Things I learned about Roxbury

At Madison Park Community Development Corporation‘s evening titled “We Saved a Community”:

  • Lower Roxbury is not called “lower” because it’s to the south (it’s actually north of the rest of Roxbury). The BRA named it “lower” because it is flat. “That’s why you have a redevelopment authority, so it can rename areas of the city,” one panelist observed.
  • Being flat, this part of Roxbury always had trouble with flooding, so rich people have never lived there. In the early part of the last century, it was filled with poor white factory workers; later, every immigrant community that came to Boston moved through Roxbury.
  • Ray Flynn was the first Irish mayor of Boston who hailed from South Boston. The previous Irish mayors were all from Roxbury.
  • The amazing Byron Rushing: “White flight” was a flight not from black people but from the city itself. It happened as working-class white people were able for the first time to obtain mortgages in the newly created suburbs (blacks, of course, were redlined). As whites moved out, people of color poured in to their vacated housing, resulting in a spike in the percentage of black people in Boston. White power got nervous: “Gotta get whites back into the city!” Thus was born urban renewal.
  • When the urban renewal of downtown didn’t take off, the city turned to “cleaning up” Roxbury. How? They cut off city services, resulting in Dudley’s being choked with trash. They planned a huge high school that would take up 35 acres, serve 5,500 students, and destroy housing for hundreds of people. And, at the same time, plans were moving forward for a highway that would also destroy housing and cut Roxbury off from surrounding neighborhoods.
  • Columbus Street used to be a thriving business district, bustling with “gas stations, garment factories, pickle factories, plumbing supplies.” If you lost your job, one panelist said, “you could go walk down the street and get another one. They destroyed the economy of this community.”
  • It’s a measure of my own isolation that I had never heard the phrase “Urban renewal is urban removal” until Wednesday night.