Upham's Corner Arts and Innovation District
In 2017, the City of Boston engaged MAPC’s Arts & Culture Department to develop a strategy for promoting equitable investment in Upham’s Corner, a commercial center located in the City’s Dorchester neighborhood. Designed to support neighborhood-level cultural planning outlined in the City’s comprehensive plan, Imagine Boston 2030, MAPC’s recommendations focused on the creation of an arts and innovation district—a unique fusion of a cultural district and innovation district—to support economic development that would complement and enhance local arts and cultural assets. The resulting recommendations were informed by a comprehensive review of existing current arts and culture resources and needs, as well as research on successful experiences and approaches of other innovation and cultural districts in Massachusetts and beyond.
A series of new investments in this historic and culturally diverse yet historically disinvested and predominantly low-income area precipitated MAPC’s work on this project. In addition to several new housing developments, two developments with implications for local cultural life—a new public library branch near the historic Strand Theater and a housing and arts development, set the stage for the district planning process. Given the potential for displacement of Upham’s Corner’s low-income residents, the City of Boston engaged MAPC to work on this plan in an effort to mitigate the impact of new development. The planning process’s goals reflected this concern, as well as a desire to create avenues for equitable investment:
- Assess commercial and residential vulnerability to displacement.
- Identify strategies and best practices for mitigating displacement.
- Engage in outreach to establish opportunities to leverage the neighborhood’s existing assets to support neighborhood-based workforce development initiatives.
MAPC was engaged by City of Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development (MOED), and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), with support from the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND). Internally, MAPC’s Arts & Culture department led a multi-disciplinary effort with the MAPC Housing and Economic Development teams.
MAPC’s participation in this project was made possible through the agency’s technical assistance resources and funded in part by arts and cultural planning and equitable transit-oriented development (e-TOD) grants from the Barr Foundation.
Work began in 2017 with outreach, data collection, and analysis. Through a comprehensive review of previous plans and studies, as well as on-the-ground research and observation, MAPC staff identified physical, social, and cultural assets, including small businesses and cultural programming. The report also included a review of successful precedents for arts and cultural districts, particularly those that included redevelopment of a community theatre, as well as innovation districts that demonstrated models for mixed-use and local workforce development. The resulting report identified district approaches to strengthen Upham’s Corner as a cultural hub and examined the potential of the Strand Theatre to serve as a major cultural facility accommodating a broader mix of uses.
Following this report, MAPC focused on identifying strategies to ensure that forthcoming redevelopment would support the residents and businesses that have established Upham’s Corner as a cultural and commercial hub for Dorchester’s diverse ethnic communities. Recommendations for the Arts and Innovation District fell in three broad categories:
- Land Use Regulations, such as a zoning overlay to expand allowable arts uses and provide a defined area in which to pilot new programs, such as regulations restricting Formula Retail (chain) businesses or programs that support legacy businesses.
- Strategies for Mitigating Commercial Displacement, such as creation of a subcommittee to facilitate collaboration among small businesses and community and economic development stakeholders, a commercial tenants assistance program, and tax credits for industrial businesses in a designated geographic area.
- Strategies for Mitigating Residential Displacement, such as increasing the supply of deed-restricted affordable artist housing and implementing programs to ensure artist eligibility for housing, amending the City’s Condominium Conversion Ordinance to limit the number of condominium conversions and preserve rental housing, and pursuit of an anti-displacement legislative agenda.
In addition, the plan offered a set of recommendations to support workforce training and employment opportunities aligned with emerging opportunities in the local creative economy, particularly around the Strand Theater and neighboring library branch redevelopment. Notably, these recommendations were not limited to calls for access to technical training and service sector jobs. Instead, the report analyzed opportunities to tap into existing youth development programs to prepare local young people for careers in the performing arts, as well as opportunities to integrate performing arts training programs with college readiness services.
- Place-based community engagement: From October 2017 through November 2018, project partners from the City of Boston and the BPDA hosted eight community engagement events, including an event celebrating the history of the Strand Theater and Upham’s Corner and envisioning possible futures, and four community workshops exploring various aspects of the planning process, including the RFP for the Strand Theater.
- Strengthened neighborhood-based partnerships: In 2019, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), a community development and organizing group based near Upham’s Corner, worked in partnership with the City of Boston to develop an RFP for several City- and DSNI-owned parcels in the District. Along with local partners such as the Design Studio for Social Intervention (DS4SI), DSNI has also been working to ensure that residents are included in these processes and understand how they can participate in the future (DSNI website).
Boston Planning and Redevelopment Authority. (n.d.) Upham’s Corner Implementation. Retrieved April 7, 2020 from http://www.bostonplans.org/planning/planning-initiatives/uphamscorner.
Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative. (07 May 2019). Creating an Arts & Innovation District in Upham's Corner. Retrieved April 3, 2020 from https://www.dsni.org/dsni-blog/2019/5/7/creating-an-arts-amp-innovation-district-in-uphams-corner.
Metropolitan Area Planning Council. (July 2017). Arts Innovation District Background & Strategy Report.
Metropolitan Area Planning Council. (June 2018). Arts and Innovation District: Managing Neighborhood Change. Retrieved April 6, 2020 from http://www.mapc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/UphamsCornerMNC_FinalReport_August2018.pdf.