Representing different ethnic and socio-economic segments, the Berkeley Street Community Garden (BSCG) is a microcosm of the South End and a living record of its history and change. The Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) served as a catalyst for much of this change and is a symbol of the continuing 'revitalization' that is occurring in the neighborhood. Sifting the Inner Belt will expose the different layers of the South End and 'bridge' the various strata of this community through monthly 'bridging' performances and a detailed exhibit to open in June 2005.
The BSCG is located on Berkeley Street, nestled between Tremont Street and Shawmut Avenue. Originally a row of quant Victorian brownstones, the garden materialized out of the massive urban renewal projects that took place in the city of Boston during the 1960's and 70's. In particular, this row of South End brownstones was razed to make way for the widening of Dover Street, now known as Berkeley Street. However, due to budget constraints and citizen concerns the project was halted and the site of the future Berkeley Garden lay fallow. Immigrants and the surrounding working class community quickly took advantage of this sudden availability of land and created one of Boston's largest and most vibrant urban gardens.
Coincidentally, the BCA also came about through urban renewal efforts. The main space of the BCA, known as the Cyclorama, has undergone a number of renovations and changes in ownership since it was built in 1884. Originally created to house a single panoramic painting, that depicted "The Battle of Gettysburg," it drew crowds from all over New England to what many consider one of the first real experiential art exhibits in Boston history. When the exhibit closed the Cyclorama's future was tumultuous before finally becoming the headquarters for the Boston Flower Exchange in 1923. Forty-seven years later, the city under the banner of Urban Renewal, forced the Flower Exchange to relocate to an area abutting the Southeast Expressway and transformed the Cyclorama into the feature space of the Boston Center for the Arts.
The "Inner Belt" came to symbolize the massive urban renewal projects that occurred in Boston during the mid 1900's. Conceived as a ring of highways that would blaze through many of Boston's historic neighborhoods the project was never completed due to resident protests. Among the numerous urban renewal projects of the time was the South End Urban Renewal Area, which included the present day Berkeley Street Community Garden. The South End Urban Renewal Area encompassed a number of different projects, ranging from the creation of schools to the destruction of whole residential blocks for industrial and commercial purposes. The widening of Dover Street was just one small project among many large scale and innately more disturbing renewal projects at the time.
The South End Urban Renewal project was conceived out of false pretenses and negative preconceptions of the mostly working class and immigrant community that resided in the South End during the 1960's. Historically considered a slum by many outsiders and social reformers the South End drew many immigrant and first generation Americans "who found in the South End cheap, convenient housing inhabited by people like themselves". The South End served as a "port of entry for many immigrant groups including: Lebanese, Irish, Yankee, Chinese, West Indian, Southern Black, Greek, or Hispanic".
Today the South End draws a much wealthier crowd and has gained the pseudonym 'Boston's Gay Neighborhood'. Much of the diversity and creativity that made the South End a unique and vibrant place is now threatened by a new 'gentry' that is almost unwilling to accept the communities sorted history. Even many of those in the artist and gay community, the initial 'urban explorers' who made the South End trendy, are being priced out of the neighborhood. What happens now is anyone's guess, Sifting the Inner Belt, hopes to shed light on these happening and to create 'bridges' between the South End's past and present, and perhaps influence its future.
See Works Consulted page