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Boston’s Big Dig approach apparently catching on with other cities

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In particular, the likes of Atlanta and Dallas see the benefits in sinking highways to build parks on top

A tightly organized public park, with pavement in the foreground and then lawn in the middle. Radomir Rezny/Shutterstock

Cities such as Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Dallas have plans or proposals for building parks above highways—similar to what Boston did in the 1990s and 2000s, when the sinking of the Central Artery as part of the monumental Big Dig produced the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

That 17-acre, 1.5-mile, gem-filled ribbon through much of downtown Boston has, of course, become one of the nation’s most used linear parks. It has also long been a prime attraction for developers and real estate brokers, who often tout proximity to the park in marketing new projects or existing homes or space.

The recent moves in other cities are in response to millennials’ apparently insatiable jones for living in urban centers, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reports that “dozens” of such park projects are on the table in about 30 cities.

As living and working in walkable urban centers becomes more popular, interest has risen in such projects, which are often called deck parks. Dallas completed a $112 million, 5.2-acre park over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway in 2012, sparking commercial and residential development around it. It now draws crowds for food trucks, a reading area, a playground and free concerts.

It is unclear if Boston’s greenway is a direct inspiration for these deck parks—the Journal piece does not mention it—but, given the duration of the Big Dig (15 years) and the prominence of the 11-year-old greenway, it seems entirely likely.

Though the current potential wave of deck parks is a little more modest in scope compared with the Big Dig, which the Massachusetts transportation department aptly labeled, “the largest, most complex, and technologically challenging highway project in the history of the United States.”