(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 374: Who Represents “The Community” Part 1

March 17, 2022

This week we’re joined by Jeremy Levine, Assistant Professor of Organizational Studies and Sociology (by courtesy) at the University of Michigan. Jeremy talks about his book Constructing Community: Urban Governance, Development, and Inequality in Boston and describes how neighborhood groups, elected officials, and public servants all claim the mantle of representing “the community.” In Part 1 we discuss how he went about his research in Boston, and how groups coalesced around the idea of the Fairmount Corridor.

Listen to the show at the Streetsblog USA podcast archive or our hosting site.

Below is a full unedited transcript.

Jeff Wood (2m 3s):
Jeremy Levine. Welcome to the Talking Headways Podcast.

Jeremy Levine (2m 16s):
Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

Jeff Wood (2m 18s):
Well, Thanks for being here, before we get started. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Jeremy Levine (2m 21s):
Sure. I’m an Assistant Professor of Organizational Studies and by courtesy sociology at the university of Michigan, I’m a sociologist by training. Got my PhD in sociology at Harvard, where I was also a doctoral fellow in the inequality and social policy program at the Kennedy school. I’m broadly interested in studying inequality and policy in cities and anything from the focus of the book, as well as some other stuff as well.

Jeff Wood (2m 48s):
Nice. Well, how did you get into cities? You know, what brought you to be interested in cities specifically in inequality in cities? Because it’s an interesting sociological question these days.

Jeremy Levine (2m 57s):
Yeah, it is. So I, up in a small city, I mean, most people that study cities and study urban inequality often are either coming from a city context. I grew up in the city. I saw people around me. I thought about my environment growing up or the exact opposite. I grew up in the suburbs. I had no idea about the city that was nearby. And I became fascinated about learning about it, sort of like the different poles is how, what brings a lot of people to it. Me, I was kind of somewhere between grew up in Binghamton, New York, a small city, a shrinking city that had many things that look like other big cities, but a lot of things that look nothing like a big city being sort of in the middle of the Southern tier halfway distant between Syracuse and Scranton in the middle of that sort of New York and Pennsylvania, no man’s land.

Jeremy Levine (3m 41s):
But when I came to college at the university of Michigan, my intro to sociology course that I took the fall of my freshman year was actually not a general intro course. It counted for intro, but it was specifically focused on Detroit, Michigan, the sort of history of Detroit looms, large here in Michigan, even though we’re sort of a fair bit away, there’s a constant discussion about the university’s relationship to the city that is sort of pervasive across campus. And it was like a big theme of this course and sort of my first introduction to what college life was like. And the number one book, the first book that we read that I’ve read now four different times in four different classes I was assigned in three different classes is Thompson cruise classic origins of the urban crisis, which is probably one of the quintessential books for understanding post-war development of cities and suburbs, and mostly focused on uneven development or special inequality across places from there.

Jeremy Levine (4m 39s):
It was the sort of snowball effect of wanting to know more, not just Detroit, but other cities. And then when I got to grad school at Harvard, the question was like, okay, not, am I going to study cities? But what about the closest city to Cambridge Boston? Am I going to study?

Jeff Wood (4m 55s):
That’s awesome. Well, so you do, you know, go in deep about the city, especially in the book, let’s chat about the book, constructing community, Urban Governance, development, and Inequality in Boston. There’s so much here that I feel like I need to read it twice to absorb it. You said you read the previous book four times. I feel like I’ll need to read it again to kind of pull in more from it because there’s so much in so much amazing stuff in there, but what would you say the book is ultimately about?

Jeremy Levine (5m 19s):
So the book is about who has a say over development in poor neighborhoods and what it means for local democracy and inequality. None of the answers to those questions are very easy and that’s kind of the point of the book. It’s getting into an area that’s a various sort of gray area where things are very complicated. It’s not black and white. It’s not sort of obvious what sides different groups are on and sort of diving into the muck of it and revealing what I think is a lot of implicit assumptions about community development, community control and how we make cities, particularly as it pertains to poor neighborhoods. So the big upshot of the book is sort of twofold.

Jeremy Levine (5m 59s):
One is that nonprofits matter a lot in cities, in my case in Boston. But I think this is true for cities across the country. And when I say nonprofits, I don’t just mean local community organizations, which are very important or community development corporations, a particular form of community organization. But I also mean philanthropic foundations, which are part of the broader umbrella of the nonprofit sector as well. These organizations play a big role. And I argue in the book a really foundational role in some ways as something like a co-equal branch of government alongside the executive and the bureaucracy of city government. I mean, they’re really, in some ways, part of that formal apparatus in many ways, they’re part of that apparatus to a greater degree than local elected politicians like city councilors and state legislators.

Jeremy Levine (6m 45s):
These are the people that we think about as being the sort of quintessential political leaders in city politics. But I find that like they’re really important for, you know, at a ribbon cutting. They get quoted a lot. They’re talked about a lot in the press. They’re really important when things like corruption comes up as is just the case in Chicago, just yesterday, another new indictment in Chicago for some city councilors and older alderman in that city. But when it comes to sort of the brass tacks of who’s influencing, what happens, where in a poor neighborhood, when there’s a vacant lot, is it going to be housing? Is it going to be a park? Is it going to be nothing at all those sorts of decision, the nonprofit sector plays a really critical, important role in determining what’s going to happen and representing those neighborhoods.

Jeremy Levine (7m 28s):
So the second then argument related to that is that that comes with some challenges. One is that it can be really great for elevating the voice of neighborhoods that have been historically marginalized. It’s also elevating their voice and assigning a representative that is a non elected representative nonprofit leaders that claim to represent neighborhoods are not subject to any formal mechanisms of democratic accountability. There’s no veto authority, there’s no petition authority. You can’t vote them out of office. There’s no real checks and balances that comes to their representation when it comes to them sort of saying, well, we’re going to determine, or we are going to claim to say what the community wants, you know, and tell city officials, you know, what people want the second risk that’s related to this. It’s kind of the inverse, I guess, which is that when those nonprofits don’t exist in a neighborhood, then that neighborhood lacks access to a lot of really necessary resources.

Jeremy Levine (8m 19s):
We kind of have set up a system in cities where nonprofits are the main vehicle to accept grants, to implement projects, to do a lot of the work that happens. But when one isn’t there, not only do you lack that voice to represent your community, even if it’s not elected, but you’re also lacking a lot of those through lines to get you access to those resources. So in some ways, then the big argument is that we have set up the system that it’s elevated the nonprofit sector to a much more heightened status in Urban Governance of deciding what happens that comes with some good things, some greater access to resources. It comes with more risks when they aren’t there, but it also comes with a larger sort of downside that happens when you have a non elected representative as being a key political representative for what happens in your neighborhood.

Jeff Wood (9m 2s):
And then all of these groups that you mentioned, they all are claiming to represent the community. And that’s something that’s a big part of, of your book. And it’s, it’s fascinating to look at how that gets portrayed or how that gets displayed for public consumption, for private consumption. It’s really fascinating to see. And, you know, the thing that pops up the most of my head when, when you were just talking was the elected official that kind of got talked away from a meeting basically by a public servant. And I found that fascinating as well, just like who speaks for the community who speaks at the community, those really interesting questions that you brought up in the book.

Jeremy Levine (9m 38s):
Indeed. Yeah. And I think about it as almost like a performance, which is not to sort of denigrate it or to sort of say that it’s sort of not real or contrived, but it’s a lot of people that want to empower the community, represent the community, bring benefits to the community, but that concept community, it’s not something that’s very clear and obvious. Like it can mean anything from the people in a particular neighborhood, that’s the community. It can mean the people who show up to a public meeting. That’s the community too. Those are somewhat overlapping, but not necessarily. It could mean some sort of just general idea. It could mean a racial group, an ethnic group. That’s what we mean when we say the community, and this is really the source of the play on words.

Jeremy Levine (10m 19s):
That is the title of the book, constructing community, all these different groups that are vying for influence to have a say over what happens in the community are constructing different ideas of what the community means. And the example you bring up, I think was a really vivid one and actually happened really early in my field work. And it stuck with me. And I kept seeing sort of almost confirmatory examples throughout, but that one was one of the most vivid sort of examples of this, all these sort of dynamics really coming to the fore. So this was part of an urban agriculture initiative that the city was doing around early 2010s, urban ag as the, as the sort of charge. And our slang was, was really popular in cities. And as most of these sort of fads around city planning happen and unfold like one city does it, there’s a, in this case, there was a Ted talk by a guy out of Pittsburgh and then everyone wanted to do it right.

Jeremy Levine (11m 8s):
And everyone to say that we’re the first one to do it, or we’re the best one to do it or whatever. Right? So urban ag happens and it happens in Boston and the city selects a number of sites of where the possible urban farms can be. And so one gets selected in the neighborhood of four corners, which is a sub neighborhood within the neighborhood of Dorchester. It’s a predominantly black, predominantly low income neighborhood. And so the meeting was about introducing the community, meaning the people who showed up to the meeting that may or may not have been four corners residents to the for-profit from a black owned for-profit company that was going to, that had submitted a bid to develop the site and basically create a urban farm on this. I think, half acre to an acre site.

Jeremy Levine (11m 50s):
So the city, local city government host this meeting with the local nonprofit that is representing the neighbor who they look at as the representative of the community, the greater four corners action coalition, which was at the time the executive director was a guy named Marvin Martin, who was a middle-aged black man. So they host this meeting and they’re going through how these community million beings and fold here is the guy that submitted the bid. Let’s get your feel, hear what you have to say about the community. And then we’ll sort of incorporate that in as we sort of issue out whether or not they’re going to get be successful in the bid or not. So like halfway through the meeting, I mean, there’s about 45 minutes at least into it. It was a rainy night. So it started a little late, but it was literally about halfway through when the meeting was scheduled to start the city councilor of the area, his name is Charles Yancey and he’s was a long-term city counselor.

Jeremy Levine (12m 38s):
He had been in there for 15 terms. He comes to the meeting and he doesn’t sit at the front of the room, like leading the leading the meeting. He sits in the audience like all the rest of us that were there observing. And at one point he challenges the premise of the meeting and he says, you know what? I did not hear the about this meeting. I didn’t hear the community wanted this meeting. You’re going to bring in this company. I think there’s pollution here. I don’t know what you’re going to be doing with your trucks, or what’s going to happen here. There’s gas tanks underground, who knows. And this really, I think profound moment happened. There was subtle. No one really noticed it, but I of course me, the photographer there, I’m running everything down. I noticed it, which is that Marvin, who was the nonprofit director had been sort of standing in the room in the front of the room, near the corner, sort of watching as things are unfolding, playing that role.

Jeremy Levine (13m 23s):
MC as the city counselors, sitting in the audience, talking about everything, that’s wrong with this project, he literally walked around the room without anyone really noticing it. Real nice, subtle, no sort of big show about it and tapped Charles Yancey on his shoulder and whispered something into his ear that was inaudible. So none of us heard it, but what we did here is after he finished whispering Charles Yancey counselor, Yancy said, well, it looks like I’ve been informed that I’ve overstayed my welcome. And apparently I need to sit down now. And this was like crazy, right? This is the re the elected representative of this neighborhood, right. Being said like, apparently I’m not an actual representative. At one point, he even went so far later in the meeting to say, I’m a representative I’m elected.

Jeremy Levine (14m 5s):
So what I’m saying here needs to be responded to the city bureaucrats, the city officials, part of it was a joint between the planning department and department of neighborhood development, which is sort of a, somewhat like the planning department. They said, okay, like we hear you talk about the community concerns. We’re going to defer to Marvin, the nonprofit director. He, he can handle that. That that’s his territory, right? He’s the CUNY representative councilor Yancy’s assistant was like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I’m not asking him all due respect. I’m asking you guys, you’re the city. This is like the city government thing. Like, you guys need to be accountable to this. And the city officials said, no, look, Hey, the community, non-profit, it’s their show. Like they’re the community like conduit for us.

Jeremy Levine (14m 46s):
And so ultimately Marvin and his staff said, okay, look, we hear you, you know, this, you know, wasn’t built in a day, there are plenty more meetings that we can have about this, but we talked to people in the community and we think that their support for this. So we hear you we’ll think about it and we’ll sort of move forward with consider your concerns. So I think this sort of reveals a lot of different things. One, it reveals, I think an elevated status of community-based nonprofits that are saying we represent the community. I think it shows the importance of other players in the field. Like those city officials that are playing into this game as well. It’s referring to those nonprofits as the representatives. And it also shows, I think an acquiescence of local elected politicians, like Charles Yancey at that point, he sat down and said, okay, all right.

Jeremy Levine (15m 29s):
I did my job later. He actually did a, a hearing to air his concerns about the overall urban agriculture initiative. And at that hearing, he said the, the direct quotes in the book, so I’m going to paraphrase it. And he said something along the lines of, alright, well, my role has done here. I provided a forum for you to air your grievances. But like now you can all sort of figure it out. So he even understood what his role in all of this was, which perhaps ironically, given that he was an elected politician representing that district, not really, or at least not fully the representative of that particular community.

Jeff Wood (16m 6s):
What did you feel like when you first heard this interaction? You mentioned, you know, obviously you mentioned you’re writing everything down. You’re, you’re a sociologist you’re focused on these issues. Other people probably didn’t pay much attention to it, but what’s your first initial gut reaction to that back and forth between the elected official and The Community CDC director and then the public servants,

Jeremy Levine (16m 24s):
Not much, you know, when you go to the meeting and I was like a participant of the meeting focused on the content. I was focused on this urban agriculture initiative. I was focused on, you know, who that person brought out as the people he said he was going to hire to farm, you know, this sort of debates about community. The thing that jumped out to me most at first was just how everyone was talking community, but no one was really defining it. And often, and this was really right from the beginning. I had this sort of gut reaction is that everyone had implicit, Def different definitions. And it was almost like they were talking past each other in ways that were like not obvious to anyone, not even obvious to them, like they could, you can communicate.

Jeremy Levine (17m 4s):
So one person could say, well, the community doesn’t support this. Another person could say the QA does support this. Well, one person means the people at a particular meaning and another person’s defining that in their head as everyone who lives in a particular neighborhood and another person is thinking, well, the general public. And so they have a different definition in their head as they’re communicating about what the community, it doesn’t does not support their, like they understand each other and they’re having a conversation that makes sense to them. But what was immediately obvious to me was that they’re operating with different planes. And I was by my gut reaction was almost like frustration and annoyance. And I’m like, why are you not being specific about this? And I think this is a real problem. That’s really bugging me, but the sort of dynamic the political dynamics w and I say political is a small piece, sort of like the politics of power of who gets, what of governance between the city officials, between Marvin, the community based organization, director in between the elected official Charles Yancey.

Jeremy Levine (17m 56s):
It, wasn’t obviously immediately clear from that one interaction that like, this is it, it really took repeated interactions and seeing that over time. And that’s where I think the long-term field work the four years that I spent sort of following this, the public meetings I went to were about 76 or so, plus all the private behind the scenes, meaning that were more in the hundreds. It took a lot of that. And then it took going back to that and reading back through my field notes to really make it clear when you go to these things. You’re so immersed in the content and the details that you can sort of miss the forest for the trees, if you will. And so from a analysis perspective, as a sociologist and as an ethnographer, it was frankly, really going back to my recording of that events.

Jeremy Levine (18m 41s):
When I was typing my field notes into a word doc, then rereading that word doc months later years later, that it all sort of started to make sense. I didn’t want to sort of anchor everything on one particular interaction, but that was a vivid, one of something that I then saw repeatedly and only through sort of reliving it by rereading all of my notes, the importance of it from understanding the system that gets taken for granted by everyone in the system, did that sort of reveal itself.

Jeff Wood (19m 7s):
I was really impressed by your stickiness and going into every meeting and being kind of a constant fly on the wall. Did you, did you ever have like an imposter syndrome or did you ever feel like you’re getting too close to the processes?

Jeremy Levine (19m 16s):
I always felt like I never got close enough. Yeah. Like this is one of those. Yeah. It was, I felt like I could never get enough at one point it was funny. It was maybe a year or two in, and I was thinking about like, how many meetings do I need to have before? I know I really got it. And I was like, you know, if I could get 50 50 of each, I feel like that’s a lot, you know, my colleagues who do more interview-based studies, you know, 50 interviews for studies, a good amount, you get a lot of deep content from that. And I’m like, if I could get 50 that’s enough, but then it just became, I wanted to know everything I could possibly know. And I couldn’t stop because these things, as everyone that works in this field knows it’s like, they never end when one, like one it’s like one project never really ends.

Jeremy Levine (19m 59s):
It just sort of takes on a new life. And so it became very hard to ever feel like I had enough only until I looked and actually print it out because I liked to work in hard copies. I have a real hard time working with my field notes online. So I printed out, I’m sorry for the tree is, but I couldn’t help myself. It was important for me. I couldn’t, my brain doesn’t work otherwise, but I realized, yeah, I know. But I realized that I had like over 3000 single spaced page notes from all of these meetings. And then I was like, okay, I think I do have quite enough. That is sort of, you know, that my fears of not having enough, but yeah, no, I feel like I never really got, and I still feel like that now. I still feel like someone’s going to be around the corner and say, actually, you know, you didn’t know about this one meeting that we had where something completely different happened.

Jeremy Levine (20m 46s):
That’s really the, the imposter syndrome is more than you’ll never get enough, that someone is sort of holding things back and, you know, you miss the real critical elements. So I was trying to be as greedy as I could with consuming as much as I could, to the extent that one of the people I studied, who was at the time, the director of the CDC, and now I think he is still, or at least he was relatively recently the head of housing for the city of Somerville and asked me if I was a masochist, because he’s like, you know, these meanings are horrible for us. Like, they’re not fun for me to go to it. The same as a practitioner. He’s like, like meetings, like meetings, Zach, you know, the who likes meetings and you’re voluntarily coming to all of them, like, what is wrong with you? But I think it was more of like a FOMO, you know, a fear of missing out that I couldn’t stop myself.

Jeff Wood (21m 29s):
I hear you on that in the book you described, how you basically tried to catch rides with people too. So you could hear the after conversation, which almost is as important as the during conversation, if not more, because that’s where some of the quiet stuff is said out loud. It’s interesting to see that, but also, you know, I’m curious what, what tipped you off initially that this might be kind of an interesting story in this specific district. It’s a weird geography. You mentioned the problems with the geography in the, in the book, but you know, the Fairmont corridor as it were, what tipped you off that this might be something that’s worth looking into.

Jeremy Levine (21m 59s):
Yeah. So on the ride, on the rides point, I mean, you know, it’s funny, you learn things as you’re doing this work that make total sense when you talk about it, but it always gets taken for granted. So being in the car with someone’s an intimate experience, right? Like you’re confined in a particular, you know, vehicle that is, or a train ride. Even for that matter. If you’re sitting next to someone or a bus ride, like you’re in a enclosed space, where in the car, like, it’d be weird for someone to play the radio or to play music when I’m getting a ride from a professional to, or from a meeting, or like after a meeting, they’d give me a ride to a train station, the train station. So, cause a lot of the meetings were sort of like a train and a bus ride away when I was living, especially when I was living in Cambridge.

Jeremy Levine (22m 41s):
So they give me a ride to the closest train station and then I could take a quick ride into Cambridge. But those riding in the car with some of the real intimate experience, you’re not listening to the radio. It’s pretty quiet. You got to talk about stuff and you’re very close proximity. Like you’re sitting next to someone. And so I thought those were really helpful for both like humanizing one another. When you’re in a meeting with your colleagues, it’s a little different than like catching a ride with them. And you don’t think about this until you make it explicit until you sort of make the normal abnormal. You know, if you give a colleague a ride home from work, it’s a different experience than when you’ve been in meetings with them in a conference room, right? Like there’s a level of personal ability or sort of intimacy that comes with that. And those are really critical, not so much for like getting more information per se.

Jeremy Levine (23m 25s):
But I think for like getting a deeper sense of them as people and in particular, the person that would always give me rides as a, as a woman named Joan Tai, who is a consultant and she organized a lot of the meetings around issues in the Fairmount corridor. And then, you know, most of our talk wasn’t about Fairmont stuff. We talked about TV. We like to similar TV shows. We talked about movies, we talked about flux. And so I felt like it was just really important to get a full picture of people and to try the best that I could. It wasn’t always successful, but to try the best that I could to like capture some of that in the book. The other question about how I even found out about this is frankly happenstance. So a colleague of mine in my grad school cohort lived in Codman square in Dorchester and he studies gangs and does a lot of intervention research around reducing violence and working directly doing field work and ethnography with people who are in gangs.

Jeremy Levine (24m 23s):
And he’s told me one day after we were playing some basketball and having a burrito Philippe’s and Cambridge, one of the, you know, not a great burrito, but one of the best ones they got in Harvard square that like, Hey, you know, he was like, I was giving a ride home to someone who I was doing field work with another instance in where those sort of field work interactions around cars can be really helpful and important. And we passed by the sign that said, you know, in the heart of probably one of the most disadvantaged sections in the particular neighborhood where I was dropping this guy off, it said new train station coming. And he goes, is there anyone in our cohort? We are second year grad students, anyone in our cohort or anyone else that we know of interested in transit issues, transit equity, because this is a new station in a place that doesn’t have it.

Jeremy Levine (25m 6s):
It’s bus only to get to the main rapid line stations. This could be a really cool project for someone. And at the time I was searching for dissertation topic, I was actually super interested in transit in fact, the summer before this. So this was a November, the poll previous summer, I spent the whole summer reading everything I could about transit in cities, not so much from a transit planning perspective, but from the sort of equity urban, we didn’t call it equity. Then equity now is more the phrase that gets used a lot more, but it was more of an urban inequality framework. So I was taking seminars in urban inequality. I knew I was interested in urban stuff, inequality stuff. A lot of the research is about schools, education about labor market. The closest thing I saw was there’d be references in some of these books about people that couldn’t get rides places or were cars were a big problem where they didn’t have access to a cars.

Jeremy Levine (25m 54s):
They couldn’t get around spatial isolation. They’re isolated away from the transit networks to get to jobs downtown or whatever. The spatial mismatch theory had been. Some stuff that had been out there. But I thought to myself, the transit is something that is so critical for like tying all this stuff together. And now this, of course, to anyone listening to this podcast is not going to be surprising, probably well-versed in all of this before me. And you probably think I’m the accomplished smack for being ignorant to this. No, no, no, no, no. Like, you know, it relates to the environment, it relates to housing and it relates mostly to sort of the sort of social connections, isolation, that kind of stuff. And I said, I want to study this. So I read anything and everything I could, I didn’t really see a great tie in, on the sociology side of things.

Jeremy Levine (26m 37s):
But then when my colleagues said, Hey, there’s this new station coming? I was like, oh, okay, well, what is this? What’s it all about? I learned this was around 2009, that there was a commitment for, to build four new stations and disadvantaged neighborhoods in Boston. It was part of completely unrelated in many ways, crazy history. That’s actually related to the compliance with the clean air act as a result of the big dig that happened in the nineties that put a highway underground, there resulted in a lot of pollution. So new stations are coming and they had a deadline that was part of the sip to state implementation plan, I think is what the acronym stands for for the clean air act to build those new stations by 20 11, 2 years away from when I had learned about them, I thought, oh, holy shit, this is great.

Jeremy Levine (27m 26s):
I’m going to have two years of field work. And these neighborhoods before the station comes in two years afterwards, and that can do this sort of great, almost a natural experiment, if you will, of what happens when transit comes. Well, thank goodness someone let me know as a, the naive grad student that I am, that I should not anchor myself on public infrastructure timelines. That rarely are they met on time. And indeed in this case, it was not met on time. So thank goodness. I took the advice of a very helpful senior colleague who then said, think about something else. And so something else I decided was, okay, well, who are all the players involved in this may back and see what they have going on and see if there’s anything interesting to make sense of their

Jeff Wood (28m 8s):
It’s fascinating. I mean, I mentioned to you, you know, my first job out of college out of grad school was working on five different corridors around the country. And one of them was the Fairmount line and it dovetailed into your work. And so following this was in reading the book and I was like, wow, I know, I know this place. I know Upham’s corner. I mapped it. I did all the parcel analysis of this station. And it’s just such a fascinating thing because at the time what our project was the first time HUD and FTA had ever worked together. Right. And so, you know, bringing those together and looking at these corridors and how, you know, affordable housing section eight, section two, two housing fit into the game, and then your research just blew it all up for me was like, you know, there’s just so much more happening and I could see this stuff happening.

Jeff Wood (28m 50s):
I can see in our work, all the community foundations that are working on things, all of the names of the, of the organizations that you mentioned I’d heard before, but it was just fascinating to see the kind of the structure of it all. And it structured around this corridor, this specific corridor, which was kind of the brain child, apparently of the Boston foundation and others, not necessarily the city, it was just something that they kind of glommed onto and then they attacked as a goal. And I think that’s part of the story as well as how, you know, this one foundation kind of pulled together all of these other organizations and focused intensely on this corridor.

Jeremy Levine (29m 24s):
Yeah. There’s a similar parallel on the local ground to what HUD EPA and DOD were doing with that briefly, you know, the great moment where we had this project, the sustainable communities work, and it seemed like this is going to be such a great moment that sort of fizzled out, unfortunately. But you know, when you listen to them, talk about it, those at least particularly the regional administrators from region one, when they would talk about it, which is where the Boston case was, is that they said, look, we, we sat down, we looked at a map and we saw, wow, look at all of our HUD investments or DOD investments. And our EPA investments are all in the somewhat similar place if we mapped them all together. And wouldn’t it be great if we actually were sitting in the same room and coordinating ourselves so that we’re sort of helping each other so that the transit investments are going alongside the environmental ones, that the environmental ones are supporting the housing ones and you have this sort of overlapping layer that would presumably have the biggest effect, particularly in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Jeremy Levine (30m 20s):
They’re lacking access to a lot of these resources, if you can put them all together. And that sort of let’s sit down and look at a map. All this overlaps is in many ways, precisely the story that led the Boston foundation and in particular Dita predom, who now is actually the president of the Cambridge community foundation. But she was then the associate VP at the Boston foundation. Similar dynamic that led her to say the Fairmount quarter is a really important place or could be from a strategic, philanthropic and community development perspective. She looked at this place that happened to have this rail line, that at a time in the early two thousands, around 2003, 2004, when transit oriented development had never been more popular T O D putting all these things together in walking distance to transit great idea and said, well, there’s this talk and rumblings of new transit stations coming in these neighborhoods, we fund already a bunch of community development corporations doing low-income housing tax credit in section eight housing in these neighborhoods, they could be doing other things related to the environment in these neighborhoods.

Jeremy Levine (31m 27s):
And what if we sort of put something around it, made it a thing and coordinate all of our efforts around it. Now, there was a really reasonable, strategic reason for doing that as well, which is that those non-profits were fundraising through the Boston foundation, but also a bunch of other funders, like the local initiative, support corporation, LISC, Himes foundation, and others, to do a lot of the same work, not surprising. I mean, you know, there’s strategic organizations, they’re looking to get funding, but they’re asking for funding for basically the same thing from three or four different funders. Now it, even though Boston’s a, it’s a big place with a lot of nonprofits, a lot of funders, they know, all know each other and they all talk to each other. And so one of the really interesting things about this case was how much coordination the Boston foundation and other funders did themselves.

Jeremy Levine (32m 15s):
So in this case, the funders decided, okay, we got a bunch of grantees, we’ve got a great potential to overlap all these different aspects of development together, anchored it to the new transit stations. How do we make sure we do this the most effectively? So the funders themselves said, okay, here’s what we’re going to do. We are going to figure out our grants to these same grantees, overlap them, but make them sort of complimentary. So each of us has sort of taking off a different slice of this, which is great, really interesting, but I think the sort of like underlying interesting thing about this that frankly got taken for granted in the whole process was how they sort of tried to make the Fairmount corridor a thing kind of out of nowhere. Like this is a commuter rail line.

Jeremy Levine (32m 55s):
It’s a commuter rail line that because of the way that the state prices things actually gets priced differently, depending on what station you’re at, because of the way that the commuter rail zones work, the headwinds are different than the rapid rail lines. The stopping and starting is slower. The actual platforms have to be longer for ADA compliance than the rapid rail lines. Like is there, it’s just a very different, the machines are different. The actual trains themselves. I mean, you’re talking like a non-peak hours, like maybe once an hour, you’re going to get a train coming. And there was no real coherence between say up on scorner in Dorchester and like Logan square and Hyde park. Those are completely different neighborhoods that don’t think of themselves together.

Jeremy Levine (33m 36s):
But for the Boston foundation, they thought, well, we and gates in particular thought, this is a great opportunity where if a lot of things are happening together, it can make a big impact. And if we have a coherent geography to it, then that’s the thing we can sell. That’s the community that we can self. We construct this idea of this community as a community that has a valuable currency for other funders, for frankly, getting EPA HUD DOD involved as well to them like this is a corridor, but if, of course, if you live there, you wouldn’t necessarily think that way. Moreover, as one program officer at the Boston foundation told me at one point during the research, there’s a lot of other neighborhoods that are very worthy of resources from the Boston foundation that aren’t included in the corridor.

Jeremy Levine (34m 19s):
And the quarter also includes some neighborhoods that aren’t exactly high on our priority lists of funding, given race and class dynamics and demographics. So, you know, one of the things, as you can look at a map, see things overlapping and seeing there can be great benefit to it. And there can, but a lot of it is a sort of strategic or against small P political value that came from it that had real benefits, but also wasn’t entirely a coherent place.

Jeff Wood (34m 44s):
This concludes part one, join us next week for part two, as we talk with Jeremy talks about his book, Constructing Community, Urban Governance, development, and Inequality in Boston And thanks for joining us.


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