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Tisch College Supports Community Dialogue on Gentrification

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The event was part of an initiative of the Tufts Community Research Center, which is part of Tisch College.

Penn Loh at gentrification discussion

Through its Community Impact Committee, The Tufts Community Research Center (TCRC) creates spaces where community members, university faculty, and students can engage in conversation, research, and action to address “wicked problems.” Gentrification and displacement are such “wicked problems” affecting residents in the communities near Tufts’ campuses, as well as communities across the country.

Beginning in spring 2014, TCRC’s  Community Impact Committee, comprising representatives from community organizations, as well as Tufts faculty researchers, embarked on a series of convenings to:

  • Promote dialogue among a diverse set of community and university stakeholders who usually don’t talk to each other.
  • Develop relationships and raise questions that might be pursued through community-university partnership.
  • Set up next steps to support community-university collaboration on issues identified through university / community dialogue and planning.

While there are many initiatives in policy circles already focused on gentrification, TCRC initiated this dialogue believing that there is a lack of space where people can engage with these issues more comprehensively, across disciplines and fields, and with others from very different viewpoints. In short, there are few places to learn together, in ways that get out of “comfort” zones, and that can help us reframe perspectives and the questions we are asking.

After several carefully planned meetings that brought together stakeholders in Somerville, MA  from local affordable housing, environmental, business, and municipal organizations, we hosted a Community Dialogue on Gentrification in May 2015 in the community room of the Mystic Housing Developments in Somerville.

“Gentrification” is a hot button issue. But discussions often stay stuck in a single viewpoint or focused only on a single dimension, such as affordable housing.  On May 14, 2015, we held a community dialogue to bring together a diverse range of people who might not ordinarily talk to one another about this issue. We didn’t presume that gentrification is “good” or “bad” or even that we all agreed on exactly what it is. This dialogue was set up to help broaden our understanding of the diverse views of gentrification. What do we think we know? What do we need to know to inform policy and strategies? What are the right questions to ask?

This dialogue had two roundtable discussions. The first featured views on gentrification from local stakeholders in Somerville, including a resident, city planner, business owner, realtor, and Tufts student. The second had several Tufts faculty, a community leader beyond Somerville, and a developer/planner sharing their insights and lessons learned.

The event was characterized by rich discussion and we are meeting with diverse community members and Tufts faculty to identify several themes or questions that can be further explored by Tufts-community collaboration and research.One of the ideas that has come out of this project is the creation of webpages that catalogue resources at Tufts, in the community, or elsewhere for those interested in learning more about Gentrification in Somerville and potentially collaborating on new research initiatives.