Open space is what you make of it. Well, really, it’s what hundreds of people have made of it for decades. That’s what you can see in Ron Newman’s Google Map Obscure stairs, ramps, and paths of Somerville, MA. It’s an overview of what overeager planners might call “linear parks”—all the odd little cut-throughs between streets that the folks in the neighborhood use to take their kids to school, get to the convenience store, and perhaps catch a glimpse of Somerville’s endangered population of feral garden gnomes (commonly mistaken for rodents by jaded adults).
None of these paths are particularly glamorous, though several of the bicycle paths are pleasant enough. While the Friends of the Public Garden is celebrating getting umpty-thousand “public-private partnership” dollars to renovate 2.5 acres of the Boston Common by fall 2011, I haven’t heard of any grand plans to decorate Somerville’s Fremont Street Dirt Path, or restore the Mountain Avenue/Cedar Avenue Steps.
Parks are places people intend to go, where planners create a stage for visitors to experience. In Somerville, where only five percent of land is open space—including cemeteries and schoolyards—the Obscure Paths of Somerville are places where people actually live and experience nature from day to day. The trees and weeds, dirt and distractions in these places are what’s “outside.”
I respect the Friends of the Public Garden’s work to improve the Boston Common. But Newman’s map intrigues me.