‘Urban village’ eyed for Uphams Corner

By 
David Eisenstadter, Special to the Reporter
Mar. 6, 2014

A correction has been appended to this article.

A rendering included in a draft report of the BRA’s Fairmount Indigo Planning Initiative depicts improvements to the streetscape along Dudley Street looking west towards the Uphams Corner station. 	Image courtesy BRAA rendering included in a draft report of the BRA’s Fairmount Indigo Planning Initiative depicts improvements to the streetscape along Dudley Street looking west towards the Uphams Corner station. Image courtesy BRA

At an open house held last Wednesday in the in the Salvation Army Kroc Center, the Uphams Corner neighborhood’s shining example of urban redevelopment, officials from the Boston Redevelopment Authority presented a draft plan for a number of new projects in the area.

Dozens of residents walked from station to station, learning about the various types of redevelopment planned and were encouraged to offer their own advice and comments on the project. The open house represented the kickoff of a 14-day comment period for the community.

“I like it this way rather than sitting down and listening to someone talk,” said Dorchester Bay Youth Force member Tarak Scott. The 17-year-old Scott and fellow Youth Force member Ashley Delva, 16, shared ideas for what could become of the neighborhood. “I think this project can build a stronger community,” Delva said. “When you have connections to people in your area, it’s easier to live there.”

The draft proposal includes improvement plans in six areas – business, housing, transportation, parks and public space, quality of life, and the creation of a unique sense of place. Dozens of properties within a half-mile radius of the Uphams Corner Station were identified as possibilities for development in one or more of those areas.

The plans on display involved over a year of work with a mayor-appointed Working Advisory Group made up of local residents. “We’ll be taking all the comments from tonight and folding that into the final report,” said Josh Fiala, an associate urban designer and architect at The Cecil Group who was answering residents’ questions. “At the conclusion we will have one final Working Advisory Group meeting to look at the final report.”

Fiala, who was assisted by interpreters such as Dorchester resident Yolanda Cruz, who spoke to residents in Cape Verdean, added that other groups were looking at neighborhoods along the entire corridor of the MBTA Fairmount Indigo commuter line, which connects Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park to South Station.

Kenya Thompson, an urban and landscape designer with the BRA, said she was surprised to hear an interest in community gardens and urban agriculture from multiple residents. “Urban agriculture is becoming bigger – that is a new trend coming up,” she said.

Emily Torres-Cullinane of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council said her organization assisted with planning for the project, adding that the open house was about giving residents a voice in the project. “This is not so much about ‘This is the plan’ and review what’s collected; it’s about empowering people so they have an opportunity to see themselves in the plan,” she said.

Joanne Tuller, a member of the Uphams Corner Westside Neighborhood Association who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, said she came to the open house because she had not followed the project and wanted to see what it was all about.

When the Fairmount Line opened in the 1980s, she said, T did not publicize it enough. “Even today, people in the neighborhood may not know what a boon it is. You can get to South Station in 10 minutes.” Tuller would like to see more use of the trains and a large sign publicizing the line’s convenience.

For Kenny Gerald, safety and community beautification are aspects he hopes to see incorporated into the project. But beyond that, he said, he hopes the additional construction can help address unemployment issues in the area. “That’s the most important thing,” he said, “bringing work to the neighborhood – and that the people who live in the neighborhood get the work.”

One project that may happen soon has to do with the city-owned Maxwell property on East Cottage Street at the intersection with the tracks of the Fairmount Line. Harold “Hal” Cohen, the former owner of the property, came by the open house and said he was excited about the plan to construct housing and light commercial on the property, a project that Fiala said could move forward this calendar year. Cohen said he had never seen such a large project and said that it was needed because some of the area is run-down. “It’s very exciting – it’s urban renewal at its finest,” he said.

Gail Latimore of the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, Rosanne Foley of Fields Corner Main Street, and Jeanne DuBois of Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation all said a big concern with the project is displacement.

“As we have worked hard to bring these benefits to our community, we want to be sure that the residents who have fought hard, the long-term residents, are able to stay and enjoy the benefits,” Latimore said. Foley added that the Fairmount Line is getting to a point where it is adequately serving the community by running additional trains and keeping the price low.

For DuBois, creating more housing, more parking for Strand Theatre events , green spaces, and an improved business district could make the neighborhood more attractive. “What we’re talking about is making Uphams Corner feel like an urban village,” DuBois said. “We have all the bones but we could make it more exciting.”

CORRECTION: There is a 14-day comment period. This article originally had an incorrect time period for comments.