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.

 

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