When students and teachers at the Neighborhood School, a K1-6 school in Jamaica Plain, returned to school last September, they had all noted a change in the fabric of the community. The demolition of the Casey Overpass had begun over the summer and the construction of new surface roads brought daily traffic jams that touched almost everyone in our community.
As the students of Level 4 (grades 5 and 6) explored the neighborhood in search of a theme for the school’s biennial school play, they kept coming across the effects of the demolition of the Casey Overpass. Boston Police Officer Carlos Martinez, a friend of the school at Precinct E-13, told some of the students that he’d noticed that people were switching to back roads, and sometimes driving too quickly. The students had seen this on Peter Parley Road, the street in Jamaica Plain that the Neighborhood School calls home. How interesting, the students thought, that a construction project so many blocks away was changing their street and creating ripples felt throughout the entire community.
In October, the students visited the Roxbury Innovation Center in Dudley Square to experience the MIT Media Lab’s CityScope project. It used a mix of LEGOs and 3D projection to create a working model of a part of Boston. The students moved the LEGOs to change how the transportation network functions and then watch noticed change occur throughout the city.
The focus of the exhibit, with support from the Barr Foundation, was Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a system of buses like the MBTA’s Silver Line, that uses dedicated lanes and high capacity buses to move people further and faster. The class saw how expanding BRT could tie the city together.
The Casey Overpass highlighted how important transportation is to the neighborhood, but the trip in October taught the students that there are a lot of choices to be made, and that these choices — what kind of transportation and where — could have a big impact on what kind of city they would live in as they grew up.
Some students then later participated in a roundtable discussion that was part of the Boston Transportation Department’s GO Boston 2030, which engages neighbors in planning the city’s transportation future, while others joined an evening planning session for the Boston Redevelopment Agency’s PLAN/JP ROX, to see how this all unfolds on a very local scale.
These experiences, as well as many discussions and lessons about youth activism, the difficulties of balancing the many different perspectives within a community, and the benefits of developing win-win situations, helped inspire “Changing Lanes,” the name of the school’s production. This original play was written and directed by Steven Yakutis and will be performed by Neighborhood School students on Friday, March 11 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, March 12 at 3 p.m. at the Mainstage Theatre at Roxbury Community College (1234 Columbus Ave). Admission is by donation at the door and the play is appropriate for ages 4 and up.
The citizens of Fairview Junction have differing opinions on how to spend the new grant money awarded to their neighborhood. Cyclists are certain that more bike lanes are the right choice; commuters want to see improved bus lines. Actors ages 6-12 explore the challenges and joys of finding win-win situations while looking for ways that each person’s voice can be heard. Music and dance help illuminate the path, but will our fair city end up ensnarled in a traffic jam of differing opinions?