In light of the growing importance of urban ecology and the need for sites where its systems can be studied over time, the Arnold Arboretum’s Bussey Brook Meadow has become somewhat of a local hotspot for environmental research. A report published by the City of Boston Environment Department in 2000 included the Bussey Brook Meadow in its inventory of the city’s significant “urban wilds”—areas not maintained to a proscribed horticultural standard and lacking amenities other than unpaved pathways. Unlike many of the locations included on the list, the 24 acres that make up Bussey Brook Meadow are an ideal site for scientific study, because it is protected through the Arboretum’s indenture and not subject to loss from future development.
In 1996, the Arboretum Park Conservancy partnered with the Arboretum to preserve this landscape, which was assembled from parcels of land that formerly belonged to the MBTA, the City of Boston, and Harvard University. Under the current management regimen, the meadow serves as a site where Arboretum scientists and visiting scholars can document long-term changes in plant succession and measure ecosystem functions including vegetation structure, wildlife abundance, phenology, and biogeochemical cycling. In addition, the Arboretum continues to maintain the Blackwell Path which crosses the parcel as a pedestrian link from the Forest Hills subway station to the historic landscape.
In the past year alone, Bussey Brook Meadow has spurred four separate studies by researchers from Tufts and Boston Universities, and has been used by students from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Harvard Medical School, and Brandeis University. The Arboretum has also become a participatory member of two ULTRA (Urban Long-Term Research Area) exploratory projects funded by the National Science Foundation and USDA Forest Service. One is coordinated by the Geography Department of Boston University, while the second is a multi-institutional endeavor coordinated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. As such, Bussey Brook Meadow becomes a permanent site for monitoring spontaneous urban ecology that can only become more valuable over time.