Building Community from the Inside Out
housing and building safe neighborhoods has been nothing less than
a major movement in Boston—but it hasn’t been a movement
spurred by politicians or outside developers—rather, it has
been created from the inside out, by the people who actually live
and work in the city’s neighborhoods. Two organizations that
began as grassroots movements to fight for the rights of residents
have turned into national models of community organizing and development.
The Dudley Street neighborhood is an area of Boston which
covers about one and a half square miles—where Roxbury
runs into Dorchester, and Dudley Street crosses Blue Hill
Avenue. To some, it might be considered one of the most economically
disadvantaged neighborhoods in Massachusetts.
To anyone who
knows about the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), however,
such a designation would be a perversion of the truth because of
a citizen-led movement that has galvanized the power and the energy
of the people who live there in a massive effort to build the neighborhood
from the inside out.
began when the directors of a local foundation called the Riley
Foundation presented residents with their plan to develop and rebuild
the neighborhood. Residents were upset that they had not been consulted
during the develop phase and, much to the Riley Foundation’s
credit, its directors threw their plan out and started over, involving
residents in every phase of the rebuilding plan. Eventually the
residents simply took
over the entire process of building their own community.
Today, DSNI is the only community-based nonprofit organization in
the country to be granted eminent domain authority over abandoned
land within its boundaries. To date, more than 300 of the 1,300
inherited abandoned parcels have been transformed into high quality
affordable housing, gardens and public spaces. Even more important
than the transformation of properties, however, is the human transformation
reflected in the residents of the Dudley Street Neighborhood—who
stand as an example for the rest of the country and the world—of
what can be accomplished when people take control of their own lives
Boricuas en Accion
1950s and ‘60s, many residents of Boston’s South
End were driven from the area by the city’s urban renewal
plan. Joining other activists to save the neighborhood, in
1968 the Puerto Rican community established Inquilinos Boricuas
en Accion (IBA). IBA fought to control the future of a piece
of land called Parcel 19. Rallying to the cry, “We shall
not be moved from Parcel 19,” residents conducted a
multi-year campaign that won the right to redevelop the site.
Hernandez Cultural Center at Villa Victoria
The result was
a large, tenant-owned housing development called Villa Victoria,
a community achievement that combines 884 units of
low- and moderate-income housing, and today provides homes for more
than 3,000 residents as well as commercial space and services—which
is a national model of community empowerment and neighborhood preservation.
In addition to housing, IBA has infused Villa Victoria with state-of-the-art
technology, wiring all of the units with high-speed Internet access,
and creating a center for Latino art and culture.