Community activists brought a Glover’s Corner planning meeting to a dramatic halt last Wednesday night, interrupting a city-led transportation discussion to speak out about displacement and call for a moratorium until they were satisfied that the process would adequately include community input.
The meeting at the IBEW union hall on Freeport Street was a scheduled transit-focused workshop building on a series of public meetings, walkabouts, comment periods, and other workshops since the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s “PLAN: Glover’s Corner” study got under way in January.
At the 40-minute mark, as officials explained the connection between land use and transportation planning, Dorchester resident Ngoc-Tran Vu quietly walked up to the front of the hall, took the microphone, and began speaking.
“I am here with many voices and people of the community who are feeling left out of this planning process,” the Vietnamese artist from Fields Corner said. She and others called for “development without displacement.”
Dozens of attendees then left their chairs and gathered around the room, bearing signs reading “Don’t Displace Boston Residents,” “Dorchester Is More Than Money,” and the protesting collective’s name: “Dorchester Not For Sale.”
Mimi Ramos, director of the Dorchester-based advocacy group New England United for Justice, said, “We have been coming together as one community under one Dorchester because we care about our neighborhood. We care about the future and the direction that Dorchester takes and let’s be clear: We don’t want to just come to meetings so that you have our names and information on a sign-in sheet. We want a real process, we want real decisions, because it is our community.”
The group has been meeting since the spring and includes local organizations like the Asian American Resource Workshop, Dorchester People for Peace, the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA), and CityLife/Vida Urbana. After an October meeting with BPDA staff and subsequent letters in November did not garner satisfactory — or any— response, they decided Wednesday’s action was a necessary attention-grabbing move.
“We need to slow down this planning process,” Vu said. “We want a six-month moratorium on this planning process to have more time to engage and learn about the future of Dorchester together.”
Along with the moratorium, they said they want detailed data and data analysis on the area’s demographics and potential impact before moving forward with conversations. They also asked for interpreters, food, and childcare at all future BPDA-sponsored Glover’s Corner meetings.
Lara Mérida, BPDA deputy director for community planning, spoke after the protestors were finished with their presentation. “I think we’re here all for the same reason,” she said, “and I know workshops are tough.”
She said the agency had been trying to bring in people from the community to the meetings and were still working on assessing the data, adding, “So I think what we need to do is to keep having these conversations together, and we’re all at the table, we all have the same goal of wanting to make sure we’re making an equitable neighborhood that’s right for everyone and gives people choices.”
After the meeting, she said, “A moratorium is tricky because we’re all trying to learn from each other. I wouldn’t want to have a moratorium on talking.”
Dissatisfied with that response, the dissenters filed out of the room.
City Councillor Frank Baker spoke to those who remained in the hall, apologizing for the disruption and making a case for development along the largely industrial swath of Dorchester Avenue.
“We have a real opportunity in front of us,” he said, “a real opportunity to look at transportation options, to look at jobs, jobs training. We’re looking at the future here. We’re planning the future of Dorchester, and as far as I can see, it’s pretty transparent.”
Baker and planners said they hoped those who showed up to protest would return and participate in the process going forward.
Some who were at the meeting to discuss the transit-specific concerns were distressed by the protest. One elderly Vietnamese man gestured at the vacated tables, and asked the activists to “sit down and talk. Sit down at the table. You want a voice?”
A number of the Dorchester Not For Sale members are frequent faces at planning meetings and Glover’s Corner project gatherings. Long-time neighborhood advocates Janet Jones and Davida Andelman said the city has not been responsive or inclusive enough with the community.
“At all the other meetings I’ve been concerned about development and overdevelopment, starting with DotBlock,” Jones said, referring to the mixed-use project planned for a prominent Glover’s Corner site and included in the city study area. She said they want to see “serious affordability, really good jobs, no displacement, open space.”
They are not responding to a particular proposed affordable housing level, she said, as the planning discussions have not reached that stage, but she cited the success of advocates around the JP/Rox planning study as a model. In its final form, the JP/Rox plan slated 40 percent of future development to be affordable.
Barbara Rice, a community organizer with MAHA, said in an interview on Thursday that the affordable housing group has been working with Dorchester Not For Sale because many of its homebuyer program graduates are unable to find housing in the neighborhoods or city they’ve long called home.
“One of MAHA’s missions is to promote affordable non-discriminatory home ownership opportunities,” she said, “and we want to see the development in Glover’s Corner, and Boston, to have homeownership opportunities that are affordable to graduates of MAHA’s classes.”
At an October workshop — the first meant to drill down into priority areas of land use, housing, jobs, and transit identified in prior meetings — attendees identified areas where they would like to see varying types of land use. The pie chart drawn from the meeting “will inform the conversation,” as would any feedback offered in subsequent workshops, BPDA senior planner Viktorija Abolina said.
Vivian Ortiz of Mattapan Food and Fitness was at Wednesday’s meeting to observe and take cues from this planning process in anticipation of major development coming to Mattapan.
Standing in the foyer after the protesters disperse, Ortiz said she was “torn” by the proceedings “because I totally want to be with them and want to get information of how it was that they were able to [organize], but at the same time I really wanted to talk about the fact that we need to make Dorchester Avenue a much safer place for everyone to bike and walk.”
About one-third of the original attendees remained in the hall and resumed the planned discussion and small group activities. Abolina said they would return to the transportation topic in the future, and a meeting specifically on housing is planned for Jan. 10.