In the world of place based work, one is constantly questioning what makes a quality public space and what improvements can be made to better serve the community. Roslindale is where I grew up and a neighborhood I love deeply. Growing up in Roslindale, I had the luxury of being steps away from the Arnold Arboretum and surrounded by plenty of green space to relax and leisure. The neighborhood is lively during the weekends and relatively quiet during the week. In terms of programming and activities, Roslindale is filled with family friendly activities; majority multigenerational and multicultural. Once the clock strikes 8pm, Roslindale feels like a ghost town + there isn’t much going on besides folks playing pool at Nappy Tandys and nightcrawlers grabbing food from the 24/7 Dunkin Donuts. As I continued on my exploration of Boston neighborhoods, I found that each area had its own distinct character and personality; which has been crafted by both the people + programmatics happening in the neighborhoods.
In Jamaica Plain, the “Avenida de las Americas”, is an area of the neighborhood known for its rich Hispanic heritage. As a way of paying homage and respect to the many different Latin American cultures who have settled in the area, it was renamed as the Avenida de las Americas in 2013. The area is home to folks from Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban descent. The smell of Dominican food from Alex’s Chimis fills the air as loud dembow can be heard throughout the streets. Along with the renaming of the area, the Avenues is also home to a plethora of community events, programming, and delicious eats.
When it was in Stony Brook, I looked forward to the Convite Banilejo; an event celebrating Dominican culture, food, and music. (It has since relocated to Clifford Field in Dorchester) Areas such as this and others around the city have carved out a name for themselves, not by simply implementing a new name to the area but by implementing programmatic strategies and place based initiatives that help shape the present and future of the site. So, that being said, where’s all the fun at these days?
Greenspaces and Outdoor Concerts: Understanding Programming Strategies + Opportunities
In place based work, there is a comprehensive component to it known as programmatic strategies or programmatics for short. This key component to place based work is what drives community members to the area, creates organic greenspace for people to gather, and activates outdoor spaces with fun and inclusive events for all to enjoy. To understand what drives community members to a space, one has to understand the types of opportunities which can occur on sites and how the public will use and benefit from the space. These opportunities are known as active and passive programming.
Active programming is interactive, engaging, and encourages visitors to join in on the fun. Active programming can include but is not limited to live concerts, art classes in the park, panel talks, etc. Active programming is important to a site because it brings people to an area and its what folks will tell their friends and family about. During my time in Roslindale, my family participated in a variety of different events and programming; both active and passive.
Unity Day in the summer, the annual Roslindale Parade in the fall, the Annual Christmas Tree lighting in the winter, and weekly visits to Healy Field to watch minor league baseball games. Adams Park, located in the heart of Roslindale, is a gathering space for locals to enjoy themselves in a shaded and comfortable area. It is also home to many picnic gatherings, Rozzie Bike rides meet-ups, and the Farmer’s Market. Active programming in Roslindale occurs mostly during the warmer months and is geared towards a multigenerational crowd Outside of events and programming happening in the neighborhood, we also spent a lot of time participating in activities and events happening at our local Buddhist temple, Chua Viet Nam, which host a variety of different cultural events throughout the year.
Passive programming, on the other hand, is less interactive and visitors don’t necessarily need to engage with the programming. This includes public art installations, water fountains, parks, wayfinding, etc. The goal here is to engage visitors and residents with the area even when there isn’t active programming going on. Roslindale has a fair amount of greenspace, which can be used for passive outdoor programming; like The Arbs, Healy Field, Fallon Field, ect. As a kid and still as an adult, I enjoyed roaming the Arbs and stopping by the Roslindale bodega across from Healy Field for a plate of Dominican food before heading home. In addition to greenspace, there are also plenty of neighborhood amenities like benches, water fountains, and mature trees for shade, which make the outdoor experience much more enjoyable.
While active programming is important and engages the public using events and activations, passive programming is equally as important due to its day to day impact and amenities. To be more specific and direct, areas of a neighborhood where people can gather and relax in greenery isn’t only good for activating but it is also important to the health of the current and future residents. More greenery results in healthier air quality and lower urban heat island temperatures. Passive programming such as greenspace and parks provide this relief which should be available to all and used by folks in and around the neighborhood for free.
Most importantly, where’s my girls at?
The memories of enjoying myself in Roslindale are ones that I cherish due to their sentimental value and their impact on how neighborhoods should be invested in; both programmatically and structurally. Programming in a neighborhood does more than give residents and visitors a space to visit but it gives people a place to gather and enjoy themselves. It gives residents a space to think about the types of programming they would like to see in their neighborhoods and activate in their neighborhoods. Having a space that is open to the public and is taken care of provides opportunities and encourages residents to be a part of the conversation about public spaces. The work of public spaces and programmatics requires and needs people from the neighborhood to have a say in what is being done. It requires extensive research on the developers’ end, input from community members, neighborhood organizations, and from the youth.
Creating programming that is welcoming, inclusive, and open to all in public spaces not only is a benefit to the current residents of a neighborhood but it becomes a benefit for future generations to come. Imagining what hasn’t been done in a public space and listening to what community members want in their public spaces is the first step in establishing an inclusive public community space. The many neighborhoods which make up the city of Boston are diverse, beautiful, and ever changing and their public spaces should reflect this. There should be more events celebrating Bostonians from different areas and different backgrounds. We should celebrate multicultural and multigenerational events and programming; it should be prioritized and welcomed into public spaces. These kinds of events are reflective of Boston and represent a much more diverse Boston than shown in movies.
We are living in a time of great change happening in Boston and the programming going on in the midst of it will help maintain the spirit and energy of Boston we love. Whether there’s programming occurring in Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, or Dorchester, there’s plenty of room for exploration and experimentation. There are undiscovered and underutilized areas of Boston which can be activated for the betterment of the community and an added amenity to the neighborhood. When it boils down to it, Boston is a place for all and the programming in public spaces should reflect that. I imagine public spaces and programming in Boston to be more inclusive, inviting, and welcoming. There should be more relevant programming and interesting events which cater to the many identities of Boston. An example of a group that does an amazing job at activating spaces outdoors is the StaySilentPVD from Providence, RI. They host a series of events and one in particular, DayTrill, is my favorite summer events to attend. From the set up, activation booths, food, and musical line up, its everything I could ask for from an outdoor party. The team does an amazing job at carefully curating an experience unlike any in the New England area and one that I wished we had here in Boston.
Here’s my hot take: It’s time to call it quits with beer gardens and its time to explore something outside of astroturf and IPAs. How about weekly dj sessions at the Commons or cultural tours run by local residents about neighborhood history and the architecture. Outdoor activities like Summer Fridays at the ICA, Cambridge Mayfair, and all the cultural celebrations throughout the years are events I’m excited to see come back and make their reemergence this summer and every summer moving forward. Where are the block parties, the outdoor food festivals, and of course where are my girls at?
It’s a matter of time until we get there with programming but until then, let the crazy ideas flow.
They’ll stick some day and we’ll all be happy they did.