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Dudley festival places focus on area’s changes

Micah Nemiroff
Dudley festival places focus on area’s changes
There were hot dogs served (below), visions of the future painted (above) and concerns about development raised at last Saturday’s “EJ in the ’Hood” festival, held in Dudley Square by local nonprofit organization Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE). For the first time, the festival was held outdoors, with the newly gutted Ferdinand’s and Guscott buildings providing a reminder of the area’s changing face. (Photo: courtesy of Alternatives for Community and Environment)

“ACE and City Life recognize that [the Ferdinand’s and Guscott redevelopment] could be the impetus for creating a lot of displacement in the neighborhood,” she said.

City Councilor Chuck Turner said in a phone interview that the fears of some area residents — that rising rents could price out community members — are legitimate.

“I pay $1,000 for a 700-square-foot place,” he said. “Rents are rising around the area, and with new development around the area, there is significant pressure to raise the rents, so the concerns are valid ones.”

Dana Whiteside, project manager for the Dudley Square Vision Project launched by Mayor Thomas M. Menino last June, said the city acknowledges these economic realities, and hopes local business owners who fear being pushed out of Roxbury will utilize the city’s resources.

“How do you get a business to stay? You make sure every business owner knows every city-run program that gives them access to funding, technical services and partnerships,” said Whiteside, deputy director for community economic development at the BRA. “We can’t control rents and no guarantees are made, but we can influence the way business owners participate in any change that is going to be made.”

Another common fear is that the new development will not reflect the desire or will of the community.

“I’m really hoping the city does not move too quickly with the development,” said ACE’s Smalls. “If the community here right now is not involved in the development talk, then there is no way for them to talk about what they want.”

But Turner, whose council district includes large parts of Roxbury, insists that the development process in Dudley Square has been “unusually open” and that community members have been invited to participate.

“The Roxbury Master Planning and Oversight Committee has meetings regularly [on] Mondays that are open to the public,” he said.

Fostering increased participation in political processes like such meetings was a key goal of this year’s outreach festival, Smalls said.

“Our fear is the community is going to get better, is going to get improved and revitalized in certain ways, [and] then the members who have held down the businesses and homes are going to get pushed out,” she said.