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Boston neighborhoods reveal changing city

Savin Hill, Hyde Park see increase in Black, Latino, Asian populations, corresponding political changes

Melissa Ellin and Vishal Venkatesh

Political dynamics are shifting in Hyde Park and Dorchester’s Savin Hill enclave as both neighborhoods diversify, multiple community members said.

An analysis of racial and ethnic demographic changes in the voting precincts overlapping Hyde Park and Savin Hill found that the Asian population, while small, has increased by 25.9% for Savin Hill’s Ward 13, Precinct 10, while the white population declined by more than 20% in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, in Hyde Park’s politically dominant, conservative-voting Readville and Fairmount neighborhoods, the white population dropped by more than 50% and now makes up little more than one-third of the residents there.

Stephen McBride, who moved to Savin Hill three years ago and ran for the District 3 city council seat in the most recent election, said language may be a barrier to the large Vietnamese and Cape Verdean communities participating in politics.

“You have many folks who either may not speak English, may not speak English well, and so making sure that you can engage with those folks for whatever means and in a way that they can understand is important,” McBride said.

McBride said he wants to introduce new voices into the political conversations going forward.

“There’s folks that are hungry for change, that have an appetite for a more progressive style of politics,” McBride said. The question now, he said, is “How do we get that energy and centralize it and bring folks together to really empower us in two years?”

During his campaign, McBride said, he focused on engaging the community so that all voices were heard on election day, but he did not have much opportunity to engage his opponent, Frank Baker, the incumbent who won the vote. McBride said he wished Baker’s policies reflected more of the change people he spoke with asked for.

“I never saw a vision of policy,” McBride said. “I never saw anything substantial to be changed.”

Mike Szkolka, who has lived in and out of Savin Hill since his childhood, said one of his main goals as president of the Savin Hill Civic Association is getting people involved in the neighborhood, so he understands how difficult it can be to engage. However, he said he has not seen a political effort to get less-involved community members active.

“I’d say that everyone knows that it impacts them,” Szkolka said. “I’m not sure that anyone has ever made a really good pitch to say, ‘It impacts you, you can make change, you can do things.’”

Hyde Park

Like Savin Hill, Hyde Park’s population has undergone significant changes. Between 2010 and 2020, the neighborhood’s Black population increased by 18.7%, while the white population decreased by 17.2%.

State Rep. Rob Consalvo, who grew up in Hyde Park, has worked in city government and served as a City Councilor and now represents the 14th Suffolk District. He said the neighborhood has seen a great deal of change over the years.

“This community is much more diverse now,” Consalvo said, “with multiple voices being heard and with multiple people and voices having a seat at the table.”

Consalvo said civic and political engagement in Hyde Park is immense, and the neighborhood typically has a large voter turnout. As the population changes, Consalvo said he adjusts his policies to meet community needs.

“All of these investments — the racial justice forum, the first-ever Juneteenth celebration, Councilor [Ricardo] Arroyo’s efforts, which I applaud, in bringing a brand new health center to Hyde Park for the first time ever — are all things that are being driven by the diversity of this community,” Consalvo said.

Tanisha Sullivan, an elected member of the Ward 18 Democratic Committee, said that as a voter and resident of Hyde Park, she noticed a change in Consalvo’s campaigning, particularly in the 2020 election. Election topics included housing security and racial equity, Sullivan said, which she thinks were brought into the conversation because of demographic changes.

“[Consalvo] had to respond to that on the campaign trail and had to have a vision and a plan for each of those areas that the voters had clearly identified as issues of concern,” said Sullivan, who is president of the NAACP Boston Branch.

Jose Masso, a longtime Hyde Park resident and community activist, said the government as a whole is changing its agenda. He said the focus is no longer just “good jobs and good wages.”

“Now it’s ‘all of the above,’” said Masso, a producer at WBUR. “We want to make sure the education system is at the best level for everybody, including the children from our communities. We want to make sure that our health care is providing the type of health care that we need.”

For any neighborhood to thrive, Masso said, all sectors of the community — public, private, cultural and nonprofit — must work together. He used the metaphor of a four-legged stool, with each leg supporting the Hyde Park community.

“If one of those legs falls off, the stool is gonna tip over,” Masso said. “They all have to collaborate and be connected to each other. The same way you see a stool having a connecting piece of wood that connects all four legs, so they have to see themselves that way.”

Dorchester, hyde park, Savin Hill