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Boston approves architectural conservation district for Roxbury’s Highland Park

The vote comes after at least 44 years of organizing from local residents.

The “Marble Block” is on Cedar Street. The St. James African Orthodox Church is in the next block, at Hawthorne Street. The city recently approved an effort to create an architectural conservation district in Roxbury’s Highland Park neighborhood.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Residents are celebrating the designation of Roxbury’s Highland Park as an architectural conservation district, a special status that will help protect the eclectic neighborhood’s streetscape amid intense development pressure.

“It’s taken an enormous amount of energy to have this fight,” said Andrew Shelburne, 40, who serves on the Highland Park Study Committee. “Now, we can put this energy into positive things.”

The Boston City Council made the designation official in a unanimous vote at its meeting last Wednesday, handing a win to residents who’ve spent decades trying to protect the neighborhood’s architectural diversity from urban renewal, development, and gentrification.


This new district — approximately bordered by Malcolm X Boulevard, Washington Street, Marcella Street, and Columbus Avenue — is distinctive for its rocky outcroppings and architectural diversity. The Fort Hill Tower, a former water tower built on the site of a Revolutionary War-era fort, is considered its most prominent landmark. Anyone climbing Highland Park’s steep hills can pass 18th-century Georgian single-family homes, 19th-century Queen Anne row houses, and buildings connected to 20th-century social justice movements within a few blocks.

And its historic architecture is just as varied as the people who’ve lived in Highland Park over time, including Jewish, Latino, and Black Southerner communities; before colonization, the Massachusett people settled in the area.

With architectural conservation district status, a special commission must approve any full or partial demolitions, major architectural alterations, major landscape alterations, or new construction. The commission will include two resident members, two resident alternates, and three Boston Landmarks Commission representatives.

Shelburne said these powers will help the architectural conservation district stem the tide of gentrification and displacement in Highland Park, without burdening residents with the tedious, often-expensive alterations process that residents of other historical districts, like the South End, must undergo.

You could literally have a hole in your roof, and this ACD doesn’t say anything about how to patch the hole,” he said.


Now, the search begins to fill the commission’s four resident positions. The selections will be made from recommendations submitted by seven neighborhood organizations or self-nominations submitted through the city’s website. After collecting nominations, the study committee selects a final group, who are then reviewed and approved by the Boston Landmarks Commission, the mayor, and the city council.

“We’re no longer just sending in our petitions to the Mayor’s office,” Shelburne said. “For the first time, neighbors have a say in what they want to stay, and what they don’t want to stay.”

The city hasn’t made another architectural conservation district since the Fort Point Channel Landmark District’s designation in 2009. Before Wednesday’s vote, residents tried to get official designation in 1978 and 1994, but nothing came of either attempt.

“I guess third time’s a charm,” Shelburne said.

Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at tiana.woodard@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @tianarochon.