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Planners study Hub resilience

Group focuses on Rox., East Boston

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Planners study Hub resilience
Chief Resilience Officer Atyia Martin addresses the Trans-Atlantic Policy Lab, a group of planning officials visiting Boston to study community resilience in Roxbury and East Boston.

An international group of city planners and nonprofit officials convened in Dudley Square Monday to launch a week-long effort to develop strategies directed at some of Boston’s most pressing problems of inequality.

The gathering was the first-ever convening of the Trans-Atlantic Policy Lab, an initiative of the Bertelsmann Foundation and the German Marshall Fund of the United States. The effort dovetails with the ongoing work of Boston’s Chief Resilience Officer, Atyia Martin. Martin, whose work is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative. Martin has been focusing on how social inequality affects the resilience of Boston neighborhoods.

With some of the most racially-segregated housing patterns in the U.S., the highest rates of inequality and a real estate market that is increasingly unaffordable to the city’s moderate- and low-income residents, Boston presents thorny challenges for the Trans-Atlantic Policy Lab members, who met in the Bruce Bolling Municipal Building Monday morning.

Martin ran through a PowerPoint presentation outlining the stark disparities in wealth, income and education between the city’s white population and the blacks, Latinos and Asians who, together, make up the majority of the city’s residents.

“The initial indication is that it’s a long history of policies and practices that have brought us here,” Martin told the gathering.

The 100 Resilient Cities initiative is aimed at helping cities cope with the physical, social and economic challenges they face in the 21st century. Natural disasters, like the 2005 Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans, are widely thought to have a disparate impact on low-income communities. While much of New Orleans bounced back from the hurricane, many of the city’s black residents were permanently displaced.

In Boston, blacks, Latinos and immigrants are vulnerable to economic disruptions, severe weather and other shocks, Martin noted.

“Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by infrastructure vulnerability,” she said.

Members of the Trans-Atlantic Policy Lab, the group of 30 planners from U.S. cities, Greece, England, Estonia and Germany will focus on Roxbury and East Boston, neighborhoods with large populations of people of color and immigrants, and help develop strategies to increase community resilience.

The effort dovetails with Martin’s ongoing initiative, through which she aims to develop a resiliency strategy that draws upon city policies, interagency collaborations and partnerships to tackle the factors that make low-income and immigrant communities more vulnerable.

Currently, Martin is gathering data to quantify and better understand the vulnerabilities affecting those communities. Martin has convened more than 200 meetings with stakeholders in Boston to gather ideas and plans to finalize the city’s resiliency strategy later this year.

“We’re working to get to that ‘one Boston’ that everyone talks about, but many people don’t feel like they’re a part of,” she said.

Martin told the Banner that Boston’s resiliency effort would likely tap a nonprofit entity to work with underrepresented communities and lend its 501(c)3 status to help attract donations and bring resources to those communities.

“This is really about applying the expertise, locally, nationally and internationally, to bring in opportunities we may be missing,” she said.

The efforts likely will focus on helping people in low-income communities build assets and increase civic engagement.

“If we can help build assets within communities, we can begin to address the intergenerational wealth gap you see in communities of color,” Martin said.

During Monday’s Trans-Atlantic Policy Lab, participants shared perspectives on resilience efforts in other cities.

In Estonia, a former Soviet client state, the country is struggling to integrate a population that does not identify as either Estonian or Russian. German cities are struggling to accommodate refugees streaming in from Syria and other conflict-torn countries in the Middle East and North Africa. In Britain, a growing population of blacks and South Asians has become socially integrated, but remains largely blocked from positions of political power.

During Monday’s conversation, it became clear that the European participants would learn much from their American colleagues. While many of the Europeans spoke about the struggles of integration, blacks from the United States said integration is no longer the chief aim here.

“The word came to prominence in contrast to the legal segregation here,” noted consultant Jacqui Lindsay. “Since that time and now, we’ve been talking about shared leadership, shared power and what it means to be a full citizen – what it means to be presumed equal. It’s evolved. We’ve evolved in our thinking.”

Asked how Martin’s planning effort will work with the other planning initiatives — including GoBoston 2030, Imagine Boston 2030 and Boston Creates — Martin said she is coordinating with leadership on those initiatives to make sure residents don’t suffer from what she called “planning fatigue.”

“We’re making sure that as I do engagement, I know what’s happening with other planning processes,” she said.

Martin said her engagement effort will inform the other planning processes.

“We’re making sure our efforts tie back to Boston 2030, maintaining an equity lens,” she said. “This is the heart of how we look at this work, through an equity lens.”