Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From Urban Blight to Community Revival ; Boston's Roxbury Neighborhood Emerges from Years of Troubles

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

From Urban Blight to Community Revival ; Boston's Roxbury Neighborhood Emerges from Years of Troubles

Article excerpt

The Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, which for almost 40 years has epitomized urban turmoil and the aftershocks of white flight, has abruptly and aggressively turned a corner. According to Mayor Thomas Menino, it is now one of the "chosen places" to live in Boston.

Dozens of Victorian houses that have lain vacant here since the 1960s are now being renovated and resold. Streets scarred by decades- old race riots, with shuttered storefronts and broken windows, are sprinkled with newly built bodegas and bargain retailers.

The city is in the process of developing eight acres of public land with new residences and businesses, including a new science lab that could bring hundreds of new jobs to Roxbury.

For a neighborhood that resides in the national consciousness alongside places like Watts, Harlem, and Chicago's South Side - neighborhoods wrenched by racial conflict and the popularity of suburbs - the revival here brings a glimmer of closure to an era of urban blight.

But all the progress has attending costs: the dislocation of the very people who, while others left, kept Roxbury alive. Many experts argue that the demographic change taking place here is natural and inevitable. Others, including many residents, say full-scale gentrification here would be a tragedy in the historical life of America's cities.

"You want business and jobs," says Horace Smalls, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods in Dudley Square, a neighborhood hub. "But if no one here benefits, it ends up being a displacement, not an investment in the community."

There is little confusion why the middle-class is moving back into Roxbury: Boston real estate is too expensive for most families, and Roxbury is one exception. The neighborhood, which dates back to 1630, is spotted by dozens of Greek Revival houses and early- 20th- century apartments. Many have been vacant for several years. The neighborhood's rate of occupancy for one-, two-, and three-family properties is 58 percent versus 70 percent citywide.

Combined with Roxbury's proximity to Boston's downtown - about 10 minutes by subway - the neighborhood has quickly taken on a new profile. "This has all led to a radical concept: White folks want to live here now," says Mr. Smalls.

Most of the changes have occurred on the neighborhood's edges. Communities like Fort Hill, which rises just east of the wealthier Jamaica Plain, are lined with luxury cars and immaculate gardens.

Residents here acknowledge that the influx of money has had a domino effect across the neighborhood. One development of new red- brick office buildings and condominiums near Fort Hill inspired residents to clean up their block and push out gangs. As their community began to look nicer, residents were buoyed to protect it. "People need to have a sense of ownership and pride . …

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