Friday, December 26, 2008

North-South is obsolete

Dorchester is traditionally divided into North Dorchester and South Dorchester. This may have made sense when the neighborhood added density during the years of streetcar expansion just after annexation. The more populated areas were located closer to Boston proper and the more rural and suburban parts, with the exception of the factory hamlet of Lower Mills, were farther away. Dorchester in the 21st century looks much the same if you cross it on a north-south axis.

From a demographic point-of-view, Dorchester should be split east-to-west, though the demarcations are a bit hazy. Like time zones, the boundaries between East Dorchester and West Dorchester zig zag between each other. Demographically speaking, the neighborhoods closer to Dorchester Bay are a world apart from those further inland. It is a matter of income brackets, ethnicity, and urban culture. I'm not telling any secrets when I say that most of the crime headlines in the daily papers are generated in the western half of Dorchester while most of the heart-warming, human interest stories, such as they happen to appear, are set in the eastern half of this great part of Boston.

Columbia Point, Savin Hill, Neponset Circle, Pope's Hill, and Adams Village are very different from Morton Village, Codman Square, Geneva-Bowdoin and Upham's Corner. But the two opposing poles intermix and intersect. There is a big difference between the areas surrounding Field's Corner and Ashmont Stations, and the one around Shawmut Station which sits between them like a rose between two thorns. Despite the real estate hyperbole about new developments around Peabody Square (Ashmont Station), this neighborhood isn't gentrifying. That said, Ashmont Hill contains some of the most beautiful mansions in Boston. The Kennedys hail from there originally; and Melville Avenue between Codman Sq. and Fields Corner is home to what I think is the most perfect house in all of Boston. That's saying something in a city rich with beautiful domestic architechture, the Back Bay included.

There are other examples in Dorchester of pockets of affluence amid rot just as there are examples of acres of ruins surrounded by tidy , working-class burghers minding their own business and tending their gardens. Dorchester is larger than the imagination, neither wholly black nor white but all the shades of a polyglot palette. Currents cross and mix in Dorchester. It is called the Dot for a reason, but it isn't flat. It is well-rounded but more an orb, a point where gravity coheres a collection of citizens around a common goal: making thier surroundings as livable and good as they can.

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