Affordable housing, racial justice discussed at State of Our Neighborhood

The 7th annual State of Our Neighborhood event was held on April 27 at the Curley K-8 School where topics discussed ranged from affordable housing to racial justice.

The event was sponsored by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), as well as other local organizations.

“We started the State of the Neighborhood events because we needed some sort of community forum to talk about neighborhood issues,” said Juan Gonzalez of JPNDC. He reminisced on the history of the event, which began in 2011.

“At the time, Hi-Lo was closing and Whole Foods was coming in,” Gonzalez said. He said that the change was so controversial that it was the main topic of that year’s State of Our Neighborhood event. After the first event, JPNDC held follow-up meetings to discuss local issues like gentrification, local businesses, and youth programming.

“Over the years, we decided to give less speaking time to the elected officials and more time to the residents,” said Gonzalez. “This year, after the devastating Presidential election, we need to reflect on what we as a community actually care about.”

Speakers from various organizations shared some updates about various achievements and setbacks that have occurred in different realms of the neighborhood.

Ken Tangvik of Hyde Square Task Force talked about arts and culture. He said that Mayor Martin Walsh allocated significant funds for the arts, the Boston Creates process attracted community engagement and envisioning, and Hyde/Jackson Square was officially named Boston’s Latin Quarter. He also said that the Jamaica Plain Branch Library after renovations this year will provide more gallery space for artists. But he also noted that the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s budget was cut.

Richard Thal of JPNDC, speaking on housing, said that he was proud that the Community Preservation Act had passed, that the Plan: JP/ROX planning process was mostly completed, and that the 100 percent affordable-housing 25 Amory St. project garnered all necessary approvals to move forward with construction.

Luis Cotto of Egleston Square Main Street, speaking on issues of justice, said that Washington Street is still a food desert because there is no accessible healthy food in the area. However, he said he was pleased that the developers of the proposed development across from Forest Hills T Station have committed to putting a grocery store in their 252-unit development.

A keynote speaker, Maria Elena Letona, spoke at length about how narratives of power and individual choices have an impact on communities, big and small.

“Power dictates the way our issues are framed and the political agenda that moves forward,” Letona said. “The choice is ours to craft a different story.”

Jamaica Plain City Councilor Matt O’Malley and local state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez offered a certificate of appreciation to Juan Gonzalez for his nine years of service to JPNDC and 25 years of service to the City of Boston. Gonzalez will be leaving his role as director of community organizing at JPNDC to “begin a new phase of his life.” Gonzalez received a standing ovation for this recognition.

The event used a strategy called Community Climate to have the large group of about 70 people break out into smaller discussion groups, with each group focused on a different aspect of Jamaica Plain. At each group, residents were briefed on a short history of the subject, then wrote on ribbons something that they loved and hoped never to lose about their community in Jamaica Plain.

For example, Luis Cotto led a group about immigration and explained the complex history around attitudes and policies related to immigration in the last several decades.

At the racial justice group, residents discussed the importance of thinking about it as intersectional and the need to have accountability for the language that is used in relation to race. They said they would like to start a discussion group to talk about topics like white privilege and what it means.

A group discussing faith and civic engagement said that they would like to protect the rights to enjoy faith, green space, and public art. They said that simply the act of naming values is a strategy of preservation. They mentioned the idea that churches should be sanctuaries for immigrants and refugees.

A Spanish-speaking group discussing immigration summarized their discussion by saying that they would like to preserve tranquility, freedom, and especially the right to protest.

At the end of the event, each ribbon with a value written on it hung in a colorful array on a series of clotheslines strung across the gymnasium, creating a community manifesto of values.

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