Rebirth in Boston
Dudley Street's Community-Organizing Success Story
By Franz Lehman
The Dudley Street community in the Roxbury section of Boston
("A Neighborhood Reinvents Itself," Dec. 1994 Met Council Tenant) is one
of community organizing's success stories. A decade ago, it
was a dumping ground for the metropolitan area's human and
industrial waste, a place where, said Rep. Joseph Kennedy,
the insurance industry had used redlining "to lock tight the
door of economic opportunity." Today, it has been converted
into a thriving, self-respecting, and well-integrated
community, an oasis within the run-down industrial areas
near Boston Harbor.
The catalyst for change was the Dudley Street
Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), founded in 1984. Thanks to
its organizational skills, the attraction it drew from
funding groups, plenty of hard work, the availability of
decent jobs in a nearby industrial park, and Boston's mayor
exercising the city's power of eminent domain -- enabling the
group to take over vacant lots to build affordable
housing -- Dudley Street looks good today. On a recent visit,
we found plenty of smiles all around.
The Dudley Street neighborhood is now a self-supporting
community. Residents buy properties or build them on land
acquired by the DSNI through eminent domain. The average
home is in the $90,000 range, and the mortgage payments
homeowners make to non-redlining banks are the same as or
below the rents they had been paying before they moved in.
On February 15, a documentary entitled Holding Ground: The
Rebirth of Dudley Street had its world premiere in the local
movie house. This movie was inspired by a talk the directors
had with Gus Newport, the former mayor of Berkeley, CA who
had been director of the DSNI. It was filmed by the
production staff of the film Eyes on the Prize.
Holding Ground tells of the community's accomplishments
since 1990. Here are a few:
- The Building Houses and People Too campaign, for recognition and problem resolution among the residents.
- Architects and planners working with a group of 40 youths to plan and design community centers.
- A $2.3 million Nehemiah housing grant has been announced.
- A family daycare providers network has been formed.
- A neighborhood scholarship fund has been founded.
- The first homeowner moved into the Winthrop Estates development.
- The city of Boston committed $5 million to renovate the Vine Street Cape Verdean Community Center (Many area residents are from the Cape Verde Islands).
- Construction on Town Commons began.
- The area received $33 million in grants for the renovation of Orchard Park.
In its 12 years of existence, the DSNI has increased its
membership from 200 in 1986 to 2,200 in 1995. Its continued
growth is a foregone conclusion. Besides being integrated in
the true sense of the word, members are activists who are
obligated to assume responsibilities according to their
abilities. The president of the Bank of Boston is an advisor
to the DSNI, as is the faculty on the School of Social Work
at Boston University -- where students are encouraged to do
graduate work at DSNI. If the area's economy keeps a fairly
steady course, a prosperous voyage for Dudley Street
residents is likely.
If you want to buy or rent Holding Ground: The Rebirth of
Dudley Street, call (617) 282-2126.