Building blocks for compassionate cities

A year after becoming the first woman and person of color to be elected to lead the city of Boston, Mayor Michelle Wu stood on the steps of a vacated church in February to fulfill a promise to reinvent how the city cares for its residents.

The building is part of a $67 million project to lift up low-income neighborhoods. Seventeen unused buildings and empty lots will be remade into more than 800 income-restricted units for rent or ownership, combined with artist studios, shop fronts, health clinics, and after-school centers.

The project is one of the more innovative ideas playing out across the United States as municipal planners and private developers grapple with how to ensure cities provide adequate housing for both existing and new residents. In many cities, that requires redressing historical harms caused by eminent domain or anti-blight laws that allowed city officials to appropriate homes or overrun whole neighborhoods.

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