A few years ago, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) decided to create some public space out of the darkened areas under the 1-93 overhead highway just south of downtown Boston. It wasn’t the first place you’d expect a new public space.
The space that they had in mind was surrounded by commuter rail lines running to nearby South Station, waterfront along Fort Point Channel, and South Boston on the other side, and surface streets and the rapidly revitalizing “New York Streets” section of the South End of Boston, home to both restored factory buildings as well as new development.
The resulting 8-acre Underground at Ink Block, which formally opened in the fall of 2017, is part park, part water garden/filtration system, part art project, part paid parking lot, part-secured bike storage, and part dog park – all nestled under I-93 in between the South End and South Boston, owned by MassDOT, and operated by a local property owner, National Development
The parking lot provides weekly parking (and resulting) revenue as well as an expanded area to hold weekend festivals, when the need for parking isn’t so great. A series of murals, to be updated on a regular basis, cover highway retaining walls, the foot paths in and out of the Underground, as well as storage containers and electrical service utility boxes.
Then there’s the goal of managing storm water. Downspouts from the highway above are channeled into a new of large, landscaped water gardens that hold runoff and slowly release it back into the ground via drains. Signage explains how the system works.