BOSTON AND THE
POWER OF COLLABORATION
In 1971, Bob Haas, a twenty-seven-year-old engineer and classical piano player, moved to a commune in a large broken-down Victorian house in a section of the Boston Dorchester district known as Upham's Corner. Haas loved the history and vitality of Dorchester—a streetcar-era place where first the Irish and then other ethnic groups had made their home in “Baahston”—and a few years later bought the old house from his roommates.
Upham's Corner, however, was a neighborhood in crisis. Many poor African Americans and Puerto Ricans lived there. Houses caught on fire and were abandoned. Stores, including the neighborhood supermarket, closed. During his first ten years in Upham's Corner, Haas's house was burglarized twentythree times. Children on his street grew up, joined gangs, took crack cocaine, and murdered or were murdered.
At first Haas naively thought that if he repaired his house, others would do the same, and the neighborhood would come back. When that did not work, he organized a neighborhood association. That did not stem the tide either, and in 1979 he and members of three neighborhood associations founded the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation (Dorchester Bay EDC). Excited by its potential, Haas in 1985 gave up his other careers to become a full-time staff member and spent sixteen years as director of planning.
It took a few years, but this last effort began to show tangible results. Since its founding Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation has developed more than 500 dwellings, restored a major commercial building, brought in a new grocery store, coordinated anti-drug and crime watch groups, started a children's summer camp, and instituted annual neighborhood meetings and festivals for the Upham's Corner neighborhood. 1
Upham's Corner's revival is not unique. All over Boston's inner-city districts of Roxbury and Dorchester, neighborhoods are experiencing rebirth. Old apartment buildings sparkle, and newly built houses stand on formerly vacant lots. Businesses are returning to the empty storefronts. The areas of abandoned and graffiti-scarred buildings and vacant lots have shrunk, and crime has dwindled to pre—Vietnam War levels.