“I’m moving to Jackson Square,” I said in the break room.
“Oh my word, why?” my colleague replied.
Jackson Square doesn’t have the best reputation. Finding itself directly in the path of a proposed new freeway in the 1970’s, the intersection of Columbus Ave and Centre St suffered demolitions that tore a barren strip down lower Boston, parallel to the T tracks. Though neighborhood advocates successfully fought off the freeway, the neighborhood was largely neglected for the next four decades. During that time, the area has become associated primarily with the nearby BHA Bromley-Heath low-income ousing projects and a rash of violent crime, often in the same breath.
Now a $250 million effort at redevelopment is well underway. The new fine residential building at 225 Centre St is the first of a planned 14 new developments. While a big step up in the standard of housing for the area, the building has also maintained one-third of its units as affordable housing. Subsequent developments are slated to add many more affordable units as well.
The T station sits between 225 and the Bromley-Heath. The station is a microcosm of the larger forces around it. Jackson Square itself is the bridge between the rapidly gentrifying (and mostly affluent white) pond-side of Jamaica Plain to the west and the generally lower-income (and mostly black) neighborhood of Roxbury to the east of Columbus Ave. In between is what some are trying to brand as “Boston’s Latin Quarter”, a diverse neighborhood that includes many locally-owned Latin American restaurants and businesses of Cuban, Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Mexican origin.
Change is coming to Jackson Square, along economic, social, and ethnic lines.
Will the community steer itself in a direction that preserves the neighborhood’s character while advancing quality of life and economic opportunity for all? Or is Jackson Square doomed to be another chapter in the ongoing gentrification of urban America, pushing the working class out to make room for the luxury condos of the rich?
Jackson Square has a chance to become the model of new urban living: community-driven, environmentally responsible, diverse, and, most importantly, mixed-income residences — built around public transit and strengthened by an array of nearby local small businesses. Boston has a chance to show the country what urban development done right looks like.
The next few years will be telling.
This blog post is the first in a year-long series that aims to explore the Hyde Jackson neighborhood and the issues surrounding it. My friend (and soon-to-be roommate) Larissa agreed to join me on this project, and together we will be posting photography and essays from and about Hyde-Jackson.
We invite comments, questions, and feedback on the series as we go. The most direct way of joining the discussion is by leaving a reply on a relevant blog post. You can also comment on a specific photo in the gallery or send us a general message from the Hyde-Jackson project page.