Interview with Ceasar McDowell

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This Wednesday I interviewed Ceasar McDowell, a professor within MIT’s Urban Studies department. He has done a profound amount of work over the years on issues like rent control and working to create community awareness on gentrification, in areas such as Central and Roxbury Crossing. He spoke that a central issue with gentrification was that it can creep in without people realizing it: developer’s projects are often reviewed on a one-by-one basis, and it can be hard for communities to be aware of the holistic effects of these development projects in terms of transforming the socioeconomic landscape of existing communities. His work relates to giving communities a channel to communicate with each other and be aware of the overall impact of development projects in a way that allows them to make decisions that will protect their community members.

He views the biggest challenge associated with addressing gentrification and displacement in Boston is increasing civic engagement of people who are most affected by these issues. He spoke about how organizations surrounding these issues often are not diversely represented by people who are most affected – and works towards spreading the engagement and education process to these communities by incorporating information in a way that would allow them to encounter them in a day-to-day setting: at banks, libraries, public transportation, etc.

One thing that we also talked about was the role of MIT in gentrifying the Cambridge area. He notes that although MIT is an academic institution and often is thought of as benevolent, its role and motives in terms of occupying space in Cambridge is also that of any other real estate developer. As someone who represents MIT, he and other professors in his department feel it’s necessary to take action and be involved in the conversation surrounding MIT’s impact on gentrification, mentioning he and other professors are involved in spaces such as the Cambridge Citizens Alliance.

 

Link to interview: https://www.dropbox.com/s/j800bt2law0ynvb/mcdowell.m4a?dl=0

Interview with Dom from Zumix

Last week, I interviewed Dom, a student at Zumix. I opened the conversation by asking Dom about his work at Zumix and how he got involved. Dom first joined because his father signed him up for classes, but since then, he has found a family at Zumix. Currently, Dom and his class are working on a compilation of street interviews from members of East Boston and youth activist about gentrification. HIs ultimate goal is to raise awareness about systemic gentrification in East Boston and to spread information about gentrification resources. Much like the guest speaker noted in our class last week, Dom pointed out that though many Latinos in East Boston are aware that many landlords are raising rent prices, there is little knowledge of resources and legal options to keep their homes. We also discussed the language barrier that prevents many families from seeking legal action, which he says makes displacement disproportionally worse for latinos in the area.

Though only 16, Dom had an extensive knowledge of gentrification and its detriments and injustice. He hopes to continue to work on the issue and hopes that stories like the ones he is collecting spread all over Boston–and to lawmakers who have the power to protect more East Bostonians through legislation.

https://drive.google.com/a/zumix.org/file/d/0B4DQunuyHobSSzFKVHdoM0lEWVk/view?usp=sharing

Interview with Zumix – Dom

I interviewed Dom, a student from East Boston High School, who takes classes at Zumix. Dom was a resident of East Boston, and had been a part of Zumix for the past year.

My interview with Dom was very interesting because not only was I taken aback by the eloquence of such a young boy, but I was also pleasantly surprised by the fact that he knew how to operate the radio booth and was learning audio editing skills.

One of the most relatable things for me in my interview with Dom was thw conversation we had about the understanding of gentrification amongst the teens of East Boston. Dom said that for many of his friends, gentrification didn’t mean very much because they had never seen what was before. He said that he has very recently started working on the gentrification project. As a part of the project he tries explaining the meaning and consequences of gentrification to the youth of East Boston. Dom stressed on the importance of youth movements in order to really make changes.

Dom hopes to continue working on gentrification even after he is done with his classes at Zumix.

Interview with Lydia at Zumix

I interviewed Lydia, one of the students at Zumix who is currently working on a project to highlight voices of the East Boston community in a discussion about gentrification and displacement in that neighborhood. She and a group of her peers, which she refers to as the “street team” interview people off the street about gentrification, and they collect information and stories about how gentrification is affecting communities and families in East Boston. The students also help educate those they interview about ways to resist gentrification, including distributing information about organizational meetings against displacement and resources for legal help.

Lydia says the project has helped her realize just how much the issues of gentrification and displacement have affected the people she knows personally in her life, and says that often times the people she speaks are also surprised to hear about friends and family who may be facing the same thing, and about the resources that are available to them.

Next steps for Lydia entail sifting through the interviews she has conducted, looking for “golden nuggets”, or clips of audio that will help her and her peers build a story to tell about gentrification in East Boston, and putting them together to be played on the Zumix radio!

Hacking Discrimination — Hackathon

There are many strategies hackathon event organizers use to make these contest more inclusive, equitable, and aligned with social justice. One practiced way to do this is by aligning the task and theme of the event to problems which are faced by the very groups which are minorities in common hackathons. This previous weekend, MIT hosted the event Hacking Discrimination which is a hackathon intended to provide a mechanism for meaningful dialog, learning, networking and solution development. Students were challenged to develop technical solutions to complex problems relating to bias, discrimination, and racism. The idea stemmed from Black MIT alumni in Washington, DC whom were frustrated by violence in the news, and the continued social and economic roadblocks hindering progress for minorities in their communities. This led to the creation of a Hacking Discrimination Fund, set up at MIT to further annual brainstorming for ideas which will change the narrative seen in the news. This is a step forward in creating hackathons which will lead to social change where it matters most.

Interview with Lydia Edwards, Deputy Director of the Boston Office of Housing Stability

lydia edwards featured pic

https://www.dropbox.com/s/u9bizp06n14a1ah/interview%20lydia%20edwards_01.mp3?dl=0

Lydia Edwards is the Deputy Director of the Boston Office of Housing Stability, the first of its kind in the US. I first met Lydia at a Cambridge Residents Alliance event last Sunday, where she discussed her office’s purpose and the programs they have developed, including tax credit incentives for landlords to keep rents at affordable prices, a resolution in the works that would require just cause for evictions, and manuals for both tenants and landlords on their rights and the resources available to them. I was able to get a short interview with her during lunch – she has been very busy since she is taking a leave of absence to run for city council starting tomorrow.

Lydia has an interesting take on gentrification and displacement because of her legal background and her experience as a landlord herself. She believes that both tenants and landlords must be at the table in discussions of displacement. She describes gentrification as a market force that should not be used synonymously with displacement, and believes that it is actually possible for a neighborhood to be gentrified without displacing the existing communities if the community is invested in equally. Lydia and her office are both deeply involved with existing community organizations, such as Vida Urbana and the Cambridge Residents Alliance. Lydia goes to Vida Urbana meetings on a monthly basis to get suggestions for resources to work on.

When I asked her about her opinions on MIT’s influence on Cambridge land and housing, she emphasized that while universities are a big part of the Cambridge/Boston culture and a big part of this area’s “draw,” universities should build more dormitories so that students are not over-saturating and competing people in the housing market, rather than using marketing tools and community liaisons like the Volpe center.

Unfortunately, her PR representative had me cut the microphone before the interview was complete, but her biggest dream for 2030 is to be a mother and to see Boston’s housing market reflect an economically diverse community.

An Interview with Kathryn Fenneman at Tutoring Plus

Kathryn Fenneman

For this week, I interviewed Kathryn Fenneman from Tutoring Plus, an organization dedicated to youth and families in the Cambridge Area 4/Central Square community. We had an amazing conversation about gentrification, the right to the city, and displacement from a very different and unique point of view. I personally became interested in the role of education in combatting these issues after speaking with the Cambridge Community Foundation, who recommended that I reach out to Kathryn.

One of the things that was the most striking to me was before the interview, where Kathryn expressed a bit of hesitation. She made a point that we should be speaking with the community members as well, and that she did not speak for the community. As the CoDesign studio, this was really great for me to hear that concern, and definitely something that we have discussed in class as well.

We spoke about Kathryn’s activist work, how she got involved in the community. We spoke about the Cambridge poverty rates, and the disconnect between what we think about Cambridge (MIT and Harvard), and the neighborhoods and families that are being forgotten and left behind by Biotech companies and corporations.

Our conversations about barriers, as well, was great. We had a conversation about the giant glass walls of MIT, Harvard, and all the other corporations and institutions: even though many of the students live next door, they sometimes don’t feel welcome, or have the right to go in, or access its resources. One way that Tutoring Plus is involved is breaking this physical and symbolic barrier: bringing students into the Media Lab and MIT, involving them in the community, and also bringing in volunteers from these institutions to see the greater community.

Her vision for 2030?: Ending childhood poverty in Cambridge.

Our interview went really well–I felt more comfortable during this interview than the previous ones, and felt much more confident as the interviewer. A transcript will go up soon! 

 

Racial and Environmental Equity for Egleston!

I interviewed Andrea Atkinson from One Square World. Andrea is the executive director at One Square World and organization that works with members of the community by adding them to the development process in communities. https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/recent (link to recording)

Interview with Alex from City Life/Vida Urbana — “The Community Gains Control of Their Community”

City Life/Vida Urbana

Just a week ago, I was able to visit the site of City Life/Vida Urbana in Jamaica Plain. City Life is a grassroots community organization created to fight for gender equality and racial, social, and economic justice by building up the working class’ power. The group has many goals, but the most universal aspiration was guaranteeing that each person has the right to food, housing, health care, education, meaningful employment, and most importantly, the right to exist in freedom without fear of displacement or deportation. After briefly exploring the welcoming space of the organization, I got to sit down with Alex Ponte-Capellan, a community organizer for City Life.

We were able to a lot about the work he does at City Life. As a community organizer, Alex follows cases that arise in the Jamaica Plain/Roxbury area. Alex’s work is centered around helping tenants with whatever they need while negotiating with their landlords, joining tenant associations, and getting in touch with lawyers. Of this work, he finds that the biggest challenge is getting people to get involved. Often all the tenants in a building get a notice to quit accompanied with a lease revealing a higher rent. Under these circumstances, a few tenants get very interested in City Life’s help, but many others will be very uninterested. This may be because these tenants do not feel directly threatened by these actions, and they are waiting for that moment of urgency before they take action. To get around this, Alex said he generally remains persistent, sending emails and calling each of the tenants, trying to give each person their best chance at maintaining their current lives.

Some triumphs City Life has made in their cause include a march which was held last week on Saturday. The tenants in the 26 School Street Tenant Association, have been facing really high rent increases, so in order to instigate landlord negotiations, City Life held a rally down Washington Street and amounted quite a bit of communal support and media coverage. Alex is currently hoping these effort result in a settlement, which seems promising from the event’s popularity. Another success occurred when Alex first joined City Life. An investor was attempting to buy out a property from a landlord with more financial power than City Life could establish and provide. However, City Life’s legal team collected the tenants’ claims against the previous landlord, which totaled in millions of dollars in payments. City Life’s deal would be to buy out the property with their initial price offered and drop all of the claims on the landlord, which was a monetarily better settlement than what had been offered by the investor.

We also got to talk more about how Alex got involved with City Life. A large deal of influence came from his experiences with the Prison-Industrial Complex. His desire to create change lead to a grassroots youth activist group called Young Abolitionists. This lead him to explore gentrification, eventually hearing of City Life and joining the group. Nevertheless, some of the most life-changing events in Alex’s life were the moments just after his cousin passed away. This very emotional moment touches him to this day, still guiding some of his life decisions. To provide the help Alex wasn’t able to provide his cousin before his untimely death, he channels his effort into his work at City Life — he tries to give others their best lives since his cousin was robbed of his.

Alex has many idea in order to progress City Life’s cause, but he also has advice for the community and how we all can be involved in the problem of gentrification and displacement. Alex suggested that people can get in contact with local officials, and join in rallies/marches for social change in their area. Above all, it’s important to stay informed of the issues around us and be active members of our community.

Featured Audio: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B2NhJ7UxMYutWlJwODk1Wl9aNU0

Interview with Juan from ZUMIX

I interviewed Juan from ZUMIX, who is a senior attending East Boston High School. Juan has been at ZUMIX for the past couple years, during which he has been in several of the youth programs: Voces, Rock Ed, and Radio. Each of the programs has added to his knowledge of music and sound production; Voces was focused on singing and Rock Ed involved learning the electric bass as part of a rock ensemble. Radio, which he is currently in, has taught Juan how to use editing software to create polished radio segments for broadcasting on ZUMIX’s 94.9 FM channel.

As part of Radio, Juan and the other students in the class have been conducting interviews of East Boston residents affected by gentrification. Juan had been unaware of the magnitude of the problem before Radio; interviewing residents who have been summarily and unlawfully evicted by landlords has given him immediate insight on the circumstances of those around him, especially fellow students at East Boston High School. Juan plans to continue to conduct interviews as part of his work in the Radio program, and hopes to both learn more about gentrification and to spread awareness on how it is harming his neighborhood.

When asked to sum up his experiences at ZUMIX, Juan simply exclaimed “I love it!” He attributes this response to the people there, especially the teachers of the programs that he’s been in. After Juan graduates this year, he will continue to use the skills that he’s learned at ZUMIX, first at his anticipated job as a receptionist, and eventually at his dream career as a radio interviewer.