Neponset River Greenway: Boston, Massachusetts
The Mattapan neighborhood in Boston once was a bustling and thriving community, with railroads and streetcars that made the neighborhood easily accessible to downtown. But in the 1960s and 1970s, real estate developers used block-busting to drive down property values in pursuit of quick profits. Redlining exacerbated the problem, and soon the more affluent, mostly white residents fled the community for the suburbs.
This period of white flight led to the loss of the businesses and civic investment that help a neighborhood thrive. The neighborhood is now predominantly African American and Caribbean American, and its commercial districts have been in decline for decades.
The Neponset River Greenway was first envisioned in a 1998 plan and developed further with a second phase in 2006. By 2016, the final portion of the greenway to be completed was a 1.3-mile stretch connecting the struggling Mattapan neighborhood and the Town of Milton across the river, linked by the Harvest River Bridge. The segment would improve mobility options, connect Mattapan residents with the river, and include features like a Canopy Walk, multiple footbridges, and a dramatic boardwalk. This portion of the greenway would complete a continuous 4.5-mile riverfront path from the mouth of the river at Dorchester Bay to the Blue Hills.
However, communities on both sides of the river expressed concerns about this portion of the project during the public input process carried out by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Some residents in the affluent Town of Milton opposed increased access to their community from what they perceived as a less safe neighborhood on the other side. Mattapan residents feared their community would bear the brunt of the construction and demolition activities.
Greenway organizers conducted extensive outreach to the communities, including small neighborhood meetings and larger public forums. Community organizations like Boston Natural Areas Network, Bike Milton, and Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition helped drum up support for the project. This long-term communication and solicitation of community input eased residents' concerns and steadily increased support for the project, which opened to the public in 2017.
Today, the extension of the Neponset Greenway between Mattapan and Central Avenue is a popular space used by both communities for walking, biking, and other activities. The Neponset River Greenway now plays an integral role in the transformation of an industrial river corridor, previously hidden from view, into a publicly accessible network of trails and open spaces that links the southernmost neighborhoods of Boston to Boston Harbor.
"On the second day this Greenway section was open, a gentleman crossed the canopy bridge on his motorized wheelchair. It's not just a bike path; it truly is a people path. This trail makes the river accessible for families in Mattapan and other adjacent communities, many that had no idea there was a river behind those trees. Those of us from the many communities along the river who spent years helping to create the Neponset River Greenway have become friends with people that we never would have known before."
— Maria Lyons, Jessica Mink, Vivian Ortiz and Lee Toma, Members of the Neponset River Greenway Council