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Boston’s Bartlett Square: A creative village is key to anti-gentrification effort


By David Price, Executive Director and David Bresnahan, Director of Resource Development and Marketing, Nuestra Comunidad

Challenge: Roxbury, once a crime-ridden, blighted neighborhood in the center of Boston, is rapidly transforming thanks to a number of ambitious redevelopment projects. But the home to mostly black, Hispanic and Asian communities is also still one of the city’s poorest areas and many residents and businesses fear being pushed out in the transition. Roxbury’s fast-changing commercial hub includes an eight-acre abandoned bus yard, a wasteland of crumbling warehouses and weeds that could provide critically needed space for mixed-income housing and local businesses that will curb displacement and stabilize the community.

A dancer performing in the street as a large crowd looks on.

Story:  Boston is filled with creative people, but many can’t afford to live near their jobs, friends and social activities. The surge of urban renewal around Roxbury may bring many improvements, but it also means those in Boston’s geographic heart face the increasing threat of displacement. Nuestra Comunidad, a community development corporation with a 35-year history in the area, has teamed up with the local minority-owned Windale Developers to create an innovative urban-mixed use project to satisfy the growing need for affordable housing and retail and public space.

The new Bartlett Place development is central to the anti-gentrification efforts of Nuestra Comunidad, which has successfully promoted effective renewal in Roxbury and nearby Boston neighborhoods. Before the project broke ground, Nuestra Comunidad held a mural festival and public space project with local artists to depict their hopes for the neighborhood, it was attended by more than 3000 people.

The eight-acre “creative village” will transform an urban wasteland into a modern, sustainable expanse with affordable rental, for-sale and senior housing, retail and restaurant space and a public square. It is designed to draw creative people from all walks of life -- science, technology, arts, business and education -- by offering better quality and value than in other neighborhoods popular with Boston’s young innovators and creators.

Bartlett Place will be made up of 323 homes, including 194 apartments and 129 for-sale homes, affordable to families at a range of incomes. The new homeowners will gain $500 million in equity over 20 years. The project will generate 150 permanent jobs and approximately 900 construction jobs, with more than 60 percent going to workers of color. Construction is slated to begin in 2016 and is expected to be complete in 2021.

A blueprint of Bartlett Place, a housing complex built by Nuestra Comunidad.A Public Plaza for Fostering the Arts and Commerce
The centerpiece of the new neighborhood will be a large public plaza that taps into Roxbury’s richly diverse and artistic community. There locals and the broader community can enjoy art installations and performances throughout the year. Bartlett Place will bring together visual artists, ranging from street sculpture to murals, creations by artists-in-residence for shoppers to view or join in the creative process; rotating visual arts displays; and diverse performance programming encompassing music, singing, theater and dance. Live-work space and the rich arts environment will attract artists and other creative people.

An important component of Bartlett Place’s cultural and economic impact will be the Conservatory Lab Charter School. Conservatory Lab Charter School, one of Boston’s best performing charter schools, incorporates a music and performance-focused curriculum will place emphasis on drawing students from Roxbury. The new school at Bartlett Place will include two new performance venues for community use and attract an estimated 4,000 concert attendees per year. The facility will serve 300 local children through an after school music program and will be open at night and on weekends as a community center offering music rehearsal and performance space among other programming. The school will help create a vibrant music and arts scene, draw customers for small local businesses, spend significant dollars on local purchasing and support the timely development of promised housing and business opportunities.

A Public Market and Shops
Weekends in Bartlett Place will feature a bustling public market offering diverse goods from artists, craft vendors and farmers. The market will be held outside for three seasons and move indoors during the winter. The development is designed to attract new customers to the local shops in Bartlett Place, which bridges Roxbury’s bustling Dudley Square and the adjoining the historic Fort Hill and Tommy’s Rock communities.

Green Design
In keeping with Nuestra Comunidad’s mission, Bartlett Place will be a green neighborhood featuring innovative energy technology and sustainability practices that will draw environmentally-conscious renters, homebuyers and businesses. The homes will be LEED-certifiable for new housing and commercial construction, incorporating passive solar heating, geothermal heat pumps, rain and greywater recycling. Finishes and materials will be environmentally safe and renewable.

Nuestra Comunidad will continue to build on the models of Bartlett Place and its other successful developments. Keys to success in the drive to enhance the physical, economic and social well-being of underserved neighborhoods include: increasing affordable and mixed-income rental housing, encouraging homeownership through education and coaching and generating wealth by fostering entrepreneurship and grassroots leadership. 

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