Saturday, November 01, 2008

A conundrum of neighborhood names

We all know why the Back Bay is called a bay. It was once a shallow, fetid, stinking backwater of a bay filled with sewage and carcasses before it was filled in with soil to form an arc parrallell to Cambridge to become the eastern picturesque shore of the majestic Charles River. Pricey land, perhaps, but solid land just the same. All the expense that went into filling the bay demanded a solid investment. It remains so to this day, thus far. What of other Boston neighborhood names?

Why is East Boston the northernmost part of the city? Why is South Boston the part that stetches most to the east into Boston Harbor while all of Dorchester spreads below it on a map? Why is West Roxbury at the city's southern edge? Why can't anyone tell Allston from Brighton so much so that the two are always referred to together as Allston/Brighton?

Why is Lower Roxbury right next to North Dorchester though both neighorhoods share a common border and latitude? Why do we travel uphill from the Orange Line to get to Jamaica Plain? Why does the Mission Hill branch of the Boston Public Library have 'Parker Hill Library' carved over its doors? The Mission Church was built before the library and only a puddingstone's throw away.

How does a city known for its parochialism get away with naming neighborhoods, in Dorchester at least, complete with signs from the mayor welcoming travellers, Morton Street Village or Adams Street Village? Morton and Adams Streets are long. Am I to believe that no one ever had a better name for these nodes of commerce and community? Pull off I-93 in Dorchester and you will be greeted by a sign on Columbia Road. It says: "Welcome to Columbia/Savin Hill." Can anyone think of a clunkier monniker? Yes. The Red Line T station on Columbia Road is called JFK/UMASS. There may not be graft involved in this but there is certainly some grafting.

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