Monday, January 14, 2008

The Battle for West Roxbury Park

Another Globe article advocating for the proposed West Robury park that would later be renamed for Benjamin Franklin. This article gives us some small insight into the political battle that went on over the funding of the park. We get a one-sided argument, but the position of the other side can be seen in reflection. Clearly the Back Bay wards were against the proposal, perhaps both because the park would be too far from them to enjoy, and, as a district of high property values, they would have to shoulder an inordinate burden of paying for the far-off park.

Boston Daily Globe October 10, 1880

The West Roxbury Park

At its last meeting the common council took well-considered action toward carrying out the scheme of public parks for which Boston has waited so long in adopting the order for the purchase of lands at City Point for a marine park. But the council did not go far enough in the good work to satisfy the public. The great park of the city, which the people most earnestly demand as fulfilling in the best manner the requirements of this community, is that which the park commissioners have located at West Roxbury. In giving this order such a large majority, however, coming within a very few votes of the requisite two-thirds of the full council, it was rendered probable that on the reconsideration, one week from next Thursday, the order will pass, as it ought, in the interests of the city and its inhabitants.

It is curious and somewhat significant fact that not a Democrat in the council - with the single exception of Mr W.H. Whitmore - was found voting against this park for the people, for it is most emphatially a people's park, and it will be especially beneficial to those of our citizens who do not ride in carriages, and who are forced, on their rare holidays, to seek recreation for themselves and their families in such places as can be reached at the cost of a horse-car fare. If it is to be a party issue, as we devoutly hope such a scheme for the public benefit may now become, the party which opposes it will make for itself a record that will return to plague its representatives. .

Opposition to this scheme can only be honestly based upon the belief that it is extravagant, or upon the prejudice of locality, which latter motive was unfortunately apparent last Thursday in the votes of the representatives of the Back Bay wards. It is useless to attempt to argue against this prejudice; for one who does not see, in our own experience as well as in that of any other city with a large public park, that all sections are benefited and enriched by the expenditure which beautifies one, cannot be convinced by any presentation of the case. Neither is it possible to add much, if anything, to what has been already said on the question of economy and of the present ability of the city to take and pay for the lands required, as set forth in the reports of the park commissioners and the finance committee of the city council.

But it is still competent to show to what a remarkable extent this park scheme is sustained by the people, and how largely the citizens who pay the direct taxes which support the government are in favor of it.

To go back to the very beginning of the record of the expression of popular opinion on this subject, in 1870, just ten years ago, we find that when the question of the acceptance of the park act was put to a test of a popular vote, sixty-three per cent of the voters of Boston favored the plan, and only thirty-seven per cent opposed it. This was the expression of the wish of the people. How did the property of the city vote? Even more unanimously in favor of the parks. For the valuation of the wards in which a majority was given for the park act was ninety per cent of the whole valuation of the city, and only ten per cent of the property was found in the wards voting against the parks.

This we can justly claim to be decisive, both as to the feeling among the people and among the large tax-payers. But five year later there was another test vote, taken upon the acceptance of the act under which the present park commission was appointed and the plans carried to their present development. This vote was taken in the very depth of financial depression; and yet we find that sixty-two per cent of the voters still favored the park scheme, and only thirty-eight per cent opposed it. Moreover, although the tax-rate that year was $15 60 on a thousand, and lavish expenditure was dreaded, the wards voting in favor of the parks showed a taxable valuation of 715,854,600, and those opposed to it represented only $81,000,000 of taxable property.

It will not be believed that public opinion has entirely reversed since that time, or that property holders have suddenly become converted to the belief that what was for their interests in 1875 is not for their interests in 1880. Why, there are now before the city council two petitions asking the purchase of this very West Roxbury location, whose signers represent in the aggregate more than $30,000,000 of assessed taxable property in the city of Boston. It is beyond a doubt that if this plan was now put to the test of a popular vote the result would be an endorsement as emphatic as that which was given the general scheme in 1870 and 1875. The people know what they want, and the owners of tax-paying property know what their interests demand as well now as they did then.

It is from a consideration of these facts that, as we believe, the common council will, at its next meeting, join the West Roxbury park order to that for the purchase of the City Point lands, and thus give the city what it wants and what it has long asked.

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