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The following imaginary story was used by DSNI Board and staff to help residents prepare for the Urban Village Visioning Process. It represents the synthesis of ideas that emerged from a series of Rebuilding Communities Initiative (RCI) planning sessions.
WELCOME TO DUDLEY VILLAGE
"The future ain't what it used to be" --Yogi Berra
Roxbury 2012 -
For the past twenty years, residents of the Dudley community have been rebuilding their neighborhood literally from the ground up. Thirteen hundred lots, once neglected and abandoned, now represent the wellspring from which the vibrant urban village -- a concept conceived by residents -- has emerge.
Back in the 1980s city officials laughed when Dudley residents presented their plan for revitalizing the burnt out and abandoned area that would come to be known as the Dudley Triangle -- the heart of the Village. But when the revitalization plan began to take shape and residents rallied behind it to make it happen, city officials reconsidered their position and endorsed the plan. Residents began to understand what empowerment was really all about.
In the mid-90s, residents began talking about the "next phase" of their community revitalization plan. They were searching for an economic development strategy that was true to the DSNI mission and that also embraced the values and traditions of the diverse cultures that give the neighborhood its identity. In the process they realized that they had come up with the strategy themselves back in 1987 -- the creation of an urban village.
The Village As A Context For Human Development
The village is the oldest form of human settlement. It is a complex gathering of places where people live, shop, work socialize and play.
Above all else, the village community is based on family groups. In fact, "... a village is not so much a place where a given house or shop is located as the locus of a family, a festival, a garden, or a fish [farm], the major portion of the lives of many individuals, closely interlocked."
This concept of urban economic development flew squarely in the face of conventional economic wisdom. Harvard economic professor Michael Porter at the time had completed a study that concluded that Boston's inner city was ripe for economic development, that could only be realized if engineered by large private companies and the Harvard Business School. Dudley residents said "Thanks, but no thanks." They understood all too well that economic development does not necessarily result in economic power for residents. Rather than become subjects for another Harvard experiment, they chose to pursue a model of community-scale village economic development -- one that could successfully integrate social and economic goals.
Dudley's urban village provides a living example of how a community can successfully achieve social and economic goals while maintaining control over its destiny. Dudley Village is a model of an economically and environmentally sound neighborhood that nurtures human development.
It is a place where everyone living within it can get by without a car and do just fine with only one of them. Everyone living in the village is within a few blocks of a grocery store. In fact, there are a variety of places where one can purchase food. They range from ethnically-oriented specialty shops that offer fruits, vegetables and herbs critical to Cape Verdean, Latino and African American recipes, to open-air farmers markets (that operate from spring through fall), to two moderately- sized supermarkets. A three-acre farm located in the heart of the village provides these markets with much of their produce.
The village is also home to a variety of other stores and shops within walking distance including: drug stores, hardware stores, newsstands, clothing stores, restaurants, book stores, craft shops, consignment shops, and music stores.
One can also walk to get a haircut (or hairdo), suits tailored, shoes repaired, eyes examined, a cavity filled, a package mailed, hear and see live jazz, gospel and rock 'n' roll music, catch a play, grab a cup of coffee (and a doughnut), have the family pet spayed, play a game of basketball, sit in the park, go see a little league game, ride a bike safely, pick up a bus to go downtown or to Fenway Park., and go for a swim in the winter.
This multicultural urban village is a complex system of interacting people, environments, cultures and activities, the whole of which greatly exceeds the sum of its parts.
The economic backbone of the village is a network of small businesses. The success of many of these businesses depends upon pulling in dollars from outside of the Dudley community. People are attracted to Dudley because of the unique and exciting dining, shopping and cultural experiences it offers. Strolling the streets of Dudley Village one is exposed to a marvelously diverse menu of Cape Verdean, Latino, African American and European sights and sounds as well as a veritable cornucopia of food and drink to dazzle the palette.
In fact, Dudley Village has become one of Boston's major tourist attractions. Visitors from all across the country as well as abroad flock to Dorchester's historic Strand Theater for the annual Multicultural Performing Arts Festival to benefit the village's community centers.
A Community Development Loan Fund started back in 1997 and administered by a local community development corporation, fueled much of the small business development in the village. The fund was created in large part from the restructuring of a major loan, a few foundation grants and investments by local banks.
Two small-scale manufacturers -- a furniture maker and electronics company -- have also found homes in the Village. There's even a recording studio.
Artists of all kinds flock to the Village annually to perform at the Improv Jazz & Comedy Club (where the dynamic comic team "Greg and Clayton" got their start), dance at the reborn Elma Lewis Performing Arts Studio or sell their art work at the Village Artists' Loft.
The local cultural newspaper Village People has subscribers from all over the world. What began as a publication listing of local cultural events has expanded to include original fiction, poetry and art by Village residents.
The Village Human Service "Safety NETwork"
The human service agencies within the Dudley area re-assessed their programs in 1996 in anticipation of congressional welfare reform. Their efforts resulted in the creation of a model resident-driven family support service network that is now being emulated throughout the country.
Back in 1966, DSNI sponsored a "Community Roundtable" featuring the two candidates for U.S. Senate. The candidates were asked to come to the historic Strand Theater in Uphams Corner to hear from those who would be most affected by welfare proposals that were being considered by Congress. DSNI took advantage of this opportunity to launch a major voter registration drive throughout the neighborhood -- an attempt to re-engage residents in meaningful political processes.
Over the years prior to the establishment of the village, many Dudley residents had given up on a political process that they viewed as insensitive to the needs of their community. However, beginning with the first annual village "town meetings" in 1997, things began to change. Not only were members of the DSNI board of directors elected at these meetings every other year, but they also became the forum wherein issues and referenda were debated and decided upon. In 1998 for example, the village voted to invest in a major aquaculture farm and training facility for the village (see section on "Village Technological Innovation.")
Organizers took advantage of the huge turnouts at these meetings to reinforce their voter registration campaign. They reminded the village meeting members that the same resident-power that led to their control of their community could also have significant influence at the city, state and federal levels of government.
Village Technological Innovation
Dudley Village has become a mecca of sorts for urban technological innovation. While the initial phases of housing construction were rather conventional, the last 100 units that have been built have been models of resource-efficient, "safe" housing. These newer homes are now solarized and superinsulated -- all but eliminating the need for gas, oil or electric heating systems.
Innovative fish farms and greenhouses provide year-round fresh food for residents and employment opportunities as well. The mail order food business in the village is booming. The demand for Village "Homemade Sofrito" (made with Village-grown garlic, onions, and green, red and sweet peppers) always runs ahead of supply.
Village residents are even considering the feasibility of establishing stand-alone wastewater treatment systems to service the most recent housing developments. These systems use aquatic plants and animals to treat septage and sewage at a fraction of the cost of conventional systems.
The Virtual Village
DSNI's public-access Internet service (free to Dudley residents) has created a "virtual Dudley Village" that makes many of the Village's products and services available to millions of "browsers" on the World Wide Web. Orders for Gladys' Splendid Sofrito have come from as far away as Puerto Rico.
Computer terminals are located throughout the village for public use. By clicking on the Dudley Village Home Page, you can find out the schedules for movies, plays and concerts as well as take a glance at the menus of the restaurants throughout the area.
You can also click on an icon to view a multi-media history of the Dudley Street Neighborhood/Village. Look carefully and you'll see the origins of Dudley Village as a collective, resident-driven dream that was born more than twenty years ago. Through the years, this community has kept its "eyes on the prize."
And what a prize!
A village...with a family feeling
A welcome home where we get some healing
A place to drink some juice or herbal tea
With a theme of the month for all to see
A home for our village where people can play
And the rhythm of the seasons will mark each day
Where children will learn about their rights
And a place where there are no fights
Where we meet in a circle and go around
And everyone's voice can find its sound
Where we find a new way that comes from the heart
With an inclusive process right from the start
Where we respect one another and honor the earth
And all our relations through death and rebirth
A place where we help each other be strong
A place where we learn to change what's wrong
A place where we come to get involved
Where neighborhood problems can get resolved
With popular theater and cabaret
We'll show the world what we have to say
A place where we sing and dance together
Where festivals happen in inclement weather
Where people do yoga, aerobics, tai chi
And paint the pictures they want to see
Where everyone learns, regardless of age
And original plays are performed on the stage
Where fundraisers happen about every week
We'll work to help groups with the funding they seek
Where good food will be served in family style
And people will linger around for a while
A place where our spirits can freely roam
A place where we all can say, "Welcome home!"