Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Two Dorchesters

I've been thinking about a statistic I read in the Globe recently.  I'm not going to look it up or link to it because it's a stat that's already been stuck in my mind.  How accurate it may be, I haven't researched, but some variation is part of common, ingrained perception and, quite likely, part of common reality in this part of Boston.

The average household income in Dorchester is $28,000 a year.

Whether that sounds like a lot or a little depends on where you begin to measure.  For our regular readers who live in Hinton, West Virginia, it's a little for the Boston area.  Very little.

Living where I do, by the JFK/UMASS MBTA station (that's the subway to you Hintonites), I don't see any abject poverty.  Believe me: $28,000 will not support a nuclear family in Boston.  The rent on a two bedroom apartment will consume half that and more, not including utilities.  This may explain the lack of nuclear families in Dorchester, but again...I don't see a lot of single parent households where I live, not that I'm taking a detailed census or spying on my neighbors.

Some parts of Dorchester are like the part I live in.  Adams Village, Neponset, Pope's Hill, Ashmont Hill, Jones Hills, Mount Bowdoin, the Polish Triangle, Point Norfolk, Lower Mills; they are all fairly stable, middle class, whatever middle class means.  Let's say the people I pass on the street don't seem to be going without.  They are also primarily located near train stations and they are also predominantly white.

I do not like to dwell on racial differences on the Matrix.  I usually make it a point to avoid discussing them, but they exist.  Different parts of Dorchester have different ethnicities, to be sure,  The same differences in skin color and income that demark other places also occur in the Dot.  It isn't pretty, but it is true.  Sometimes it's good, sometimes not.  Again, it depends on where you start to measure.

If I looked at the tax records for my neighborhood, I suspect the average income isn't dragging the neighborhood average downwards.  This part of Dot is full of college students working part time jobs, but they are paying market rate rents and living, as some scholars do, at the local bars soaking up cheap food and suds.  Just eyeballing the lay of the land, I suspect what lowers Dorchester's median income figures are the neighborhoods roughly west or northeasterly of Washington Street: Four Corners, Codman Square, Talbot Avenue, Norfolk Avenue, Columbia Road, Blue Hill Avenue, East Cottage Street, Bowdoin/Geneva, and other terrain that doesn't have names for its neighborhoods, just a collection of pins on a police station map.

There are two Dorchesters.  Both of them are equally welcoming and equally convivial. I've never witnessed a crime being committed in Dorchester and I have been down most streets and I am out most hours of the day and night.  I have never been uncomfortable.

There is a different culture to the west than there is to the east of Dot Ave, which is an approximate, handy boundary line.  The east is whiter and more asian (whether Vietnamese or Chinese it's hard to say).  The west is darker and more hispanic (or Haitian or Cape Verdean).  You can't really say one side is old Dot stock and the other side is new.  African Americans have been a majority in some parts of Dorchester for more than half a century.  They aren't immigrants.  They are Dorchesterites.

East plus West equals the middle ground, which is somewhere near Field's Corner.

I've been thinking about this over the past few months and, unlike my usual folderol, I thought I would work through more serious musings in public.  I'm trying to develop a Dot-view that is more panoramic than the one I have now.  As I say, I have been almost everywhere, but as a transplant, I have been almost everywhere as someone passing through, or as someone from Savin Hill,  rather than as a native.  A fellow citizen, perhaps.  Some people live in a Dot microcosm.  I am  one of them.  I want to take in more of the macro view.

I don't usually solicit comments but I invite you to add your observations and thoughts.  Let's discuss.

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