For the past five years, RCC and the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning have been collaborating in the field of Urban Studies, with a particular focus on inner city Boston issues of social justice and equitable development. This collaboration has grown to become an integral part of both the RCC Social Sciences Department and the MIT DUSP Special Program in Urban and Regional Studies (SPURS), which brings International Fellows to study for a year at MIT. For the past several years the Fellows have guest lectured at over 20 RCC classes per semester, and there have been regular joint seminars held both at RCC and at MIT. For example, in late February 2016, there was a well-attended workshop on Climate Change at RCC with MIT Fellows and RCC students, organized by Professor Nasreen Latif.
On February 25th, RCC hosted a meeting of Reclaim Roxbury, a joint project between Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson, MIT DUSP and RCC. Reclaim Roxbury is an ongoing community-driven effort that is working to build a new community based structure and process for Roxbury to respond to development pressures and the City of Boston’s planning processes. The goal of this effort is to enable the Roxbury community to have more influence over the future of our neighborhood.
Reclaim Roxbury began last spring with an MIT Practicum course during which students worked with Councilor Jackson to determine if the old Roxbury Master Plan needed to be revised in order to address the economic pressures on Roxbury that are contributing to severe gentrification and displacement of long-time residents. Participating in that class were two RCC students, Waller Finnagan and Amy Curran, who received RCC academic credit for their work in that MIT graduate-level course. The class confirmed that it was necessary for the Roxbury Master Plan to be revised and that community organizing was critical to success of that work. One of their recommendations was that RCC should play a key role as a hub for this work.
Reclaim Roxbury has continued this Fall and Spring with meetings to address planning in Roxbury and to understand the community’s concerns. During these meetings participants discussed the problem that development presents for the community and the opportunities that exist in Roxbury to address this problem. The February 2016 meeting at RCC was the next step in this process, with working groups developing strategies for governance, organizing, standards and information.
RCC President Roberson welcomed the community to the meeting, and she spoke to RCC’s critical role in training a highly-capable workforce for the growing opportunities in the Boston region. She stressed the importance of ensuring that local and minority residents have a role – and especially good jobs -- in the ongoing development here.
RCC students are playing a key part of this community effort. Students from Professor Foote’s Urban Studies class and Professor Latif’s Management and Urban Economics classes attended, as well as Professor Payne-Thompson’s State and Local Politics class. Councilor Jackson said several times how important it is to have younger residents be involved, and that the participation of our students is critical to the success of this project.
Professor Foote’s Urban Studies students are acting as facilitators for the working groups, doing research and data gathering as requested. One RCC student, Zhane’a Williams, was elected co-chair of the Standards working group. Other students are playing key leadership roles in their groups.
Reclaim Roxbury is planned to continue for the next two years, and all members of the RCC community are invited to participate. Roxbury is the geographic center of Boston, and is rapidly becoming a focus of development and gentrification. Left unchecked, market forces will displace poorer residents of Roxbury with higher rents and condominiums. This collaboration between Councilor Jackson, RCC and MIT-DUSP offers opportunities for pursuing ways in which well-planned development can benefit both the city of Boston and its poorest residents. This is a critical moment in our community and a great opportunity for both our institutions and for the community at large.
Authored by Professor Randall Foote, Professor of Social Sciences