Reviewing the 2015-2021 Open Space Plan Draft

Recently, the Parks Department released a draft of its 2015-2021 Open Space Plan, and is accepting feedback on the plan through November 26, at openspaceplan2015@cityofboston.gov. This draft contains significant changes since the 2008-2014 plan. In this blog post we will outline some of those changes and their potential impact on Roslindale playgrounds. We hope that you will use this guide to help form your feedback.

Summary

In general, we find the new open space plan to be strong on analysis but weak on actual planning. In short:

  • The state of Roslindale’s play spaces has changed little since the 2008-2014 Open Space Plan was published, despite that plan’s clear demonstration of our neighborhood’s need.
  • The new plan includes a detailed and in many ways improved analysis of the city’s open space needs.
  • Despite the plan’s acknowledgment of Roslindale’s continued shortage of play spaces, it falls short as a plan to resolve that shortage.

New Needs Analysis Methodology

The 2014-2021 Open Space Plan includes a new methodology for analyzing each community’s need for open space. In general, we find this methodology to be well thought out and implemented. Specifically:

  • The criteria used to determine “park need” (described in the introduction to section 7.2) align closely with ideas described in our recent blog post about Healy Field. The specific criteria used by the Parks Department are:
    • Population Density
    • Percent of population under the age of 18
    • Using the MA State Environmental Justice criteria:
      • Block groups designated as Low Income
      • Block groups designated as Minority
      • Block groups designated English Language Isolated
    • Percent of the population over the age of 69
  • The analysis of each neighborhood’s park inventory includes information about residents’ proximity to parks. This analysis takes into account the size of nearby parks (but not the quality of the parks – see below).
  • The plan uses demographic data to help determine the ideal mix of park types for each neighborhood.
  • Improved maps provide a great deal of information at a quick glance.

To underscore this last point, even a quick look at the maps included in the Roslindale Analysis of Needs clearly demonstrate two of our core arguments. On the left, we see that community need (areas with higher need are shown in red and orange) in the area around Healy Field is extremely high. On the right, we see that the areas to the south and east of Roslindale Square in particular lack nearby parks (areas with limited park access are shown in beige).

Park Need Park Service Areas

Note that, while we are generally impressed by the new needs analysis methodology, the following caveat is of some concern:

Facilities distribution maps do not provide any information or analysis related to park quality or use. These important measures are examined through park inspections, audits, maintenance and qualitative assessments.

This shortcoming is of particular concern when considering the map demonstrating proximity to parks, shown on the right above. Note, for example, that the area surrounding the Poplar Street Play Area, to the south of Roslindale Square, is shown in green despite the fact that this park does little to provide the neighborhood with recreational facilities. A similar argument may be made about the area around Healy Field, which as we recently demonstrated falls well short of its potential.

Roslindale’s Analysis of Needs

In the 2015-2021 Open Space Plan, Roslindale’s Analysis of Needs benefits greatly from the improved maps described above. When compared with the 2008-2014 Analysis of Needs, we see that both reports acknowledge Roslindale’s shortage of play space, although the language used to describe this shortage has changed. Consider the excerpts below:

2008-2014 Plan 2015-2021 Plan
“[T]he distribution of play lots and other active recreation facilities in several residential areas, such as the area south and east of Roslindale Village, and the area east of Hyde Park Avenue and south of Walk Hill Street, appears to be limited.”“[P]ressure does exist to provide more play lots and ball fields”

“[S]everal sub-areas remain somewhat underserved by open space – especially for children’s play and active recreation.”

“The neighborhood has only three parks with active recreation facilities within its boundaries (Healy Playground, Fallon Field and DCR’s Weider Park).””None of the parks in Roslindale include water spray features, a condition that should be remedied with the next playground renovation in the neighborhood.”

“With so few parks in the neighborhood, large areas, especially on its eastern side of Roslindale, have limited walking-distance access to developed open space facilities.”

Our main concern with the new analysis of needs is that it contains much less discussion of potential solutions to our neighborhood’s playground shortage. For example, the previous open space plan specifically mentioned the Poplar Street Play Area as a potential site for a new playground:

The Department’s inventory includes an undeveloped parcel known as the Poplar Street Play Area. It is located in a well-developed residential area south of Roslindale Village that is underserved by play lots. A portion of the property along its street frontage may be amenable to play lot development. Depending on neighborhood interest, site feasibility, and budgetary considerations, this site may help address this sub-neighborhood’s childhood recreation needs

The updated analysis does not contain even a single mention of the Poplar Street Play Area.

The 2008-2014 plan also contains a section titled “The Next Five Years.” This section reiterate’s the neighborhood’s need for play spaces and includes specific actions the city could take to provide them:

Determine the feasibility of building a play lot at the Poplar Street Play Area once community need expresses itself.

Explore opportunities to create a regional scale active recreation facility at the Boston State Hospital site.

Provide more playgrounds and tot lots in the Mt. Hope area.

This section has been omitted from the 2015-2021 plan entirely. It appears that the only suggestion of specific improvements for Roslindale is the statement that a water spray feature should be included in our next playground renovation. On the topic of new play spaces, the only mention is the vague statement that “[l]and acquisition for the development of a new park should be considered to address this deficiency.”

The draft’s weakness as a planning document is also reflected in its Goals & Objectives and Action Plan sections. These documents are significantly less detailed than in previous open space plans, providing high-level guidelines rather than specific plans.

Thank You for Your Support

Our campaign to bring more and better playgrounds to Roslindale began last year with an effort to increase participation in the open space plan survey. We are happy to report that the Parks Department received 243 responses from Roslindale, up from just 35 responses for the survey that preceded the 2008-2014 plan. While Roslindale accounts for just 5% of the city’s total population, our responses made up 9% of the total received. Thank you very much for taking action on behalf of our neighborhood’s children.

The Parks Department will continue accepting responses to the 2015-2021 Open Space Plan Draft through November 26. Please continue to make your voice heard, and send your feedback to openspaceplan2015@cityofboston.gov.

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