A stroll through any part of Dorchester, Mass. except Harbor Point, will show that the basics of the neighborhood were build a century or so ago. There is little new afoot. Most developments revolve around perfecting what is already in place. That's a high standard.
I went to ICA tonight (free admission on Thursdays courtesy of a discount retailer that's set up shop in South Bay Center (Northernmost Dorchester). I think I wanted to go last summer and they were between shows, as the girl at the ticket desk warned me. Still admission was (I think) $18. Well, they weren't between shows tonight and, while the show was fairly interesting, free was the right price. Any more than $5 would have left me feeling cheated. The impossible to measure value of access to modern art isn't the point of this essay though.
Fan Pier or Fort Point Channel or Seaport Center or whatever this part of Boston is called nowadays is not very interesting. I took the Silver Line from Dudley to South Station and then to Courthouse. The neighborhoods on the Dudley leg of the trip were much more interesting than when I stepped out of Courthouse, which I admit is a very nice station.
The area is all empty space. Parking lots, towering buildings, no street life, sterile. Dorchester is the opposite of that. Dorchester is as full of detail, character, and life as the barnacled hull of an old scallop trawler. The walk to ICA from the subway station was a dull march through no-man's land. A walk the equivalent distance anywhere in Dorchester will be filled with a feast for the senses and diversions a'plenty. Why does Fan Pier, etc, attract so much interest while Dorchester elicits just yawns from urban visionaries?
Dorchester is already easy to imagine. It sits right in front of you. You can touch it and smell it and feel it. You can smell Fan Pier but otherwise, it is a neighborhood that still consists mostly of pipe dreams and wool-gathering. It may be a fine place someday. If current developments are any indication, it probably won't be as interesting or livable as the Dot. I'll take the dreams that are real than the dreams that are illusory any day, practice over theory. I'll take Dorchester, where at least I can find a convenience store open after 2:00 AM, if nothing else.
Dorchester gets painted as if its fate is naught but Doom. That isn't true. Good things happen in Dorchester every day. A lot more good things than happen along the Harbor Walk along Fan Pier. Boston's life blood is nourished in Dorchester school rooms, not in the media lab or the galleries of ICA. Not in the galleries, for sure!
It may take tall, glass building built on a blank slate to garner the attention of the chattering class. It may take head-scratching, up-to-date styling to attract the buzz of opinion makers. Dorchester doesn't have either. Old and cluttered like a grandparents' parlor, Dorchester is just as comfortable. You can reach your potential in Dorchester without being outre'. You can be great by being yourself, without renouncing your roots or building anew. You can stand on the the shoulders of the giants who came before without reinventing the wheel or the idea of what a neighborhood should or can be. If something isn't broken, there's no need to fix it, only to tune it once in awhile.
No Doom Patrol or wrecking ball for Dorchester. No mistakes were made. The same can't be said along the underground branch of the Silver Line.