Getting from Here to There

Transit advocates and CDCs in two parts of the greater Boston region are building cross-movement coalitions that are making equitable transit-oriented development a part of the fight for better transit access.

The Indigo Line

In 2004, four CDCs in Mattapan, Hyde Park, and Dorchester’s Uphams Corner and Codman Square launched a collaborative to coordinate their efforts around mixed-income housing development, access to jobs that pay a decent wage, and civic engagement. While they didn’t join the Indigo Line bandwagon as quickly as other activist groups in the area, they were quick to do so once they connected the potential of transit-oriented development with their existing goals. Many of the vacant or underused lots their neighborhoods are located adjacent to the commuter rail line in places where the line intersects major avenues. These lots have long been ripe for development, but the prospect of train stations at these locations created tantalizing new development opportunities for the CDCs and a chance for their neighborhoods to create stronger centers of activity.

To move forward, the CDCs and transit advocates realized they needed to present a united front to push the state toward a commitment to add several new stations. Later in 2004, the recently formed CDC collaborative joined the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition (GFCAC) and five other grassroots groups and nonprofits to form the Fairmount Coalition. In 2005, the state made a commitment to invest $44 million to build four new stations.

There are currently three major components to the Fairmount Coalition’s work. The CDCs emphasize dense, mixed-use development that can bring new jobs and affordable as well as market-rate housing. For example, in Four Corners the coalition is considering replacing one-story auto-oriented uses with three- to four-story buildings that have retail and housing. Most of the non-CDC partners organize residents around the issue of access to transit. Their priority has been to promote specific locations for the stations based on resident feedback. They are also pushing for appropriate station designs and frequent transit service. Meanwhile, a few partners have focused on building a greenway that will run in a narrow band along the rail corridor.

As a group, the Fairmount Coalition is committed to both good development and transit equity. Partners have had to be careful not to encroach on each other’s turf. “The key to success is to respect each neighborhood’s autonomy,” says Jeanne DuBois, executive director of the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation. The coalition has a memorandum of understanding that allows for an “escalation procedure” if the group needs to break a tie vote on an issue, an option they have yet to use. They also agreed at the start to respect each partner’s right to defend its own interests, without interference from the coalition. In practice, the partners have gone beyond that to actively support each other.

Together they called for the stations to be spread out to include stops in each CDC’s territory and insisted the four stations be designed as part of a single process. In 2007, GFCAC cried foul at the state for trying to launch the design process for their station ahead of the one in Codman Square. “We asked them to do all of the sites at the same time because it just makes sense,” Marvin Martin, director of the GFCAC, told the Dorchester Reporter. “But the [state] has only released money for [Four Corners]. We said . . . that we wouldn’t entertain their ideas if we don’t know where the Codman Square station is going to be placed.”

At the same time, the coalition also had to work out a system for distributing resources equally among partners, to avoid fissures in the group. Coalition members share a fundraiser to help distribute grant funds and organize meetings. The funding that this staff member raises is distributed equally among coalition partners, although some grants are targeted at the smaller coalition members for capacity building. The coalition has received over $3 million in foundation and government grants for operating support over four years.

It’s notable that this funding has included money for all 10 partners in the coalition to hire part-time organizers. This helps lay to rest the notion that CDCs are in it for the development only and the other groups are the ones interested in equity issues. “There’s always a tension between development and organizing,” says DuBois. “But there’s a cultural value shared between us.”

To ensure community buy-in for their development plans, the four CDCs put together a planning process in 2007 that looked at growth opportunities around the four station sites. Other planning efforts have been organized within individual neighborhoods. This fall the Southwest Boston CDC and 02136, a partner organization named for the Hyde Park zip code, launched a participatory planning effort for the greenway. It will eventually link all the communities, but for now planning is at the sub-neighborhood level.

DuBois says the new Indigo Line stations will generate 1,200 new housing units, almost 800,000 square feet of new commercial space, and 1,300 new jobs. She points to exciting new projects ahead, such as a green jobs incubator and the potential conversion of a former meat packing plant to a factory for solar panels. While the CDCs are still working in many places to win site control of key parcels, she notes that Dorchester Bay EDC is beginning to apply for federal economic stimulus money on behalf of the coalition to jump-start development projects around the rail line. The money would benefit other coalition members by providing infrastructure funding for the station areas, and benefit the CDC specifically by increasing the attractiveness of adjacent properties it has developed.

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