lower incomes than drivers do -- why do they pay *more*? Is this status quo "fair"?
Chelsea remains a working-class, immigrant community, as it was when it was redlined in the 1930s. Today, roughly 2/3rds of families are Latinx. And those families are still paying the price for the inequitable history and status quo of our transportation decisions.
We can start to address some of this inequity by thinking about how we allocate + price valuable road space like the Tobin Bridge. We need to use equity as a lens here to make our use of this critical public asset more fair than the status quo. t4ma.org/111_bus
If we joined other regions around the US + priced the Tobin in a way that got traffic flowing, we would *instantly* improve public transit access + air quality in Chelsea. (We'd also improve commutes for drivers on the North Shore.) Those are reasons to do congestion pricing.
And an added bonus is that this would generate a new stream of revenue that could be invested back into transportation + communities. That means lower fares, more buses + trains, and higher-quality service that gives more people the option of taking transit instead of driving.
And this is why elected leaders like @wutrain + @LydiaMEdwards are 100% right to challenge those who criticize congestion pricing as "unfair". Are critics of road pricing implying the status quo is somehow fair for residents + bus riders in Chelsea? boston.com/news/politics/…
Tools like congestion pricing (or bus lanes!) could help Chelsea address decades of racist, inequitable gov't decisions. Casually dismissing the practice as "unfair" does a disservice to people who deserve a real conversation about solutions to our inequitable status quo. /THREAD
Sidenote on this tweet -- we found an image of Union Park! Thanks to @mem_somerville for the help. A ~3 acre oasis of green in an otherwise dense city. What an urban park should be!
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