Transforming Urban Regimes -
A Grassroots Approach to Comprehensive Community Development:
The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

by Janice K. Tulloss
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Department of Political Science Greensboro, NC


A previous version of this paper was delivered at the 1996 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, California, August 31, 1996


I. Restructuring the Regime: Is There Room for Community?

II. Community Mobilization and Regime Structuring in Boston: a Brief Background and History of the DSNI

III. Analysis

IV. Conclusion: Self-Help and Community Development





Even relatively stable urban political systems experience continual change. Cities, according to Stone (1993) are governed by "urban regimes"--governing coalitions that are constantly responding to their political, social and economic environments. Yates (1977) described them as engaging in an on-going process of adaptation and response. Constantly changing conditions spark policy responses and institutional restructuring, which in turn bring about new conditions engendering further responses. Immigrant-based political machines such as Tammany Hall in New York City were gradually replaced by variants of reform style governments. These reform governments spawned pro-growth coalitions, embraced aggressively pro-business ideology and policies such as urban renewal, and effectively disenfranchised low-income residents. Mollenkopf (1983) describes the politics of these pro-growth coalitions in Boston and San Francisco.

The resulting destruction of affordable housing and neighborhoods led to new political demands and responses, including the development of community based movements in cities across the country. In many cities community residents--their neighborhoods battered by urban renewal, decades of disinvestment and the unfettered operations of the market--have organized on their own behalf and sought alternatives to officially sanctioned and orchestrated urban revitalization (Bruyn and Meehan 1987). Decades of political mobilization, disinvestment, federal budget cutbacks, and new federalist preferences for decentralized approaches to urban policy, have resulted in the spread of the Community Economic Development (CED) movement in communities across the country. Some communities have adopted a multifaceted, comprehensive approach to CED, combining self-help with the leveraging of public, private, and nonprofit sector resources.

Community-based organizations (CBOs) and community-based development organizations (CBDOs), including but not limited to community development corporations (CDCs), reflect a growing sophistication in organizing capacity and leadership and have emerged as important actors in the struggle to stem the social, economic, and physical decline of urban neighborhoods. They have produced thousands of units of housing and have provided a diverse array of social and economic services (Pierce and Steinbach 1990). They vary in scope, mission, and character, but have as a primary purpose the economic and social revitalization of the community.

This paper examines the movement for community based development as an aspect of the structuring of urban political regimes. It focuses on the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) in Boston, an exceptionally interesting and innovative approach to comprehensive community development that has been described as a model by the federal government (GAO 1995). This case study was chosen both because of its unique features and because of its potential as a model for other communities suffering disinvestment and decline.

Regime theory describes the nature of local government as a permeable network of relationships (Stone 1989, Stone and Sanders, 1987, Elkin 1987). According to Stone, a regime is the informal arrangements by which public bodies and private interests function together in order to make and carry out governing decisions. Stone describes this as a "social production" model of urban governance. Membership in the regime is a function of access to or control of institutional resources. Regime members work together across institutional lines "to produce a capacity to govern and to bring about publicly significant results" (Stone 1989, 8-9). In most instances, regimes are dominated by governmental and business interests . Governments have the authority and legitimacy necessary to make policy. Business interests have the resources necessary to facilitate or impede the passage and/or implementation of that policy and to impact the city's economic base. Other members of the regime may vary across time and place and may include non-profit organizations and community-based organizations.

If being a regime participant is largely a function of controlling or being able to leverage resources which other members of the governing coalition need or want, and which can bring about "publicly significant results," can community based organizations control sufficient valued resources to make them viable and attractive governing partners? Individual affluence is an insufficient resource. Even affluent community groups seeking to, for example, prevent undesirable development or otherwise protect their property investments are rarely able to achieve more than fleeting influence over policy. Stone's (1989) discussion of the failure of the largely middle-class neighborhood organizations in Atlanta to sustain their policy influence illustrates the problems of lack of organizational resources and cohesion.

While business interests may be largely compatible with those of public officials, making them natural partners in a governing coalition, in many circumstances they fundamentally contradict the interests of community residents, especially in low-income communities. Neighborhood residents are more concerned with the use values than the exchange values of community real estate. That is, developers, rentiers, and speculators are motivated to turn land over to the most profitable use. Community residents, however, desire stability and community groups work to prevent rapid turnover and land uses which do not meet community residential, commercial, or employment needs, such as high-rise office buildings or homogeneous upscale residential developments that raise land values and deplete the pool of affordable housing.

For their part, government actors and organizations are far from neutral arbiters of the conflicts that arise between community and capital. Political officials must promote social harmony and mitigate the adverse impacts of the market system if they are to remain in office. The risks of social upheaval must be balanced against the risks of fiscal crisis and economic disinvestment. The government must simultaneously engage in activities that promote profitable accumulation and activities that promote social harmony and the legitimacy of the political order (O'Connor, 1973). As Shefter (1985) points out, municipal officials must respond to imperatives which often conflict: they must pursue policies which will win votes, prevent social and political conflicts from getting out of hand, contribute to the health of their city's economy, and generate sufficient revenues to finance the operations of the municipal government.

Community residents and organizers also face potential conflicts among goals and needs. Residents want to avoid displacement and instability but also want to attract community sustaining development over which the community maintains fundamental control. The need to control development has led to the proliferation of CBDOs and of the growth of the Community Economic Development (CED) movement.

For most of this century growth and development were considered to be synonymous and unquestionably desirable. The civic boosterism in the first part of the century had much in common with the pro-growth coalitions of the 1950s and 1960s. Reliance on laissez-faire economics in the relentless pursuit of growth was first tempered by the interventionist policies of the New Deal era. Later market failures and economic recessions were addressed by the expansion of New Deal policies and by new social welfare policies instituted during the Great Society period. The failure of both the market and social policy to reverse the declines suffered by many communities has fueled the CED movement.

Boothroyd and Davis (1993) distinguish three variants of CED, emphasizing either economic growth (cEd), structural change (ceD), or communalization (Ced). These vary in their concept of the economy, of community, in their primary goal, and their primary strategy. In cEd, a strategy which still dominates urban development policy, communities engage in more or less sophisticated versions of "smokestack chasing" in which growth for growth's sake is pursued, with little or no concern for market externalities, the costs of growth, or competing values. In ceD, the emphasis on growth is replaced or balanced by an emphasis on short- and long-term stability through structural change and local control. In Ced the emphasis is on fundamental quality-of-life and distribution issues, economic justice, and the creation of opportunities for meaningful, appropriate participation by all sectors of the community (Boothroyd and Davis, 1993).

While these approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive, the common reliance on the cEd strategy of pursuing growth as a panacea for a community's economic woes is often inimical to the primary goals of Ced, especially those of economic redistribution and community stability. Even the reliance on Community Development Corporations (CDCs) as a part of the ceD approach is problematic as CDCs are often underfunded and subject to the same market pressures as commercial developers and are forced to adopt similar values and strategies (Stoecker, 1996). The Ced approach is the one which has the greatest potential to recreate and strengthen the social, economic, political and infrastructural aspects of inner city communities but is also the most elusive and problematic. Its principles are in stark contrast to the dominant individualist and private property oriented ideology that underlies development processes and policy in the US today. Nonetheless, grassroots economic development projects pursuing the principles of Ced have been undertaken in communities across the country with varying degrees of success (See, e.g., Bruyn and Meehan 1987).

The DSNI embodies the principles of Ced in its organization and activities. It has also been able to leverage significant, critical resources from a variety of non-profit, private sector, and government organizations, the indispensable requirement for regime membership. DSNI has produced publicly significant results, in terms of the production of housing, the construction of neighborhood facilities, the closing of illegal trash transfer stations and more as a result of neighborhood action and a combination of official and unofficial arrangements (see Appendix for a list of DSNI accomplishments).

DSNI members and leadership have also produced a strong, cohesive organization that has endured over time and provides a focus for a comprehensive social and economic agenda. The question remains, however, whether DSNI's successes represents a restructuring of Boston's political regime.

Institutions, whether private sector businesses, governmental bodies, or citizens' groups, create the social capacity to act (Mollenkopf 1981). The creation of institutional and organizational resources is thus critical to communities aspiring to influence or control policy. In order to build the community institutions through which residents achieve the capacity to act, plan, acquire resources, negotiate with members of the regime, and create community solidarity communities must first organize.

The tumultuous history of Boston's development, and the DSNI in particular, reflects a fluid institutional environment created by conflict among groups with varying institutional capacities. The period dominated by the pro-growth coalition in Boston--and other cities--was followed by a period of popular mobilization in which public officials could not ignore citizen demands with impunity (Mollenkopf, 1983). The end of bulldozer redevelopment and the initiation of varying degrees of citizen participation have culminated in the emergence of new institutional constructs and contemporary experiments in negotiated development and collaborative public management (Tulloss, 1995). The rest of this paper will examine the DSNI and its relationship with Boston's political regime.


The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) is an experiment in community revitalization and preservation.(1) It departs from the standard approaches to community planning and development and, in the words of the late Peter Medoff, the first director of the DSNI, stands the traditional approach to urban development on its head. According to Medoff, in the traditional approach to city-community partnerships the city develops a plan and then invites the community to participate on the officials' terms. he DSNI approach the community developed a plan for revitalizing the community and then invited the city (and in essence the regime), to participate (Medoff, 1989).

Specifically, the DSNI is an ambitious and comprehensive approach to community planning and revitalization. It is an attempt to revitalize the "Dudley Triangle" neighborhood through a number of interrelated strategies and activities (see the Appendix for a list of DSNI's accomplishments). One of its primary undertakings in the revitalization of the community has been the construction of affordable and market-rate housing on land that is currently vacant or occupied by abandoned buildings. Through the use of public and private resources, it has created a land trust upon which it has undertaken the construction of housing and a community center. Construction began in 1993, and currently 77 families reside in the first-phase housing. Construction is underway on another 90 units.

While the construction of housing has been a vital centerpiece, the overall plan is multifaceted and also involves a wide variety of undertakings, including the construction of a town common, a community center, and a number of social activities including neighborhood clean-ups, youth activities, multicultural festivals, homeowner classes, and more.

A multi-racial and multi-ethnic 1.5-mile area in the communities of Roxbury and Dorchester in Boston, Dudley is a multi-ethnic community of, primarily, African American, White, Latino, and Cape Verdean residents. English, Spanish, and Creole are spoken as primary languages, and retail establishments reflect the influence. The median income of the approximately 14,500 residents is half that of the city as a whole. Unemployment is about 19%, and about 40% of the population lives below the poverty line (DAC International, 1987, 3-4). Twenty-seven percent of the households in the neighborhood receive public assistance, compared with 12 percent in Boston as a whole (GAO 1995). It is only a few miles from the thriving downtown areas that were the hallmark of the much-vaunted "Massachusetts Miracle" and the thriving development market which in the 1980s brought a frenzy of building and skyscrapers--a development boom which failed to trickle down to the neighborhoods.

There are numerous deteriorating housing projects and large areas of run-down commercial and residential buildings, many boarded up, obscured by graffiti, or barricaded with bars and fencing. Depressing, decaying buildings are interspersed with junk-filled vacant lots - some cleared for urban renewal that never happened, most falling victim to fire after being abandoned by their owners. Some residents describe the 1970s as a time when almost every night saw fires gut the neighborhood. According to a 1985 City of Boston Arson Prevention Commission report, arson occurred for various reasons: some property owners either abandoned their property to random arson, or engaged in arson for profit in order to collect insurance money; others attempted to dislodge tenants by burning down their housing prior to turning the property over for more remunerative use (Medoff and Sklar 1994).

The result was about 1,300 vacant lots, reflecting more than 20 percent of the neighborhood. One-third of the parcels were owned by the City of Boston, the State of Massachusetts, and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). An additional third were in tax arrearage (DAC International, 1987, 2-3). Among the others, many parcels remained vacant as owners had no market incentive to build but suspected that the area was in the path of future downtown expansion as in the South End where thousands of families were displaced by urban renewal (King 1981).

Until redistricting in 1990, the area had been carved into four separate legislative districts. It is now within the 5th Congressional District. Voters in this district sent the first Latino legislator to the state house of representatives, Nelson Merced, one of the founders of the DSNI. Combined with redlining activities by the real estate and banking industries, political neglect also led to the perpetuation of the poverty and disinvestment in the community. It has been estimated that no significant commercial investment had occurred in the area in over two decades.(2)

One of the central actors in the development of the DSNI was the Massachusetts based Riley Foundation. Foundation representatives were enthusiastic supporters of the creation of an agency which had sufficient resources to impact the community in a substantial manner. From discussions with representatives of La Alianza Hispana, a Latino agency, a series of meetings took place in the community in 1985 among a coalition of churches, and community, nonprofit, and charitable organizations. These groups recognized the futility of attempting to revitalize a profoundly depressed community through isolated development projects divorced from an overall planning strategy. Experience with such isolated projects and initiatives had shown that such an episodic approach to renewal doesn't work. Organizers and residents argued that the only effective way to impact the community and provide a pool of affordable as well as market-rate housing was to amass a significant amount of contiguous land.

One of the primary issues facing the community was the large amount of vacant, absentee-owned land in the community. The two primary strategies focused on how to acquire the land and how to generate sufficient financial capacity to engage in such an ambitious program. These groups came together to form the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative and one of their first steps was to commission a neighborhood survey and strategic plan from a consulting firm, DAC International, Inc., with support from the Riley Foundation.

The primary objectives of the DSNI are: to organize neighborhood residents and organizations to be an effective force in advocating for the neighborhood; to assist the community in gaining control over the parcels of vacant land in the neighborhood; and to create a comprehensive neighborhood development plan to benefit local residents and avoid displacement (DAC International, 1987, 2). The comprehensive plan reflected a broad view of neighborhood development and included four components: planning, housing, economic development, and social services. It represents a complex, multifaceted, integrated approach to the problem of urban revitalization and development.

The DSNI has a 17-member professional staff and a 27-member Board of Directors, elected for two-year terms, more than half of whom are community residents. When the DSNI was organized, a decision was made to have equal representation of the African-American, Cape Verdean, Latino, and White communities, each of which has three representatives. There are also seats for representatives of the nonprofit agencies, community development corporations (CDCs), small businesses and religious organizations. Voluntary assistance is provided upon occasion by downtown law firms and other private sector organizations as well as by community residents.

The staff of the DSNI sees its role as facilitation and support of residents and the board in projects that they have identified. They do not see themselves as policy makers or substitutes for community residents. DSNI estimates that between 10 and 12 percent of the community are formally members of DSNI. There are approximately 1,800 voting members of DSNI (GAO 1995). Voting membership is based on residence within the community and the payment of dues. Both members and nonmembers participate in DSNI-sponsored events and make use of DSNI staff to help solve problems. DSNI is not a "walk-in" center or a service provider, but does help residents discover what local agencies can help them, or advises them in matters about which the staff has expertise. According to Director of Organizing Roz Everdell, organizers, many of whom had extensive prior experience, understood that continued deep participation in the organization was absolutely critical to the success of the project, and that in order to sustain that participation smaller projects and successes had to be a part of the overall strategy (Everdell 1992).

The costs of participating are often higher for low-income individuals than middle- and upper-income ones, and a grassroots organization like the DSNI depends on participation rather than individual financial support. Residents cannot buy proxies or hire lobbyists or other representatives. To convince people the DSNI is a worthwhile investment, it had to engage, successfully, in a number of activities designed to accomplish two aims: to keep the organization visible, and to sustain the sense of accomplishment among community residents.

To accomplish these objectives, DSNI staff and board members engaged in a number of short term projects. One of the most notable was the "Don't Dump on Us" campaign. In city after city, people have begun to recognize the disproportionate impact pollution and trash has on poor communities. Lacking effective political voice, residents, most of whom were renters, were powerless to stop builders and others from simply dumping their rubbish on the ubiquitous vacant lots in the area. Cars from other areas of the city were abandoned on the streets. As part of the campaign, organizers had EPA officials test soil samples where refuse was dumped and succeeded in getting the Department of Public Works to haul away trash and abandoned cars throughout the area. They also succeeded, after great effort, in getting two illegal trash-transfer sites closed.

Another successful project has been the promotion of a variety of cultural and social events designed to foster community interaction as well as to "take back" public space from drug dealers and others. A small local park had become such a magnet for vice and crime that the city was preparing to simply fence it off in order to discourage those activities. The DSNI presented an alternative plan. Rather than deprive the community of the use of the park, they opted to fill the park with alternative uses, including festivals, cook-outs and other social events, a project which still continues. In both the "Don't Dump On Us" and park projects, DSNI staff provided critical logistical and technical support, developing leaflets, going door-to-door to distribute them and publicize the events, phoning residents, and identifying other community organizations and networks that could help.

From the beginning, a central undertaking of the DSNI has been the development of mixed-rate housing for the community and the productive disposition of vacant land. Two principles are central to the plan: 1) achieving critical mass, i.e., aggregating sufficient square footage of new and/or rehabilitated space to affect the existing market or create a market of its own; and 2) a tandem strategy involving the simultaneous development of new construction and rehabilitation activity in a coordinated manner (DAC International, 1987, 5).

The underlying assumptions driving the project are drawn from years of observing the futility of developing isolated housing projects in the midst of decay and deterioration. Scale is important for two reasons: to have a sheer economic and physical impact by virtue of the amount of land involved, as well as to provide an opportunity to shape the urban space in ways that acknowledge the intimate connection between buildings, space, and activity. The DSNI describes its approach as the creation of an "urban village" complete with a village commons for a public/community activity center, designed to facilitate "meeting, strolling, sitting, watching, and living" (DAC International, 1987, 5). The housing is designed to be economically mixed, with subsidized, affordable and market-rate housing interspersed, to avoid the problems of economic stratification that have plagued urban areas since the industrial revolution.

The DSNI recognized that simply building housing wouldn't be enough to maintain community control or prevent displacement and gentrification. Another unusual aspect of the program is the arrangement which is intended to insure that the residents of the Dudley Triangle own the land over the long term. The legal entity of the project is Dudley Neighbors, Inc. (DNI), a community land trust. DNI will use a 99-year ground lease to make the land available for affordable housing, community facilities and open space. Residents will own their homes either individually or through coops, and rental housing will also be available. To ensure that the housing remains affordable over the long term, and discourage speculation, the lease will require that the new homes always be sold at prices that the community residents can afford based on their incomes. Residents, however, are guaranteed the same rights of privacy and long-term security they would have if they owned the land outright.

Despite the grassroots nature of the project, the need to work both with the city and the private sector, i.e., the Boston regime, was clear to the organizers, as was the recognition that control must reside with the community. The availability of the land was clear. What wasn't clear was how the DSNI could gain possession of it.

One possibility was pressuring public officials to use the power of eminent domain in ways consonant with DSNI's comprehensive plan. DSNI officials discovered, through the efforts of pro bono legal counsel, that Chapter 121A of the Massachusetts state statutes provided that property could be taken through the power of eminent domain by either the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), or "an urban development corporation authorized by the BRA to undertake a Chapter 121A project." (Medoff and Sklar 1994, 118) This had been done in the past by developers to get favorable tax rates for building such Boston landmarks as the Prudential building and One Post Office Square (Boucher 1990). Devolving this power upon a community organization was unprecedented.

DSNI organizers were well aware of the magnitude of their request. Prior to approaching the mayor or the BRA, DSNI organizers tested the waters at lower levels. They were surprised to find an ally in then-BRA director Steven Coyle who suggested the DSNI apply for 121A status when they approached him about ways to gain control over the vacant land. Other overtures found similar sympathy and the mayor ultimately decided to support the request. Flynn met strong resistance at the meeting of the BRA, which he believed had come on board in support of DSNI's request. But after 11th-hour negotiations at high decibel levels, the BRA ultimately acceded to the Mayor's will and approved the request.

The resistance by several board members is telling, however, as at least one was reported to be adamantly against giving such power to a community group, especially since many of them "don't even speak English!" Two BRA members ultimately left the Board as a result of differences with the mayor over the issue (Medoff and Sklar 1994). The result was that in November 1988, after considerable arm-twisting by the Mayor, the BRA granted the DSNI the power of eminent domain, or more specifically, the corporation created by the DSNI for this purpose, Dudley Neighbors, Inc..

The DSNI thus became the first community organization to be given the power of eminent domain. In order to make use of the power, the DSNI also needed massive financial resources. That came from a variety of sources. In the fall of 1988, the state Department of Environmental Management promised $1 million for building the above-described village common. In March 1992 the Ford Foundation provided a long-promised $2 million loan which has enabled the DSNI to buy about 40 parcels where the first phase of housing was constructed. The support of the City of Boston has been critical to the project as well. The city pledged $4.5 million for housing construction and planning costs, sold about 18 acres of city-owned vacant land to the DSNI for $1, and provided the backing to secure the Ford loan, which it finally received in March of 1992. HUD pledged a $2.1 million Nehemiah Opportunity Grant to subsidize development and mortgage costs.

While housing construction is central to the project, the DSNI has not used the power of eminent domain to take any land which owners are willing to develop. The primary concern has been with vacant land. The first stage of the eminent domain process was the declaration of the "intent to take." Property owners were served with the intent to take notice and had 90 days to prove they were going to develop. According to former Executive Director (and former mayor of Berkeley, California) Gus Newport, only one property owner successfully prevented the seizure of his property. Abutters were given first access to the acquired property (Newport 1992).


While a comprehensive analysis of regime change in Boston is beyond the scope of this paper, elements of regime structuring are revealed by the changes that took place surrounding the growth of the neighborhood movement and the development of the DSNI. These changes are reflected at multiple levels within Boston's political economy. Changes in economic conditions helped to restructure the interplay of institutions and shaped the nature of political mobilization. Just as a declining Boston economy and disinvestment in the inner city in the post-W.W.II period made the emergence of a progrowth coalition more likely, the development boom, influenced by pro-growth policies stimulated a backlash among those who not only did not profit from this boom, but subsidized it through the loss of their homes.

The 1970s and 1980s saw accelerated mobilization and institution building among the low-income and African American communities in Boston. At the same time, the profitable development climate also meant the regime could make concessions to those demanding change and share the benefits of economic growth with Boston's neighborhoods. A notable example is Boston's linkage program which requires developers to contribute to job and housing linkage funds, or in the case of parcel-to-parcel linkage, requires them to develop less desirable parcels in disadvantaged neighborhoods(3) (Tulloss 1995, Drier 1991). Development projects also created "small opportunities," as Stone describes them, in particular requiring that a certain percentage of contracts be awarded to minority developers. This had the effect, as it did in Atlanta, of giving middle-class and entrepreneurial African Americans a stake in the regime.

Minority developers did not always embrace the populist spirit promoted by neighborhood organizers, and in the first parcel-to-parcel linkage project minority developers complained about community demands for increased benefits (Tulloss 1995). Some DSNI staff have criticized this first linkage project as enriching a few minority developers rather than the community (Everdell, 1992). City officials still refused to enter into partnerships with neighborhood organizations and were in fact overtly hostile to overtures made by groups such as the DSNI. The city had a history of adversarial relationships with groups such as the Greater Roxbury Neighborhood Association (GRNA) and the Coalition for Community Control of Development (CCCD). At a particularly contentious city council meeting on June 4, 1989, conservative city councilor Albert "Dapper" O'Neill told representatives from the CCCD (who were attempting to vest neighborhood councils, initially set up to advise the city on zoning changes, with veto power over neighborhood development projects) that he had no intention of conferring upon them "his" power. He suggested that they run for office if they wanted that kind of power.

Similarly, the resistance of several BRA officials to granting the DSNI power of eminent domain stemmed partly from a concern over loss of control over development as well as from ideological differences with the mayor over the issue. The partial reconstitution of the BRA membership in the wake of the conflict with the mayor is a reflection of the structuring process engendered by conflict within the regime. Changes in the marketplace, however, fomented changes in the institutional environment as a variety of organizations emerged to press community demands. Some of these were official vehicles for citizen participation and others were grassroots organizations playing a more adversarial role.

An interactive process resulted as community mobilization led to organizations which enhanced community mobilization. Community organizers mobilized residents around a wide variety of issues, from pressing for affordable housing, school desegregation, and minority and resident hiring to a movement to de-annex from the city of Boston and reincorporate as an independent municipality (Jennings and King 1986, Travis 1986, King 1981, Tilly and Kennedy 1981).

The Flynn administration also created citizen participation organizations, including the neighborhood councils. The Chinatown/South Cove Neighborhood Council's plan was adopted as the official land use plan for the area. Other advisory bodies, Station Area Task Forces, were created in conjunction with the relocation of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Orange Line and the disposition of the land that had been cleared for a failed highway project. While these bodies had only advisory power, they created institutions that enhanced, to some degree, the ability of residents to organize and advocate their interests.

The broader political arena reflected the growing resistance to the progrowth coalition and its policies and the growing electoral strength of African Americans. In 1983 Mayor Ray Flynn was elected on a populist platform, defeating Mel King, the first African American to win Boston's nonpartisan preliminary election. Although Flynn was decidedly more conservative than King (he had been an activist in both the anti-busing and anti-abortion movements, and as a candidate opposed "forced" integration, affirmative action and abortion rights), both he and King emphasized the need to be responsive to neighborhood demands after years of disinvestment and displacement and there grew a consensus that the focus of economic growth should not be limited to downtown as it was under the Kevin White administration (Berg, 1986).

The mobilization of the African-American community, including the addition of 50,000 new African American voters, forced all the mayoral candidates to address issues of jobs, housing, health care, and the conflict between downtown development and neighborhood service delivery. King's strong showing and virtually complete domination of the African American vote reflected the growing power of Boston's African American community in the electoral arena, and helped to shape official responses to neighborhood concerns over development (Berg, 1986) .

The DSNI emerged from this restructuring in Boston's political economy. Organizers recognized the difficulty of overcoming years of residents' political alienation and cynicism about the possibilities of neighborhood change, but also the potential political strength within the community. Initial plans for an "organization of organizations" were abandoned in the face of strong negative reaction from the community and a more representative structure was put into place. This reorganization was at least in part a product of social learning: organizers understood that they were in danger of losing community support as the community indicated that the proposed structure was simply more of the same - non-resident organizations coming in to "help" the community with little or no input or control by the residents themselves. Recognizing that previous attempts at community revitalization and organization had failed due to lack of support by the community, organizers quickly responded to residents concerns (Medoff and Sklar 1994).

This both won community support for the organization and enhanced community mobilization as residents were drawn into an organization in which they had real control, not simply an advisory role. DSNI thus became a vehicle for community mobilization and coalition building. It has worked with other community-based organizations in the city and with foundations. It has also experienced conflict with other community based organizations, some of whom were suspicious of DSNI's proposal to wield the power of eminent domain, a power which had resulted in considerable grief for the community in the past. Nonetheless, it has been able to leverage a variety of resources: popular support (e.g., votes), financial (a complex web of funding sources providing literally millions of dollars; the community land trust), and political (the power of eminent domain). In addition, as DSNI became more well-known, it acquired legitimacy with public officials, private sector actors, and community residents.

All of these resources gave it a role to play within the regime. Unlike the neighborhood movement in Atlanta which Stone describes, DSNI began by consciously insuring it had a resource base that was independent of the city. Foundation funds provided the initial wherewithal to hire experts in planning and urban design. Foundation advocates (most notably the Riley Foundation, which has provided early and continuous support at high levels) were instrumental in helping DSNI raise funds from other foundations and ultimately in securing city support and cooperation.

In Atlanta Mayor Jackson was sympathetic to the neighborhood movement. However, under pressure from city planning officials who feared loss of control, he withdrew planning funds and thus expertise from the Neighborhood Planning Units (NPUs), putting them at a disadvantage relative to developers and public officials. The neighborhood movement in Atlanta faltered for a variety of reasons: Mayor Jackson's priorities became reoriented toward the business elite members of the coalition whose interests often conflicted with those of the neighborhoods; a lack of independent resources; and virtually no organizational solidarity among the relatively balkanized neighborhood groups. The DSNI has managed to avoid the economic dependence and parochialism that characterized the Atlanta groups, but remains vulnerable to conflicts of interest with the business community and developers.

It is said that nothing succeeds like success and the DSNI has considerable momentum on its side. Its successes in providing housing and a variety of social programs (noted in the Appendix) has brought it to the attention of the national government and other foundations. The DSNI has been presented as a model of comprehensive urban revitalization in a GAO report (GAO 1995). It has also been selected by the Annie E. Casey Foundation to be part of the Rebuilding Communities Initiative, a seven-year project exploring how city neighborhoods can make fundamental changes to control their destinies and dramatically improve their quality of life, particularly for children and families (DSNI 1995).

This ability to continue to attract and leverage resources, organizational longevity, and success in delivering tangible benefits to community residents at little or no cost to city government all give the DSNI a role to play within the present Boston regime. While its power does not fundamentally challenge that of business elites or public officials, it has, as Stone says, worked across institutional lines to bring about publicly significant results. One of the most significant indicators of regime membership is the fact that DSNI was permitted the use of the power of eminent domain. This gave the DSNI the ability to use the power of the state to its own ends--to wield resources in order to bring about publicly significant results. Unlike most vehicle for citizen participation, the DSNI was able to be an agent on its own behalf, not simply an advisor or supplicant seeking to influence others to act for it. It has entered the web of relationships between public and private sector organizations and has developed both formal and informal ties to those organizations.

Whether DSNI's success can be replicated, whether it can serve as a model for comprehensive planning is unclear. To some extent the DSNI was a product of perhaps idiosyncratic factors that existed in Boston--the result of a particular combination of history, economy, and politics. Many of the tactics used by DSNI can no doubt be used by other organizations, including its methods of mobilizing community residents. Urban political economies and urban political regimes are complex phenomena and it will be difficult to replicate the conditions that created the DSNI. However, post-urban renewal community development organizations and movements have sprung up in a number of cities, have shared their experiences and have enjoyed considerable success on different scales (Bruyn and Meehan 1987).


Key to much of the DSNI's success is the "bottom-up" approach to community development that lies at the heart of its activities. This approach reflects the belief that community residents must be central participants in both the planning and implementation processes. While leveraging private and public sector resources is critical to the success of community revitalization, fostering the notion of self-help and individual responsibility helps to insure that community residents remain in the driver's seat.

There is a substantial history of self-help and community activism in redevelopment, and the current political climate has embraced this movement. Self-help and local autonomy are concepts that have deep roots in the history of community organizing and in African American communities in particular. As many, if not most, of the homes and neighborhoods lost to the urban renewal bulldozer were predominantly African American, the links between racial and community politics and empowerment are particularly salient. According to Adolph Reed, "the 'self-help' tradition is so embedded in the black heritage as to be virtually synonymous with it." (reported in Jennings 1992, 3).

Jennings argues that both liberals and conservatives misunderstand and misuse the commitment to and importance of self-help in African American communities.

Absent from mainstream academic and policy debates between liberals and neo-conservatives is the perspective that posits the following: (a) self-help is critically important for Black economic and social development, but (b) Blacks have a fundamental right to expect their government to respond to their needs, and (c) the political mobilization and empowerment of Blacks is critical and necessary for the attainment of both (a) and (b) (Jennings 1992, 3).

African American political mobilization is critical to building the institutions which will facilitate self-help, and, as Jennings points out, there are currently on-going institutional initiatives and programmatic efforts in African American urban communities. The history of Boston's community organizing was largely fueled by civil rights activism which left a political, organizational, and institutional legacy which provided models and vehicles for later organizing efforts. As many low-income, predominantly African American communities are actually racially and ethnically diverse the political mobilization of the community as a whole is vitally important for the success of community initiatives. Thus the political energy and mobilization of African American communities clearly has the effect of working to the advantage of other members of the community, and has the potential to impact the nature of regime structuring.


Measuring success or failure in a project as ambitious and comprehensive as the DSNI's is difficult. If success can be described as bringing about "publicly significant results," then the achievements to date of the DSNI as described below by a GAO report would seem to indicate success:

  1. Obtained a low-interest loan from the Ford Foundation to buy land under eminent domain and developed a community land trust.
  2. Constructed 77 single-family and cooperative homes that will be affordable to low- and moderate-income families.
  3. Took control of 30 acres of vacant land in the Dudley Street neighborhood, half of the acreage through eminent domain, and developed a long-term community land trust in an effort to maintain the neighborhood's stability and affordability.
  4. Provided homeownership classes covering topics such as home financing and housing rehabilitation. DSNI also maintains a data base on homeownership and the housing needs of over 500 residents in the Dudley Street neighborhood.
  5. Developed multicultural festivals to celebrate the traditions of each ethnic group represented in the neighborhood. These and other activities supported DSNI's goal of recognizing and being sensitive to the many cultures that make up the Dudley Street area and fostered ethnically diverse community support for its activities.
  6. Organized a youth committee to address issues important to the youth in the community, such as recreational activities and education. The committee, in a unifying effort, designed and completed a large neighborhood mural depicting the growth and development of the individuals and ethnic groups that are an integral part of the community.
  7. Organized an agency collaborative to help local social service providers form an integrated network that is responsive and accountable to the residents. Currently, several participating organizations have identified program goals and resources they could integrate with other participating agencies. However, the collaborative has encountered some difficulties in obtaining commitments from agencies to participate fully. As of December 1994, eight agencies had signed the agency collaborative agreement.
  8. Was awarded a 3-year grant by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to provide training and leadership development for residents and agency personnel. The purpose of the grant is to create a consumer-driven social service delivery model.
  9. Provided training or employment in the summer of 1994 for 34 local youths, covering asset-mapping, landscaping, environmental cleanup, and mentoring. Provided job placement and advocacy for 250 youths.
  10. Arranged to purchase and began planning the rehabilitation of an abandoned furniture factory for potential lease or sale for commercial use.
  11. Matched residents with employment opportunities in local retail establishments.
  12. In addition, two town common parks are under construction, with park design and art developed by community residents.


1. For an excellent and comprehensive narrative on the history of the DSNI, see Streets of Hope (Medoff and Sklar, 1995)

2. In the last ten years, investigations by the Federal Reserve Bank and by city agencies made official what residents had known for years, that the Dudley Triangle was effectively redlined. The Federal Reserve Bank found that blacks were twice as likely as whites to be denied mortgage or business loans. City investigations put the rate as three times as likely.

3. Parcel-to-parcel linkage is a program where development of desirable parcels of land, generally downtown, is linked to development of less-desirable parcels in neighborhoods. The first project has struggled through years of delay and the development of the downtown parcel has been indefinitely shelved due to the collapse of the development market in Boston. The political support for developing the neighborhood parcel has sustained that project which recently began construction. Citizen participation is also a key component of the program.


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