Uprooted: For Young People in Bunker Hill, New Development Could Mean Major Life Changes

There has been an ongoing assumption during the redevelopment meetings for Bunker Hill Development that those living in the development would happily leave their long-time homes behind – no questions or no concerns about it.

Fatima Fontes said not everyone-especially young people-living in the Bunker Hill Development is excited about losing their homes to the new re-development. She said many living there have more questions than answers, and it’s causing a lot of stress.

Yet, that assumption has come without really consulting a lot of those living there, particularly the young people that have grown up there. Many of them have more questions than answers, and are worried they could be uprooted from their homes and schools to another part of the city, while also losing many of the places that hold dear memories of their childhood.

Fatima Fontes is one of the most outspoken of the group, and the second-year student at Boston University – who grew up in the development since she was 5 and attended all Charlestown schools – is worried for the entire community of children and young adults there.

“I just feel like they’re wiping out my whole childhood,” she said last week. “I just wonder will anyone be left that I grew up with. Will anything be left that I remember as a kid in Charlestown…I did my first pull-up in the park here. I have a lot of memories in that park right there. It’s where I met my best friend Zaire when we were little. That park will be gone, and who will the park be for when they build a new one. Will the people coming back be welcome there? The reason the parks and the development are coming down is because no one wanted to fix it, maintain it or clean it. When I was younger, it was nice and they kept it up. When they decided they were going to knock down the development several years ago, that’s when they stopped caring.

“The park on O’Reilly Way is already gone,” she continued. “I know it wasn’t the best, but it was ours and it’s gone. How do they expect us to feel?”

According to her and others, no one is really asking.

Fontes, a graduate of Charlestown High who commutes to BU now, is one of the most vocal young people in the development – a leader in the Turn It Around program – but she said she’s not the only one worrying about the future.

There are more questions than answers about the project right now, and that has been a thorn in the side of the general community. However, for young people living there, a start date of next year and an uncertain future is even more harrowing.

Fontes lives about 100 feet from the start of Phase 1, and knows a lot of children and young people who live in Phase 1. That beginning part of the redevelopment project, which is behind the Kennedy Center, could involve moving families to other parts of the city in other developments. For others, even in future phases, it will certainly mean moving to other parts of the Bunker Hill campus.

“They keep talking about money and financing and ‘making it work,’ but I don’t care about their money,” she said. “Many of my friends and younger kids I know don’t care about that either. We care how we’re going to live – how we’re going to make our lives work through Phase 1 and Phase 1B. There are kids that might have to move. I want to know how these kids will get to school in Charlestown if they have to move all the way across the city to a development in Dorchester. These kids go to Harvard Kent and I hope they don’t lose their seat if they have to move. I just don’t think anyone has really thought about how much an adjustment moving is and that it creates such stress on children and families. It’s just a plan that hasn’t centered on the lives of residents.”

That same concern revolves around the philosophy of a mixed-income development, and there is a lot of anxiety for Fontes and others living in Bunker Hill about new, wealthier, people coming in. So many have wondered if wealthy people would live next door to those in public housing, but few have asked the question in reverse.

How will the two groups interact when some kids have everything, and others just a few doors down have nothing?

How will young professionals react to cultural norms of some of the immigrants that have lived a certain way in Bunker Hill for years?

“I’m not so sure how it’s going to feel when new people are driving up in BMWs all the time, and my mom cannot even afford a car of any kind,” she said. “I don’t know if anyone is thinking about how that might take a toll on us.”

Beyond that, Fontes said many of her friends are concerned about the environmental aspects of the demolition. While she isn’t in any of the Phase 1 buildings, she said she lives literally 50 feet from the first building to be demolished. Knowing that the buildings will create a lot of dust, will block her path to the bus, and have asbestos issues, she said there are many concerns about the health of residents during the construction. “I want to know what they’ll do with everyone living right next to Phase 1,” she said. “When they start talking about tearing down bricks, that’s going to be messy. It might not be healthy…There are many more questions than answers. People want answers, not predictions.”

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