Unpaving a Parking Lot

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em

Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi, 1969

The photo above was taken in 2019 from The Riverway in Boston, just west of Brookline Avenue.  (Google Street View) The Muddy River is in the foreground.  At rear is the historic building, formerly a Sears store and distribution center, that is now under reconstruction as 401 Park. Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed a Great Blue Heron perching on the pipes near the right side of the photo.

The aerial photo below shows the area in 2018.  The blue arrow indicates the camera position of the photo above.  The 401 Park building is at the upper right. The construction area adjacent to 401 Park has since become an actual park, connected to the Time Out Market that opened in June 2019.

The photo below shows the same location in 1995.  The section of the Muddy River next to the Sears building (now 401 Park) had been paved for a parking lot, even though it was part of the historic “Emerald Necklace” extending from Boston Common to Franklin Park. The river had been rerouted into a culvert under the parking lot, but its capacity was inadequate. During an epic October 1996 storm, Muddy River water entered the Green Line tunnel at the Fenway Station and flooded the Kenmore Station, causing a 2-month closure of the line.   The parking lot was removed between 1995 and 2003.  The Muddy River Restoration Project, which began in 2013, recreated this section of river.

Joni Mitchell, talking about Big Yellow Taxi in 2019:

When it first came out, it was a regional hit in Hawaii because people there realised their paradise was being chewed up. It took 20 years for that song to sink in to people in most other places. That is a powerful little song because there have been cases in a couple of cities of parking lots being torn up and turned into parks because of it.

Photos of the Muddy River today:

A possible explanation for the decision to pave over the river to build a parking lot was that this section of the river was scheduled to be obliterated by the Inner Belt highway, which was proposed in 1955.  Although extensive public protests led to the cancellation of plans for the highway in 1971, the parking lot lasted for decades.  Before the highway was cancelled, 1,200 homes were destroyed along its route. This image, from Mapjunction.com, shows the planned highway route through this part of the Fenway.

Route of the Inner Belt Highway, as proposed in 1955.