BostonCAN and the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation organized a tour of the NDC’s Talbot-Norfolk Triangle on April 3 2015 to show off Boston’s first, community-driven Eco-Innovation District. The tour advanced our work on the city’s Climate Action Plan, created a new working relationship, and created openings for our gas leak campaign.
How this started: BostonCAN chairs the Neighborhoods Committee, which is trying to increase community engagement via Boston’s Climate Action Plan and move power to the neighborhoods. We’re collecting cases of city-community climate partnerships that work and some that don’t. The Talbot-Norfolk Triangle was a great place to show that climate work moves forward when the initiative comes from the bottom up.
TNT residents are confronting displacement, affordability, and jobs with climate tools. Some are starting to save money by retrofitting their homes; they’re planning energy-efficient, affordable housing; they’re creating community gardens, playgrounds, a small urban farm; and they are checking out community solar installations to keep money and power in their neighborhood.
A recent study by BU and the NDC found that the TNT and surrounding area is under growing pressure from Boston’s voracious real estate industry. Families, there since the 1980s and linked by family and neighborhood ties, are hitting retirement age. The scarcity of good jobs makes it hard for children and neighbors to buy them out. Suburban realtors are moving in and offering cash for homes. Absentee owners and foreclosure speculators are raising rents to levels people can’t afford. With South Station now 12 minutes away by commuter rail, TNT’s residents could rapidly be priced out of their neighborhood.
The NDC framed the tour with community stabilization, and the need became obvious as we traveled down New England Avenue with its vacant lots lining the train tracks. Residents insisted that 19 new housing units on those lots include houses and condos people can buy, not just rent. The NDC is looking for job-generating businesses so residents can afford to live on the street. The neighborhood is seeking stability so it’s developing resiliency, the capacity to shape its future in the face of runaway markets and climate.
We invited community development corporations to tour TNT, hoping they’d pick up on this pioneering project and talk about similar work they’re doing. We invited city staff to see how neighborhoods can lead climate work. The NDC was delighted that Austin Blackmon, Boston’s new environment chief, came. And we learned that:
- The BRA, Department of Neighborhood Development, and semi-public agencies like LISC (the Local Initiative Support Corporation) have made important contributions to TNT.
- Some BRA staffers are doing great community climate work – for example, building energy-positive housing (which generates more power than it consumes) as demonstration projects to show that people can make their homes more energy-efficient – affordably.
- Communities of color and working class communities can take up climate work when it helps solve their urgent problems.
There’s more to do. Few CDCs attended, though NDC staff think the word will spread about this tour and more will come on another tour in the fall. We want to draw in city departments that don’t “get” climate and let them see what’s possible. More time to exchange experiences and lessons would be great.
What’s next? The Neighborhoods Committee wants to tour East Boston next and profile NOAH’s work on sea level rise. That’ll focus more on community engagement than the TNT tour – how do you involve residents on climate, what works, what have others done. And after that, why not a gas leaks patrol as a strategy for community engagement? Chief Blackmon wants to come to a patrol and it’d be a good way to interest more community organizations.
We will also pursue our budding relationship with the Codman Square NDC, whose director wants to work together.