BY EMMA HARTL
Driving through Boston, one encounters extravagant mansions and clean sidewalks. However, a few minutes away, stacked apartment buildings and dirty streets. The difference a few blocks can make in the appearance and culture of a neighborhood is staggering. Although the wealthy and the poor live very close to one and other, their quality of facilities, the advancement of infrastructure, and overall upkeep in their neighborhoods is strikingly different. It is very apparent that race, employment, and education play a crucial role in the placement of people throughout Boston. People must focus on neighborhood investment in order to combat wealth inequality, as the difference in investment in neighborhoods of opposing economic status is so great that lower class people are kept from achieving financial progress. An equal investment in neighborhoods would be beneficial because it would increase the value of neighborhoods, create opportunities, and distribute power to more people that solely the wealthy, giving everyone the opportunity to grow economically.
In Boston, the majority of government funding goes to wealthy neighborhoods, resulting in an increase in the value of these neighborhoods, but also leaving the other areas in dire need of financial help. The value of developments is vastly different from neighborhood to neighborhood, and the demographics of each neighborhood have some clear trends. For instance, wealthy areas like Downtown, the West End, Allston, and Fenway are statistically inhabited mainly by highly educated white people with steady jobs. Neighborhoods like these receive far more money for development from the city than neighborhoods primarily inhabited by black or Hispanic people with lower education and either low paying jobs or none at all. It is important to question why affluent neighborhoods that are already succeeding are the top priority of government spending. According to the Neighborhood Profiles produced by the Boston Planning and Development Agency Research Division, one of these neighborhoods, “The South Boston Waterfront is eighty-four percent white, seventy-nine percent of its citizens have bachelor's degrees or higher, and fifty- two percent of housing units are occupied. In 2016 2,478 thousands of square feet were approved for development in South Boston,” (BPDARD). Similarly to many other wealthy Boston neighborhoods, the South Boston Waterfront is full of opportunity and investment, as the residents have the means to contribute to the neighborhood. It is no surprise that Boston would want to continue to pour money into places like South Boston because of its endless potential. This explains how the majority of the money continues to go to affluent neighborhoods because it is a sound investment for the government, however, that does not justify the significantly smaller sum of money provided to lower income areas.
Low-income neighborhoods must be prioritized in order to solve wealth inequality as they are not being provided with enough money to stay afloat. The statistics for these struggling areas show that there is a real issue with the distribution of money in Boston. According to the Neighborhood Profiles produced by the BPDARD, “Mattapan is seventy-four percent black, sixty-three percent of residents have a high school education, and as of 2015, sixty-three percent of housing was occupied. In 2016 the BPDA Board approved development in thousands of square feet was approximately zero square feet,” (BPDARD). Mattapan is in need of more housing, a clear sign that it needs funding for development because it will continue to become more overcrowded and run down without it. Yet, they received no funding for development because the money was spent on neighborhoods like the South Boston Waterfront. As long as Boston ignores Mattapan, the value of Mattapan will plummet, the exact opposite of South Boston waterfront. Equal funding in Boston could advance as a whole and all neighborhoods would be more financially stable because all neighborhoods would have more affordable housing and better jobs. It is not logical to put money into areas that are doing just fine when the majority of Boston residents are struggling in more condensed areas. Not to mention, equal funding would create a better flow of money between neighborhoods which would also translate to more diversity because poor communities would have the resources needed to allow low-income individuals to advance in society. This would result in black and Hispanic residents, who statistically live in poor neighborhoods with low-income jobs to start to break systematic racism in Boston.
The lack of money in poor neighborhoods fuels wealth inequality because it results in barely any promising opportunities available for residents, keeping people in poverty. Low-income people concern themselves almost exclusively with providing for their families because they are not surrounded by good paying jobs or better affordable housing. These families commonly get stuck in a cycle of constantly having to make ends meet because they have no other choice. In "Hurray for Losers," author Dagoberto Gilb describes his lifestyle as a teenager in a low-income family. He is optimistic for his future, yet he recognizes that in his community there are low expectations for people's futures. Glib says, “Most stayed within a few miles of high school and worked at the familiar there. Or just had work come out of the family, lived near all of them. They just did what they'd been doing, what they learned to do,” (Gilb 31). In many poor neighborhoods like Gilb's people had low regards for their futures, and it seems like the government does too. If they did have hope for struggling neighborhoods they would give them. In the meantime wealthy Boston residents live in communities where their advancement is made a priority, and where it is a much easier process to get a better job, then a better house, and create a cycle of progress. Everyone deserves a fair shot to advance financially, and have a life that is different than that of their neighborhood’s fate. Nonetheless, this fate cannot easily be reversed. There are many barriers that make it difficult for wealthy, white, well-educated neighborhoods to be infiltrated by less privileged people. One prevalent reason is that less privileged people are not encouraged or aided in the process of advancing. In Youth From Every Quarter by Kirstin Valdez Quade, Kirsten shares her experience with helping Ana, a struggling student who didn't fit into her wealthy summer school because she was less privileged than the other students. When Kirsten attempted to get help for Ana, the dean of students states, “Not everyone belongs at Eliot,” (Valdez Quade, 25). The dean of students at the wealthy school was more lenient with the wealthy white students, but the dean decided that Ana, a poor Mexican student, was on her own, and she may not belong at the school anyway. Many connections can be made between this story and the current distribution of funding in Boston. Low-income neighborhoods that are primarily inhabited by poor people are being let down by the city because they are not getting fair treatment, and in a way, they are set up to fail because of it. Wealthy Bostonians, as well as the city, need to use their power to advocate for poor Boston neighborhoods because they are not given a fair shot at success.
`It is important that low-income neighborhood receive the proper funding so that streets are beautified, and living conditions are more suitable. Necessities like modes of transportation and housing are compromised because they are treated as inadequate by the city, making them unreliable. Since poor residents cannot depend on many of these things, it makes life even more difficult than it already is. In “A Blizzard Of Perspective” by Barbara Howard, she shares the story of a low-income mother in Boston. Howard wrote, “Even before clocking into her job, she faces obstacles most of us never have to think about, and after clocking out, she and her little girl spend hours on buses only to face one last uphill climb. And then they do it again the next day,” (Howard, 59). This is the struggle of a lot of low-income people. They depend on broken systems, work unreliable jobs, and after a long day of work has to go to their overpriced homes. In impoverished areas, this lifestyle is clearly not a choice. This doesn't have to be the case since if the city put funding into poor areas, efficiency and living conditions would improve exponentially. In addition to the improvement of funding on the productivity of a neighborhood, it would improve the quality of life. for residents. Although the appearance of a neighborhood is not actively keeping people from getting to work or getting the resources they need, it is still detrimental to an occupant’s daily life. Even conditions of sidewalks are impactful to the atmosphere of a neighborhood. Not surprisingly, according to Meghan Irons, a writer at the Boston Globe, “Sixty-five percent of sidewalks in Roxbury and Dorchester are either in fair or poor condition; by contrast, sixty-eight percent of the sidewalks downtown and in the Back Bay are in good condition, city data show,” (Irons 52). The condition of sidewalks in poor neighborhoods should be a concern for Boston because once cracks and potholes form, they quickly get worse and become a big hazard. Having a nicely kept neighborhood would allow residents to have a sense of pride for where they live, which many do not have because of the poor condition of their surroundings. No one should have to feel shame for where they live because of something that is out of their control. Increased funding in poor neighborhoods, would have a hopeful outlook because they live in a more inspiring space.
Some would disagree that neighborhood investment should be Boston’s first priority in combating wealth inequality because they believe that creating more job opportunities is more important. In Boston, there are a lot of people out of jobs, primarily in areas. The less privileged a person is, the harder it is for them to find a job, and in the rare occurrence that they do, it isn't always enough to support them and their families. For instance, in "Outside," author Kiese Laymon describes his friend Dave Melton who is unemployed, saying, “I earned nineteen hundred dollars a month after taxes for talking to young people about something called black literary imagination and Dave was legally unemployed because no one in Hudson Valley wanted to hire a black man with several felonies on his record,” (Laymon 28). It is true that wealth inequality would improve if there were more jobs for less privileged people, however, neighborhood investment should be prioritized first, because it will create more job opportunities in itself. If there was equal funding in Boston, there would be more funding for office spaces which creates jobs. Also, neighborhood investment makes the city of Boston direct attention to poor citizens, which gives them a voice to advocate for policies that would allow less privileged people to get jobs.
An equal investment in neighborhoods must be prioritized as it would improve living conditions, create opportunities, and make financial progress obtainable to everyone. Boston has a lot of work to do in terms of making everyone, rich and poor, heard, because as of now only rich neighborhoods are heard and they are also the only neighborhoods that are advancing. The city must open their eyes to this reality and prioritize everyone if they actually have intentions of making progress.
Emma is a prolific writer and artist at Boston Collegiate Charter School.