Desirée Baynes has had a front-row seat to the revitalization of Dorchester neighborhoods that had once been written off by investors and the City. She moved to Jones Hill in the 1980s, and when the economy hit crisis levels in the early 90s, Desirée has seen Dorchester face its share of disinvestment, crime, and uncertainty. Unemployment was high. Property values dropped. Residents were moving out of the neighborhood. But Desirée was determined to remain.
Decades later, Desirée is still on Jones Hill. She has seen the revitalization of Dorchester, and not just as an observer. From her leadership of the Jones Hill Neighborhood Association in the 1990s to her fifteen-year tenure on the Dorchester Bay EDC Board of Directors, Desiree has long been committed to a neighborhood that others might have counted out.
Now an IT professional in the financial services industry, Dorchester Bay spoke with Desirée about the changes she has witnessed and why Dorchester Bay remains a vital resource.
How did you get involved with Dorchester Bay?
D.B. I moved to Jones Hill in the late 80s. The economy dived in the early 90s. During this time, inner-city communities around the country were hit with a wave of crime that you can expect during times of economic uncertainty. Dorchester in general – and Upham’s Corner in particular – did not escape this wave of crime. People were moving out, crime was high, property prices were dropping, unemployment was high, and there was a lack of investment in communities like Dorchester. On Jones Hill, we were concerned about the future site of the St. Margaret’s Hospital which is now home to St. Mary’s Women’s and Infants Center. There were frequent break-ins, physical assaults and drug dealing.
Jones Hill was my home, and I was not moving. If crime, disinvestment, abandonment, unemployment were the bad news, the good news was that there was a surge in community activism committed to neighborhood and community development and enrichment. At the urging of David Knowles (then executive director of DBEDC), I joined the board of directors. I served on the board until 2008.
At the time that I joined the board, I was just finishing a second-term as President of Jones Hill Association (JHA). As president of JHA, there was an opportunity to reach out and partner with DBEDC on possible DBEDC projects on Jones Hill. This is how I came to know David Knowles. Joining the board became a logical extension of the work that I had done as president of JHA. It was not enough to have a secure Jones Hill if the surrounding community was not as equally strong and vibrant.
As a DBEDC board member, I was a member of the economic development committee, and the small business loan program was near and dear to my heart. I served in various roles as vice president for economic development and for a very short time as board president.
Why do you support Dorchester Bay’s work?
D.B. As I look back through the years, I am amazed at the turnaround in Dorchester, Upham’s Corner, Jones Hill. These are now highly sought-after neighborhoods for living and working. That turnaround is credited in part to the wave of community activism. DBEDC with it various programs (job training, small business development, affordable housing, mixed-use development, community organizing) has played a major role in the revitalization of Dorchester neighborhoods. And of course, this was in partnership with then-Mayor Tom Menino and Charlotte Golar-Riche then head of the City’s Department of Neighborhood Development.
There are many watershed DBEDC programs that we can point to that set about this revitalization. But there are two that I want to emphasize.
The first is the America’s Food Basket on Dudley Street that helped to close a food desert in Upham’s Corner. Before America’s Food Basket, Upham’s Corner residents would have to shop at corner stores or travel miles away outside of the neighborhood for basic food staples. Although America’s Food Basket is no longer there, it revealed a market void and signaled to other entities that investing in this neighborhood would be an economic success. I would like to think that the ever-expanding and successful South Bay Shopping Center came about after seeing the success of America’s Food Basket and the strong demand for such retail services.
The other is the industrial complex at 65 Bay Street, home of Spire Corporation. This was DBEDC’s first industrial project that while challenging is worth mentioning for a couple of key reasons: job growth and innovation and technology in inner-cities. Again, the completion of this project was another signal to the City of Boston and other entities that Boston inner-city communities have a wealth of resources for fostering economic growth.
Why are community development and organizations like Dorchester Bay as an important resource to the communities they serve?
D.B.: We have come a long way. There definitely is a different vibe that I get now when I tell people that I live in Dorchester. I no longer feel the need to apologize for or defend Dorchester which is rich in its own history and culture and diversity.
Organizations like DBEDC breathes life into inner-city communities as new challenges emerge. They provide hope for the future, expand opportunities for what is achievable and create an atmosphere of inclusivity. Don Walsh, a community resident and one of the founding members of DBEDC in 1979, saw this vision on the impact EDCs can have on communities.
As far as we have come with this vision, there is still vital work to be done in creating affordable housing and improving quality of life for inner-city residents. Property valuation increases is a by-product of the success of DBEDC, community activism and the City of Boston in the revitalization of Dorchester. The result is that property ownership remains out of reach for many especially for young adults and low-wage earners who may not have the capital to invest. There are still gaps between those living on the edge and the middle class who have newly made Dorchester neighborhoods their home. There are still pockets of neighborhoods in Dorchester that are yet to experience the fruits of the current vibrant economy and strong markets.
Community organizations need to help resolve displacement resulting from gentrification and in continuing the work of building a vibrant economy in inner-city communities. However, I believe there is an opportunity for DBEDC to expand on the 1979 vision while remaining committed to the core mission. DBEDC and other community organizations need to be stewards of the environment, encourage healthy, quality lives and wealth creation. And so, I would like to see these organization take a role on addressing issues of climate change as it impacts local communities, building education around nutrition, mental and physical well-being, financial literacy and encouraging STEM education for youths who will be the future stewards of the new and rapidly evolving economy.