Two Neighborhoods’ Different Paths to Revitalization
By Anna Peng
Since the population decline and urban decay of the inner city that began in the 1950s due to the rise of suburbs and white flight, Boston has been striving to recover.
There is currently a movement of rehabilitation and redevelopment, and Boston has seen dramatic changes in the past few decades. In South Boston, this movement has been largely driven by development initiated by investment firms. In Roxbury, on the other hand, it has been driven primarily by public efforts.
This difference has led to the emergence of distinct visions for each neighborhood and each has embarked on its own path towards recovery.
As you walk through Roxbury, you are surrounded by crumbling buildings and vacant lots. In an effort to address this, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), a community-based organization, and the Dudley Neighbors, Incorporated (DNI), a local land trust, partnered to create and carry out a recovery plan with the best interests of the community in mind.
In addition to improvements to parks and playgrounds, some of the land they acquired was redeveloped with gardens, which led to a trend of urban farming throughout the neighborhood.
“There’s a lot to see in terms of economic benefits urban agriculture can bring;” said Danielle Andrews, manager of the Dudley Greenhouse, owned by DSNI and leased to The Food Project. “It gives more people the opportunity to grow their own food and gets more people involved in feeding themselves.”
The City of Boston has also made strides to improve the conditions in Roxbury. In recent years, it has rebuilt the Boston Police Department building, repaired the Dudley Branch of the Boston Public Library, and built a new public building: the Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building.
With all of these new developments, however, comes concerns about gentrification.
“There’s a real fear around affordability, whether development in Bartlett and Dudley Square will raise rent,” Andrews said.
Local high school student, Zannat Zannatul, has mixed feelings towards the changes.
“I do like the improvements, but I don’t think the whole neighborhood has to be replanned and everything has to be torn down and built back up…There has to be a balance.”
Zannatul also added, “I don’t consider urban gardening programs to be gentrifying the neighborhood…[Urban agriculture] gets city kids who might not get this opportunity elsewhere, because of location or poverty, to learn something that’s going to be beneficial for them.”
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, South Boston was known for its mob activity, led by James “Whitey” Bulger, and was dominated by poverty and crime.
To encourage development, and thus recovery, former mayor of the City of Boston, Thomas M. Menino, created the Innovation District in 2010. It encompasses 1000 acres in Boston’s Seaport and, according the district’s website, is “an urban environment that fosters innovation, collaboration, and entrepreneurship.”
What used to be vacant parking lots and warehouses in the district are now being transformed into luxury restaurants, shopping centers, and apartment complexes, which are expected to bring economic benefits.
“New people will be living in the neighborhood and there’s going to be a significant increase in their spending.” said Heather Boujoulian, a senior vice president at Berkshire Group, a firm investing in a mixed-use development in Seaport Square.
There has been, however, apprehension from locals towards the changes that may occur as a result of the new development.
“Property taxes are going up.” said local resident Jennifer Windisch. “It’s going to drive people out of their homes.”
The new developments are primarily targeted towards a young, diverse, white-collar working class–far-removed from the generations of blue-collar Irish families that once made up a majority in South Boston.
“These new developments tie into the Yuppie culture… People are upset that South Boston is changing in a certain direction and isn’t reflecting how they used to know the neighborhood,” said Max Aboko-Cole, a high schooler whose family has lived in South Boston for over 20 years.
Others are more receptive of the changes that are occurring.
“I’m embracing the influx.” said Billy Higgins, a local resident and a member of the newly formed South Boston Business Association. “I wish they would use the local businesses more. You should let people here be part of the development.”