Dozens of Eggleston Square residents, community leaders, business owners, and elected officials gathered outside Robert Lawson Park in Roxbury last month amid rain and near-freezing temperatures for the neighborhood’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
There was music, hot chocolate and churros. Mayor Michelle Wu was there, as was State Representative Liz Malia, who represents the area in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
But the ceremony, which has been attended by residents of neighboring Roxbury and Jamaica Grounds for more than a decade, felt different this year—and not only because it was raining, said Rossana Rivera, owner of Latino Beauty Salon in Eggleston Square. Told Greeley Tribune Com.
For the first time in more than a decade, the neighborhood’s lighted Christmas tree was not located in the community park known as the “Peace Garden.”
Instead, the tree was placed under the block, as its normal home in the garden at the corner of Washington and School Streets was closed by a fence. Trash was piling up, needles were left on the ground, and the park was on the market—for $1.1 million.
For more than two decades, local residents and several Black-, Latino- and immigrant-owned businesses managed an approximately 5,500-square-foot parcel of land in Eggleston Square. It has over the years become a demonstration site, a garden, a memorial site and a “flashpoint for activism” in the neighborhood, which is battling youth violence, disinvestment and homelessness, among other challenges. according to residents,
“The garden itself is much more than a green space or a park,” Malia told Greeley Tribune.com. “It is a monument to a community that has worked through some difficult problems. It brings back some history and helps people reconnect with each other.”
Once vacated, there is a billboard that since 1980 Clear Channel Outdoors, a multinational, multi-billion dollar outdoor advertising company that maintains billboards, wallscapes and other advertising spaces around the world. Malia said he believed the billboard was installed at the location because, when it was built, it was located just below the street where the MBTA’s elevated Orange line stopped. when the subway was redirected in 1987Billboard remained. And since the late 1990s, the billboard has hung, and right in the middle, the neighborhood’s only green space: Peace Garden.
Now, the advertising company has listed the park for sale, Recommend to potential buyers The online listing states that the location is “ideal for an affordable or mixed-income residential development with ground floor commercial use.” The listing shows a rendering of a multi-storey housing complex that can occupy the space.
Since the property went on the market in early December, local residents have raised around 400. have fought back with sign a petition Calling upon the corporation to transfer ownership of the property to the city, which may retain the space for public use.
Jacob Bor, a local resident and active member of the neighborhood association who helped organize the petition campaign, said, “Clear Channel has received a large amount of free labor from the community over the years in terms of upkeep and maintenance of the place ” Greeley Tribune.com.
The property was listed for sale after community members struggled for years to negotiate an agreement to retain Clear Channel’s attention and control the use of the space, according to Dennis Delgado, executive director of the company. Eggleston Square Main Street, a local non-profit that dedicates resources to public space revitalization.
Clear Channel maintained a lease with ESAC Greeley Tribune, another local non-profit from 2003-2018. Delgado said the agreement provided a legal basis for community organizations to take ownership of the property’s design and use the space for cookouts, small festivals, film screenings and a variety of other activities.
Despite private ownership, the park developed into a community space.
In addition to the annual Christmas tree lighting – which became a tradition over the years, attracting the presence of the mayor – murals were installed. Picnic was organized. The park also has a layer of memorial bricks in memory of local youths killed as a result of youth violence.
“Peace Garden is like the heart of Eggleston Square,” said local saloon owner Rivera. “I can’t imagine Eggleston Square without being a place.”
The residents’ petition was submitted late last month to Rick Wechter, the mayor’s office and regional president of Clear Channel’s Greeley Tribune branch.
Wechter did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Greeley Tribune.com.
Days after the petition was given, residents received a response from officials in Mayor Wu’s office, saying that the city had reached out to Clear Channel to begin talks about the land.
“The Eggleston Square community has taken responsibility for the Peace Garden and transformed it into a space for collective healing and enjoyment,” the Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, head of environment, energy and open space for the city, said in a statement to Greeley Tribune. com. “The city appreciates this important work and is looking for ways we can support the neighborhood’s efforts.”
local resident It is alleged that the parcel of land was put on the market only after Clear Channel learned that a nearby warehouse was sold for $2 million last summer.
According to Delgado, prior to that discovery, Clear Channel was considering donating land to the community.
But she said the move was only under consideration for Clear Channel after the company refused to re-sign the lease with the community, citing “liability concerns.”
After the initial lease expired in 2018, members of the community continued to maintain the place as a park. But Delgado increasingly said, local residents with substance abuse disorders, some of them living shelterless, used the place to gather and drink. The community had trouble accessing the Clear Channel, and residents allege that the company failed to maintain the space.
Instead, Delgado said, local business owners would “wear gloves, hold rakes, and clean up trash in the middle of their work days” at the park.
Rivera was one of those business owners. She said she made friends with some of the people walking around the park, and she worked with local agencies to provide resources and outreach to them.
“We built community with the homeless, with the merchants, with the neighbours,” Rivera said. “I’ve known so many people, without Shanti Garden, I don’t think I would have known. We’re like a family here.”
But community organizations have been denied funds from the city to carry out repairs because they lack legal rights to the space, with Clear Channel reportedly reluctant to sign a lease that expires in 2018. According to Delgado.
Three local community organizations, including Delgado, were in line to receive a combined $150,000 grant in May 2020 through the city’s Community Preservation Act. The act provides funding for affordable housing and helps neighborhoods preserve open space, among other things.
But the funds, which the organizations planned to use to revitalize the park, were never disbursed, with Clear Channel never signing an agreement that, according to Delgado, grants funds to the organizations. allows to receive.
Residents say the community reportedly neglected to continually focus on space, with a lack of resources to maintain the park and the Clear Channel, resulted in property degradation.
“The community health issues that we have in Eggleston, and the opioid epidemic, and the way homelessness has gone down during the pandemic: all those things are part of the story of Peace Garden and what makes it really challenging for the community. To continue putting resources into it,” Delgado said. “For the neighborhood to work, everyone has to invest in it. The property owners will have to contribute. ,
According to the community petition, in November city officials declared the space a public health hazard and the Clear Channel fenced it.
It was listed for sale in December.
But residents, community leaders and elected officials are hopeful that park ownership will eventually be in the hands of the public.
“I think the key players are on the table, and we’re hoping to be able to work something out with the help of City,” Malia said. “We are very hopeful that things are going to settle down and we will light an actual tree this time next year at Peace Garden in Eggleston.”
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