“Community” in Question: Conversations and readings on art, activism, and community vis-à-vis the Green Line Expansion

“Community” in Question: Conversations on art, activism, and community was a walking tour exploring the notion of community in early April 2009 for the conference entitled “Convergence: The Intersection of Arts and Activism” at Tufts University. Participants included Katie Hargrave, Heath Schultz, Meredith Warner, Nick Jehlen, Jethro Heiko, and Jeremy Beaudry.

This multi-layered project was presented as part of a conference entitled “Convergence: The Intersection of Arts and Activism” at Tufts University in early April 2009. Co-sponsored by the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service and Massachusetts Campus Compact, the conference gathered together artists, activists, and educators interested in social justice and the arts.

The walking tour and conversations investigated the proposed public transportation expansion (MBTA Green Line) into Somerville-Medford and examine how residents respond to (both for and against) changes in transportation. Leaving from the Tufts University campus, our walking and talking followed a portion of the proposed route of the Green Line expansion, visited 2 proposed T stop locations, and then culminated at Davis Square Red Line T stop.

This project proposed to explore the idea of community and the many assumptions, ambiguities, and boundaries that inform this powerful and oft-cited trope. Our project involved two convergent courses of research with respect to community — one general and one topical. Generally, we addressed the nominal subject of the conference: the relationship between art and activism. Topically, we undertook a case study local to Somerville-Medford: the relationship between gentrification and the expansion of Boston’s public transit system.

Turning to the specific and the local, the problems of defining community became very apparent when we considered the proposed expansion of the MBTA Green Line into Somerville and Medford. The expansion, with stops in Union and Ball Squares, proposed to effect the areas immediately surrounding Tufts University, much like the 1980s expansion of the Red Line into Davis Square. By looking into the historical record and colloquial memory surrounding the Davis Square extension, we revealed a precedent for questioning the effects of the newly proposed transit expansion.

The character of Davis Square is said to have changed quite a bit since the completion of the Red Line station in 1984. More money and business came to the Square, more public art and new infrastructure; but with this also came increasing rents that, when coupled with the loss of rent control and other public housing assistance, ultimately displaced lower income residents away from the new station. This indicated a tension between the desire for more public transportation with the potential gentrifying consequences of such public transportation expansion– especially those expansions that connect high-end urban centers with outlying neighborhoods. We hoped to examine how residents respond to (both for and against) changes in transportation and how transportation effects their cities and neighborhoods in order to further investigate key questions about the nature of community.

The tools and tactics used to execute these overlapping analyses of community were: creating an educational reader on community, organizing PHPM’s within Somerville-Medford involving key stakeholders of the MBTA expansion, and facilitating a workshop within the Convergence conference that created a dialogue in order to frame a critical conversation with conference participants about the notion of community and how artists (and activists) engage productively in the communities.

Download the reader → 25 Texts on “Community” in Question: Conversations on art, activism, and community

Download the appendix → History & Resources on the MBTA Green Line Expansion