April 1, 2021
Last September, the real estate developer Accordia Partners LLC submitted plans to the Boston Planning Development Agency (BPDA) to create “Dorchester Bay City” (DBC), a mixed-use project featuring nearly six million square feet of new building –roughly the size of two Empire State Buildings on land located between the JFK/UMass stop, Harbor Point, and Carson Beach.
The proposal is a brash attempt to occupy the city’s last significant piece of waterfront and reflects the fact that Boston’s urban development model has long favored developers at the expense of local communities.
The proposal would be problematic under any circumstances, but it is inexcusable in a year that saw calls for racial justice sharpen as a pandemic-driven crisis worsened inequality. If 2020 taught us anything, it is that any discussion about racial justice in Boston must confront a housing crisis that makes living in the city unaffordable for so many. Yet, DBC represents business as usual, promising to intensify racial and economic inequality instead of lessening it.
It has woefully inadequate affordable housing, while paying no attention to its potential impact on housing costs in a rare area of the city still populated by a diverse working class whose majority remains people of color. It seems destined to exclude working Bostonians from its confines, while serving to displace residents of Dorchester as its rent-intensifying impact gentrifies the area.
It is also a transportation nightmare. With little concern to transit issues, DBC would add more than 1,700 housing units (and massive retail office space) to an area that faces some of the region’s worst transit problems. Bostonians would not only be financing transit upgrades, however; they will also likely be on the hook for a significant portion of the public subsidies required to protect the development from climate change related to sea-level rise.
Indeed, at first glance, DBC looks just like another example of private interests driving gentrification. Yet, DBC not only relies on public coffers, but it also will occupy public land owned by the University of Massachusetts Building Authority. This makes the lack of community-generating institutions like schools, daycares, senior centers, and libraries all the more troubling, and suggests that this “city” is for professionals for whom “public” space means high-end coffee shops and restaurants. Think Seaport District.
Accordia has limited community voices by holding highly orchestrated meetings to ostensibly gather the public input required for approval. In reality, the developer has shared little meaningful information with hand-picked community organizations that were predisposed to support the project. All the while, the BDPA facilitated the “vetting” process while UMass Boston looks to collect hundreds of millions of dollars while washing its hands of any responsibility for a project that will reshape the region.
Accordia has its powerful ducks in a row, which has served to largely silence grassroots opposition.
With city powerholders lining up behind deep-pocketed developers, “community input” (at best) allows the working people whose homes and livelihoods are at stake the ability to get in front of the development steamroller and negotiate the best possible terms of their defeat.
No one is suggesting that DBC should be stopped, or even that publicly regulated development should serve the people of Boston instead of facilitating the upward distribution of wealth. That would be too much to expect from a rigged system.
What we need from a moment defined by racial justice and economic inequality is a modicum of regulation in order to shape development in ways that serve Bostonians. We need community engagement and state intervention that will increase affordable housing, slow displacement, generate quality jobs, facilitate community, and produce other public goods that will have little impact on the developer’s pocketbook, but will (perhaps) slow the increasing rate of inequality that threatens the very fabric of Boston.
The writer, a resident of Dorchester, teaches at UMass Boston and is the co-editor of “Organizing for Power: Building a Twenty-First Century Labor Movement in Boston.”