Last Wednesday, the DUSP team presented their work to Viet-AID´s Board of Directors and staff, members of other organizations from the area (including Green Dorchester, Fields Corner Main Streets and MAPC) and a couple of community members. After more than three months of research and analysis, the students explained their proposals to achieve a more sustainable and equitable neighborhood in Fields Corner.
Following a brief explanation of the guiding principles for their work (the ‘sustainability framework’) and a summary of their key findings about the current state of the neighborhood, DUSP students went on to describe their proposals in four key areas: Existing Housing, New Housing, Economic Development and the Public Realm. For each area, they identified short-term and long-term strategies, as well as the role Viet-AID could play in pursuing those ideas and which other groups and organizations it could partner with for each proposal.
The discussion that followed shed light on several interesting points. First, the question of who has the capacity to implement the proposals. Some of them -such as the construction of new affordable housing- could be directly undertaken by Viet-AID, while for others, Viet-AID would need to partner with other organizations. Furthermore, in the case of most Public Realm proposals, Viet-AID’s role would be to foster a conversation within the community about the desired changes, to then help it mobilize to push city agencies to undertake the projects.
Also important was the conversation about housing affordability levels. Some people had expressed concerns about “bringing in poor people to the neighborhood” by creating more affordable housing units. However, as Dan explained in his presentation, given that the average renting household in Fields Corner has an annual income of $33,500, new affordable housing would serve incomes already well represented in the neighborhood, and in fact would help prevent displacement for existing residents.
Another interesting debate revolved around the issue of parking. Evelyn, from Fields Corner Main Streets, pointed out that parking was one of the main concerns in the neighborhood, and that reducing the number of parking spaces would be highly controversial. This comment fostered a debate about how realistic the plan was. But as Jim and others pointed out, this plan is an opportunity for Fields Corner in general, and Viet-AID in particular, to think about the issues facing the neighborhood within a broader picture and to create a path towards a more sustainable and equitable neighborhood. Understanding the connections among issues is crucial to solve them: if people are concerned about air quality and asthma rates in the neighborhood, it is important to open the debate about the amount of parking that is needed in an inner city neighborhood with great access to public transportation.
Throughout the semester, we have struggled in class to define a conceptual and practical sustainability framework for our analysis and proposals. We have long discussed what sustainability means at the local level, at the neighborhood scale. From the feedback we got on Wednesday, it was clear how difficult and slow change is, but also how important it is to work with communities and local organizations in order to pursue it.
You can check out the final presentation here, the full report will be ready very soon.