Upham's Corner Online

Commitment to Community - Rebuilding our Neighborhoods
April 5, 2011 @ Thomas Atkins Building

Posted: April 21, 2011     Nancy J Conrad

The second Commitment to Community meeting was held April 5, 2011 at the Thomas Atkins Building, 233 Blue Hill Ave. 

Rep. Henriquez opened the meeting by talking about his vision for the neighborhood where he grew up.  Residents called for an improved quality of life.  Yes, the topics of crime and crime prevention came up but overall, the meeting focused on rebuilding the neighborhoods:
  • Reclaiming the neighborhoods
  • Getting to know neighbors
  • Establishing trust relationships
  • Garnering the right businesses and community functions
Rep. Henriquez:  "I am from this neighborhood.  All you have to do is walk down Blue Hill Avenue to see the many issues facing this neighborhood.  We all have been working on the issues for quite some time.  Last year I talked to a reporter and called this the new combat zone." 

[The Phoenix Oct 20, 2010 - The New Combat Zone?]

His approach is interesting.  He represents state government and we might easily imagine him seeking funding for issues in this area of Dorchester that abuts Roxbury.  His approach, he says, "Starts with the people living here.  I want to find out how we as residents can start the process of reclaiming our neighborhoods before we get other groups involved." 
Businesses are key

Businesses are key is because we need to begin to look at business and land development in our neighborhood.  Take a look at Jamaica Plain as an example.  You can walk for one mile and find your bank, your pharmacy, your grocery store.  You can take your kids out for ice cream.  Having attractive, community-oriented businesses ensures there are good people outside at night walking down the street.  

Here on Blue Hill Avenue, we do not have the same level of businesses so we do not find as many people walking down the street to go to stores.  When we are not on the street, that's when the streetscape is taken over by the bad elements. Some business owners have been proactive in creating an environment that is not conducive to crime. If we combine what residents are looking for as well as the businesses, then we will be able to gain control over our neighborhood.

Merengue restaurant, 160 Blue Hill Ave, is out there every day cleaning the sidewalks.  He sweeps several times a day, hoses down the sidewalks, installed cameras outside for safety has been able to help the police when there are issues.  On top of that,it's a wonderful restaurant.

Liriano's Market has been involved in the community process.  They've come to a lot of meetings and have listened to the issues the residents are facing.
Residents equally important

Brothers for Boston, a group led by Cornell Mills, consists of (mostly) men and some women who have banded together to show solidarity.  "This is our neighborhood," said Mills.  "Let's claim it for ourselves, and let's take care of it like it's ours." 

On April 3, 2011 this group of about 50 people marched from Grove Hall to Dudley Square.  Brothers for Boston serves as a model of how we can get involved, be seen, establish meaningful relationships and begin to make a difference in our community.

In the more affluent neighborhoods of Boston, residents know they have political clout.  They attend neighborhood meetings and they don't hesitate to call their city and state reps on any issue. 

Rep. Henriquez recalls a time when he worked for Councilor Flaherty.  He received many phone calls on issues that were important to those constituents but whose issues didn't come close to the severity of the problems on Blue Hill Avenue. 

The city of Boston reacts to its residents based on how loudly they speak. 

Rep. Henriquez:  "I want that message to come from us.  My office may be initiating petitions and we will be asking you to sign onto them.  With enough signatures we can turn it into the police department or the Mayor's office and make a difference.  That will allow us to take control of some of the activities taking place in neighborhoods that we don't want."
Neighborhood development

The vacant lots and storefronts under the right plan can be converted into the businesses we need.  We don't need more beauty salons, churches, nails salons and barbershops. 

  • What we need are banks, pharmacies, bookstores. 
  • We need locally owned businesses and we need diversity. 
Adding businesses that are "investments" by companies over which we have no control or owned by outsiders defeats the goal of true economic redevelopment for our neighborhoods.
Crime and Crime Prevention

For neighborhoods overcome with crime, nighttime vandalism, car thefts and  drugs and guns, frustrated residents cry out: "Do something about this.  Lock them up.  Get them off the streets." 

Rep. Henriquez pointed out that incarceration is not the solution to our problems. 

It is well known that one in three black men in Boston will spend time in jail.  What sense does this make?  Crime on the streets is reflective of a deeper economic crisis.  People feel they have no choice.  They are cornered by a lack of money.  Yes they make choices to go into crime but it may not be their first choice. 

If we really want to clean up the prostitution, drugs and guns on Blue Hill Avenue, we need to come out with solidarity but also with the right  support services. 

The state of Rhode Island has a very effective program for dealing with prostitution which is not just punitive.  Prevention is important but so is intervention.  Putting health vans on the street and offering ways out of the cycles of crime is equally if not more important. 

Residents make comments

Resident: Three families on Brookford Street who had just purchased homes as part of the DSNI housing development, worked with the Boston Police Department to form the Area 324 Neighborhood Watch group. 

Over the last couple years,, as they established tight relationships, they became more aware of how isolated the families are in the neighborhood. 
  • They don't know each other
  • They don't talk to each other
  • They don't trust each other.
Rep. Henriquez:  "I grew up in this neighborhood and everybody knew everybody.  We played kickball and dodgeball in the streets.  My parents knew my friends' parents.  Streetlights were on when we were home.  I would really like us to get back to that. 

I know I can't do that from the statehouse.  It has to be an individually led the charge.  Introducing yourself to others, saying hi when you pass each other on the street or just walking down to corner store and asking the name of the owner.  This is what changes neighborhoods.  If you know the owner of the store, that builds relationships.  If you see a problem that you don't like in that store, you might be able to have a conversation with the owner and vice versa.

Resident:  I'd like to see a bookstore in our neighborhood.

Rep.  Henriquez:  "A lot of times we wait for the experts to tell us what we need in neighborhoods when we really are the experts.  One of the challenges coming from low income poor neighborhoods is that we are so busy trying to make ends meet, we don't always have time to advocate for ourselves. 

But it's still true:  the squeaky wheel does get the oil.  Keep a list of contact numbers by your phone, in your phone:  my office, Tito Jackson's office, the city counselors at large.

Hearing from you allows us to prioritize what working on.   I would love to hear from you.  I would also like to hear from your neighbors.  Don't hesitate to spread the word. 

Resident:  What about the Main Street organizations?  Should they determine what businesses come to our neighborhoods?  I would like the voices of the residents to be really loud in this development process.

Rep. Henriquez: I'll echo that. 

Resident: What about jobs int the neighborhood?  I have been trying to find a job forever and nobody will give me one.  I want to work. I keep trying.

Resident: I would be so nice if we had a local jobs clearinghouse online.  That could be the basis for networking with everyone in the community looking to get a job.  We could also use this as a basis for job training so that those who want to work can demonstrate certification in jobs skills.

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