Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Population destiny

Dorchester is Boston's largest municipal subdivision, logging in just shy of six square miles. The population in 2001 was 92,115 people in a larger city made up of almost 600,000 at the time. If you do the math this come out to about 15,000 people in each square, Dorchester mile. That's more crowded than a Red Line train during rush hour. There may some friction and frayed nerves at times, but, like harried commuters, the people of Dorchester get along as they head to their specific destinations.

Interestingly enough, Dorchester is Boston's second-most densely settled neighborhood after the equally maligned Roxbury. People think downtown is dense but that is mostly an impression of architecture and tourist traffic. Neither Roxbury nor Dorchester is home to high rise office towers or vast civic plazas, or anything modern, really. They exist by rules and plans laid out at least a century ago and oftentimes older. The infrastructure works and supports a multitude. It is time-tested and doesn't go in for fads.

Dorchester is one three-decker building after another after another along every street in every direction, each story packed with families and each family packed with stories. The sidewalks don't lie. There are always people out and about on some fool errand or another. You don't find many people in the Financial District after working hours or on Sundays.

So many people jostling and talking to each other results in a cross-pollination of ideas and ambitions. Great schemes are incubated in Dorchester (and Roxbury) and great men and women get their start here. People from outside the Dot say it is too crowded, too run down, there's too much crime, the beautiful people don't live there. The beautiful people may move away after a time, but they are born here and more are born after them. Its per capita concentrations of souls is one of Dorchester's assets. Good and evil, rich and poor, industrious and lazy, abide side by side in close proximity. It is a stimulating place in which to live, a place that breeds understanding and universal viewpoints, compassion and competition, philosophy and piety, and a willingness to allow everyone to work together.

You don't want bankers and construction contractors running your city. A living city needs a neighborhood like Dorchester (and Roxbury) to keep its focus honest and close to the bone of humanity.

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