Director Juan Leyton and Data Systems Manager Andrew Seeder of The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) gave a talk titled “Development Without Displacement in Dudley” on Jan. 30.
Associate Professor of Government Peter Cannavò enthusiastically presented the group, remarking on its strong history of collective community empowerment and planning without gentrification, regarding their success as a “flowering of civil society.”
Leyton and Seeder did not disappoint, and began the lecture with a video of the DSNI’s history in the Roxbury neighborhood outside of Boston. The video began by panning through scenes of vacant lots filled with trash in the neighborhood. Various community members spoke about the previous state of neighborhood as a run-down place with illegal trash dumping and threats of gentrification. The DSNI helped initiate meetings in the area, and from there the project became entirely community-run.
Leyton spoke to the essential parts that composed this collective project, commenting on the three strategic focus areas: sustainable and economic development, community empowerment, and youth opportunity and development. The DSNI has experienced success on many fronts regarding its focus areas.
The organization’s goals greatly contrast with “urban renewal”; instead, the community comes together democratically and controls land usage and development. This has led to community-controlled lots through the Community Land Trust, where people can purchase homes on community owned land. This discourages gentrification, as the community has control over decision-making and land investments.
Seeder than took over with a data-driven perspective, using maps to describe the neighborhood and economic status. Numbers are often deceiving, he told as he presented that 34% of the area lives below the poverty line remarking, “Don’t let it fool you how powerful they are.”
The data collected about the area is still largely citizen-driven, which helps the DSNI measure its progress in a “bottom-up approach,” meaning the community is directing where change can be made. Leyton said their goals as an organization have remained collective, noting that the goal must always remain “in the horizon…you must always build ways for people to come out of their comfort zone and realize they have the skills to enact change.”
The audience asked how DSNI came to be successful and the organization's future. Maggie Smith ’17 complimented their efforts and asked how an outsider could enact similar change from afar. Leyton said that everyone is welcome to learn, and was sure to point out Hamilton as a community offers plenty to learn as well. Luis Morales ’20, who has worked with the DSNI, commented on his experiences working with volunteers outside the community. “Contribution can be as small as cleaning up a sidewalk that you've never walked on a day in your life. It was all about showing up and contributing.”
The talk was sponsored by the Environmental Studies Program, the Days-Massolo Center, and the Government Department.