Understanding Roxbury Today
(header photo: Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building, the new headquarters for Boston Public Schools, in Dudley Square, Roxbury. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
by Rudy Mitchell, Senior Researcher
Boston's Roxbury neighborhood is home to many of the city’s African American and Hispanic residents and offers many historic and contemporary assets to the city as a whole.
Community culture is celebrated through visual and performing arts, and in many houses of worship. Several parks, including Franklin Park with its Zoo, greenspace, and Golf Course, offer recreational outlets to the community. The Reggie Lewis Center offers space for exercise and a world-class track and field venue.
As a result of several stages of community development and renewal, this neighborhood at the geographic center of the city is on the rise. New business and housing initiatives are renewing the Dudley Square and Grove Hall districts. Blue Hill Avenue is no longer a street full of vacant lots.
Like many Boston neighborhoods, Roxbury is in transition. Long-term residents seek to benefit from positive changes, while preventing displacement and other negative effects of development and potential gentrification.
Roxbury Voice: Life in Roxbury
“I love it. I love living in Roxbury. I love the location. God created an optimum situation for us to move [here]. It’s worked for us as a family, as well as for ministry."
—Pastor Cynthia Hymes Bell, Director of Starlight Ministries
Residents of Roxbury
Residents By Race
Total Population – 51,714
Population Growth – Roxbury grew by 23% from 2000 to 2016, (doubling Boston's growth of 12% over the same time period).
Children – 29% of Roxbury residents are children (aged 0-19 years), higher than the 21% of Boston as a whole.
Female Householders – 34%. Roxbury, along with Mattapan, has the highest percentage (34.3%) of households headed by a female householder with no husband present of all Boston neighborhoods. The percentage for Massachusetts is 12.5%.
Foreign-born population – 14,006, or 27.1% in 2016, (up from 20.2% in 2000).
Language – 26% of Roxbury residents speak Spanish in the home.
Income – The median household income in Roxbury in 2016 was $26,883, which is less than half the Boston median of $58,769.
Black Culture – With over half of its residents identifying as Black/African Americans (compared to Boston’s 23%), Roxbury is still considered by many to be the heart of Black culture in Boston.
The Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists (NCAAA) is a gateway that "fosters and presents the finest in contemporary, visual and performing arts from the global Black world. "
The Roxbury Center for the Performing Arts opened in 2005, and continues to celebrate the culture of the community through visual and performing arts.
The Roxbury International Film Festival is the largest film festival in New England that annually celebrates people of color.
The Roxbury Cultural District "identifies and recognizes Roxbury's cultural assets and establishes the tools, strategies, resources, and spaces that elevate the community of Roxbury as a living repository of arts and cultural expression—past, present, and future."
Roxbury Voice: Advice to Christian Leaders
“I’m planning to get more involved with my neighborhood association this year...to understand different viewpoints and political standpoints in regards to development...[housing and failing schools]...to show up at meetings and to have a voice."
— Pastor Cynthia Hymes Bell, Director of Starlight Ministries
Housing – Roxbury has an unusually large percentage of its housing units that are renter-occupied (80%) compared to owner-occupied (20%). This is the highest rate of any non-student neighborhood in the city. (The U.S. proportion of renter-occupied units is 36%.)
Roxbury has the third highest number of housing units of any Boston neighborhood – 20,779.
Roxbury’s growth is poised to continue, with 2,711 new units of housing approved from 2010 through 2017 (including new residential units being added to the Whittier Choice Neighborhood project). In addition, 626 additional residential units have been proposed and are under review. If all 3,337 units are built, this could add 8,500 or more new residents to the Roxbury neighborhood.
Educational Attainment – From 2000 to 2016, the share of adult residents without a high school degree fell (32% to 25%) while the share with a bachelor’s degree rose (13% to 20%). Even though the percentage of college graduates increased, it is still the second-lowest of any neighborhood and far lower than the percentage of college graduates in most neighborhoods and Boston as a whole (46%).
(Primary source of data in this section: Boston in Context: Neighborhoods, Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), March 2018, based on the 2012-2016 American Community Survey (ACS), U.S. Census).
Roxbury – Boston Planning and Development Agency
This site provides a short overview of Roxbury's history, as well as comprehensive details on the city's projects—past, present, and future.
To learn more about Roxbury's extensive history, visit this site. The Roxbury Historical Society headquarters are located at the Dillaway Thomas House in the Roxbury Heritage State Park.