Date of Award

Summer 8-22-2019

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Richard Judd

Second Committee Member

Elizabeth McKillen

Third Committee Member

Liam Riordan

Additional Committee Members

Jacques Ferland

Roger J.H. King


The following work explores the evolution of a resident-directed environmental activism that challenged negative public perception to redevelop their community. Beginning in the 1950s, city leaders justified the dislocation of non-white residents from Boston’s South End with the argument that they failed to maintain personal property and degraded community institutions. Most of these minority residents were forced to move to Roxbury. From 1963 to 1983, Roxbury lost 2,200 housing units. The vacant lots led to illegal dumping, and increased toxicity in the air, water, and soil from undesirable land use businesses such as asphalt plants. As a result, banks, supermarkets and pharmacies refused to locate in the area. By 1985, the Dudley area of Roxbury shared a median income with the poorest communities in the United States. The negative perception of residents, abrogation of civil and property rights, and denial of essential services led to isolation and vulnerability that instituted and enforced environmental racism. The roots of the Environmental Justice Movement (EJM) that gained public recognition in Boston during the 1990s extend back to the nineteenth century. Minorities employed a variety of environmental strategies and actions to control their community and shape policies that impacted their community. In response to urban renewal and coupled with civil rights efforts, residents developed an activist approach in the 1960s. In the 1970s, groups recruited participants, built organizational capacities, and improved the networking capabilities of residents. While they did not identify as environmentalists, their pragmatic pursuit of equality led to specific environmental improvements. In the 1980s, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) drew directly from the experiences and personnel of previous efforts to build a national exemplar of environmental justice. Building an “urban village” in Dudley Square facilitated a variety of environmentally focused initiatives that increased access to public transportation, expanded clean energy use, improved air quality, and reduced pollutants. Activist groups pioneered civic environmentalism, the philosophy that environmentalism and civic activism begins in the home, street, and neighborhood where one lives. Proponents of civic environmentalism contend that local environmental stewardship leads to sound environmental policy on larger and more complex scales.