Saturday, December 26, 2009

Times change

If we take an informal survey of the half-mile radius around JFK/UMASS station, we find the following communities intermixing:  Irish Americans, Polish Americans, Vietnamese Americans, English Americans (hello), Cape Verdean Americans, African Americans, Latin Americans.  All of these ethnic groups have lived side by side for varying amounts of time.  Alongside the native born and naturalized citizens are recent immigrants for the above places, as well as from many more places, on their way to attaining voting rights.

This polyglot mishmash is partly due to the proximity of the university.  Part of it is due to the vicinity of the T station.  Part of it is due to longstanding population trends, local, national, and international.  This part of Dorchester attracts foreigners, whether from outside America or from outside the Dot.

North Dorchester is uniquely situated.  The Red Line splits at JFK/UMASS, so it is served by double the trains as other stops further down the line.  There is ready access to I-93.  The beach is short walk away. Downtown Boston is a fifteen minute bicycle ride.  Brigham Circle is twenty minutes.  Housing, though not as affordable as further south, is very reasonable compared to just a bit further north or a bit further west along Mass. Ave.

If you figure three apartments for every thirty-five feet of street frontage and conservatively estimate three people per apartment, it is is clear that the population housed in Dorchester's warren of streets is dense.  It is as varied as it is both compact and sprawling.  People of different backgrounds, cultures and income brackets are stacked atop each other and side by side.  There are few fences but there are plenty of good neighbors.  Proximity breed bonhomie.

It is a vibrant place's nature to evolve; sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.  From what I can gather the  most recent sea change hereabouts occurred thirty or so years ago.  That seemed to be the tipping point, but it is completely notional.  Changes happened before and they certainly haven't stopped.  It is neither good nor bad, though regular readers know that my stance is that Dorchester, overall, is good.  These changes were not unique to Dorchester, nor to Boston.  The American fabric was rewoven in one direction: suburban.  Those threads show signs of fraying, but that is a subject for another digression.

Saint William Church at 1048 Dot Avenue has changed denominations.  Previously a longstanding Roman Catholic Church, so longstanding that the adjacent St. William Street is named for it, the Diocese of Boston put the property up for sale.  This was done for a number of reasons, but no doubt declining attendance was a factor in making the decision.

The sign out front now reads, Waymark Seventh Day Adventist Church.  The congregation is mostly black, with many parishioners hailing from the West Indies.  Many of them live in Roxbury, where their church was located before.  Now that their spiritual home base is on Dot Ave and they become more familiar with the surroundings, will it only be a matter of time before Columbia/Savin Hill becomes a Trinidadian Adventist enclave?

Both better and worse things have happened, depending on your point of view.  Embracing the inevitable arrival of newcomers makes a neighborhood strong.  No gated community, the Dot.  It both a part of a larger city and also a small town writ large.  Some parts of Boston resemble a time capsule, preserved and ossified as tourist attractions; a petrified city.

Dorchester's motto matches that of the state of Connecticut: Qui Transtulit Sustinet.  Who transplants sustains.  Who transplants in Dorchester thrives.  It is a land of opportunity where people mainly get along.

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