In 2018, Tufts UEP and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative was awarded a two-year federal grant by the Corporation for National and Community Service to conduct community action research.

Project Title

From Civic Participation to Community Control: Assessing and Strengthening Participatory Planning for Commercial District Development Without Displacement in Boston’s Dudley Neighborhood

Project Description

This project will explore how civic engagement can strengthen community capacity for control over land use and economic development in Boston’s Dudley neighborhood. Since the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) was formed in 1984, it developed its own master plan and has fostered development of 226 units of affordable housing, parks, a greenhouse, and urban farms on 32 acres owned by its community land trust. This neighborhood has a highly developed civic infrastructure, built by organizing, participatory planning, and community ownership of land. Dudley has become a nationally renowned model for community control that can guide development without displacement.

Tufts Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning (UEP), a graduate planning program, has been working with DSNI since 1990. UEP and DSNI established a 3-year Co-Research/Co-Education partnership in 2016 to investigate and advance strategies for community control of land and the local economy. This project will build on our partnership to pursue strategies for commercial development without displacement, with a focus on the Upham’s Corner commercial district. This district is on the eastern edge of the 1.3 square mile Dudley neighborhood, which is still a predominantly lower-income community of color with ~30,000 residents.

Despite the high degree of civic infrastructure and success with developing permanently affordable housing, the neighborhood still is in social crisis, experiencing persistent poverty and high un/underemployment. Thus, DSNI has begun exploring how its organizing, planning, and land ownership can support commercial development that can produce good jobs and support locally-owned businesses.

Specifically, this project will assess the impacts of civic participation in the planning process for revitalizing Upham’s Corner into a commercial arts innovation district. DSNI’s land trust recently acquired a former bank building and has been co-coordinating a planning process over the last year with City of Boston, which owns two other key redevelopment sites. This development is a major focus for neighborhood-based planning in the City of Boston’s Imagine 2030 comprehensive plan.

This project will conduct a participatory assessment of the impacts of engagement on the development process and outcomes in Upham’s Corner, as well as civic infrastructure. The overall question is how the development process can go beyond resident input into a City decision-making process towards more direct forms of democratic resident control of those decisions. DSNI has already achieved direct control over housing development through its land trust and now is trying to exercise this power in commercial development. What difference does community control make to the development process and civic infrastructure? How can we measure engagement and strengthen capacity for community control?

In the first year, the project will train and support a resident research team to conduct interviews and focus groups with residents engaged at various levels in the process. Tufts researchers will interview City of Boston officials and other community leaders appointed to the advisory group guiding. In the second year, the project will develop and pilot measures and strategies for strengthening civic infrastructure for effective community engagement, community control, and community economic development.

Expected outcomes include more capacity within DSNI and among Dudley residents to conduct participatory assessments, deeper understanding of the impacts of community engagement and measures of community control, deeper relationships between DSNI, City, and other stakeholders, and lessons learned that can be more broadly shared with other practitioners and researchers.