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The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) is a nonprofit community-based planning and organizing entity rooted in the Roxbury/North Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston. DSNI's approach to neighborhood revitalization is comprehensive including economic, human, physical, and environmental growth. It was formed in 1984 when residents of the Dudley Street area came together out of fear and anger to revive their neighborhood that was devastated by arson, disinvestment, neglect and redlining practices, and protect it from outside speculators.
DSNI works to implement resident-driven plans partnering with nonprofit organizations, community development corporations (CDCs), businesses and religious institutions serving the neighborhood, as well as banks, government agencies, corporations and foundations. The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative has grown into a collaborative effort of over 3,000 residents, businesses, non-profits and religious institutions members committed to revitalizing this culturally diverse neighborhood of 24,000 people and maintaining its character and affordability. DSNI is the only community-based nonprofit in the country which has been granted eminent domain authority over abandoned land within its boundaries.
The Dudley area of Roxbury/North Dorchester is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Boston. This diverse community of African American and Cape Verdean (72%), Latino (24%), and White (4%) residents has a per capita income of $12,332. Approximately 27% of the area’s population falls below the federal poverty level of $17,029 for a family of four and 62% fall below the Family Economic Self-Sufficiency of $37,591. The unemployment rate for the neighborhood is around 13.6%. Just over a quarter of the housing is owner-occupied as compared to the city’s average of 32%. A third of the population is 19 years or under and about two-thirds of the population is 35 years and under. Families with children under 18 years represent almost half of Dudley neighborhood households, which is twice as large a share as in Boston citywide.
Located less than two miles from downtown Boston in Roxbury/North Dorchester, the DSNI neighborhood had a staggering amount of vacant land (21% or 1,300 parcels) in the 1980s -- vestiges of fires, discrimination and neglect of the '60's and '70's. Dudley Street is a trilingual neighborhood of 5,197 African-American, Latin American, Cape Verdean, and White families speaking English, Spanish and Cape Verdean Creole. It is a remarkable reservoir of multi-generational resident leadership, talent, spirit and determination.
Partly through its diverse, 35 seat Board of Directors including 16 residents from each of the 4 major ethnic groups (African-American, Latino, Cape Verdean, White) plus 2 additional Board-appointed residents, 4 youth, 7 nonprofit agencies, 2 churches, 2 businesses, and 2 CDCs, Dudley residents and its community partners develop strategies that will ensure that local residents are the primary beneficiaries of the community economic growth, and that human development and environmental issues are addressed.
DSNI's major accomplishment has been, and continues to be, organizing and empowering the residents of the Dudley Street neighborhood to create a shared vision of the neighborhood prioritizing development without displacement and bringing it to reality by creating strategic partnerships with individuals and organizations in the private, government, and nonprofit sectors. That shared vision first emerged from a community-wide process conducted initially in 1987 that resulted in a resident-developed, comprehensive revitalization plan.
The 1987 comprehensive plan was updated in our urban village visioning process in 1996, involving over 180 residents and organization representatives. Their ideas affirm many elements of the 1987 plan, add important refinements and renew their commitment to creating an "urban village" and declare their belief that "Anything Is Possible". From this process, a major commitment was made to enhance economic power in the Dudley neighborhood. Through DSNI’s community land trust, the Dudley neighborhood has the only permanent affordable housing in the city of Boston.
Residents continue to guide this plan which established community control over a critical mass of the 1,300 parcels of abandoned land that had come to characterize the neighborhood. Residents gained control by convincing the authorities in Boston’s city government to take the unprecedented step of granting the community the power of eminent domain over much of the vacant land combined with a partnership with the city on the publicly-owned vacant land. The Dudley neighborhood thus acquired valuable assets, established a community land trust, set a criteria for development and a "place at the table" for the planning and development of the community.
The eminent domain authority obtained by the community applies to the vacant land in a 60 acre area called the "Dudley Triangle" that is bounded on two sides by Dudley Street and Blue Hill Avenue – two corridors that link three commercial centers within the DSNI area: Dudley Square, Upham’s Corner and Grove Hall. That area is established as a community land trust known as Dudley Neighbors, Inc. (DNI) to ensure community land ownership, permanence and affordability.
The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative is an innovative, high performing holistic community change effort that continues to thrive. Residents lead a community collaboration with the shared goal of creating a vibrant, high quality diverse urban village. Today, the dramatic rebuilding of human, social and physical infrastructure has signaled that this is a neighborhood on its way back. DSNI focuses on three strategic areas: community economic development, leadership development and collaboration, and youth opportunities and development. Talented young adults return to the community in large numbers to play their role in sustaining change. To date more than half of the 1,300 abandoned parcels have been permanently transformed into over 400 new high quality affordable houses, community centers, new schools, Dudley Town Common, community greenhouse, parks, playgrounds, gardens, an orchard and other public spaces. Dudley residents are proud of their neighborhood and committed to the continuation of the revitalization effort.