BOSTON Ahead of Boston’s mayoral election, we’re going into the city’s neighborhoods to learn what challenges they face and what voters are looking for in a new mayor.
WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer toured the Uphams Corner neighborhood of Dorchester with Bill Forry, editor/publisher of The Dorchester Reporter, and they began their stroll at the historic Strand Theatre on Columbia Road.
Sacha Pfeiffer: How would you describe the Strand as it fits into Dorchester and its history and what it needs?
Bill Forry: It is kind of a symbol in some ways of the rise and fall and rise again, hopefully, of parts of the neighborhood. It’s kind of stumbled and pratfalled its way through a lot of the 20th century and gone through pitfalls, and walked the cliff several times. But it’s bounced back on several occasions, mostly because the community refused to let it fall completely. And now the city has had to make an existential decision about the Strand’s future.
And Mayor [Thomas] Menino — to his credit, we believe — decided that it shouldn’t be mothballed, it shouldn’t be sold off, and he proceeded to pump about $7 million into this building over the last 10 years. It’s not going to stop with that investment of the $7 million; it’s going to have to be a long-term investment by the next administration, which is why there is a question mark about this place.
The other issue is that many people are afraid to come to Uphams Corner. They see it as a dangerous neighborhood. They see it as a place that they’re just not familiar with. So they’re not used to coming here and, unless they have a strong reason, they may not ever.
Do you think that’s an unfair reputation?
Yes, I do. I think, actually, that this particular neighborhood is pretty safe. There’s been some incidents through the years that were high-profile and gave it a bad name. But overall it’s a strong neighborhood. It’s a mixed-income neighborhood. There are many, as you can tell, chain stores here. There’s a CVS, there’s a Foot Locker, and different investment that you can tell corporate America is not completely convinced this place is un worth their time.
The Strand is just one piece of the development landscape in Dorchester, and there’s another area nearby you wanted to show us. Can we walk there?
Yes, we can. It’s on Dudley Street, just around the corner from here.
Up ahead, we also see a T stop. And this is very significant, because this is — is this a stop on the new Fairmount Line, the commuter rail line?
Yes, it’s been here. Uphams Corner has been one of the two local neighborhoods in Dorchester that had a Fairmount stop. What they’ve done is they’ve renovated it, so it’s a much-improved station as of the last five years. But the big news on the Fairmount Line is that they’ve added three additional stations in the city now, and they’re going to add a fourth in Mattapan Square, as well.
So these are now commuter rail stops?
They are, yeah.
There was a controversy because it used to be they were fairly expensive — what, $5.50 a ride? And it’s been reduced to $2?
It’s now down to $2, and the other piece is they’ve added frequency on the line. So there are now 40 trains a day, 20 each way on this line.
But only weekdays, is that right?
So that’s quite a limitation for people who have jobs that require weekend work.
You’re right. It is. And there’s already advocacy going on to change that.
So it sounds like that’s something Dorchester clearly wants from a mayor: someone who can advocate for this community to get more public transportation access.
Absolutely. They want that and they want a mayor who’s going to take the economic opportunity of this line, with buildings like this one we’re looking at now, which is the Leon Electric building.
This is a massive — this building looks menacing. It’s some sort of faded shipping warehouse based on the sort of little bit of the wording we can see on the side, boarded-up windows, graffiti.
It’s a building that only, like, Martin Scorsese could like for his purposes. It looks like something out of film noir.
This is a place where things don’t end well if you’re brought here in a Martin Scorsese movie!
Exactly. As you can see, it stretches across the whole block here, and it’s right next to the entrance to the Uphams Corner T station. It looms above everything around here, including a brand-new huge community center called the Kroc [Community] Center, which the Salvation Army built here about two years ago. It’s a state-of-the art — the biggest community center in the whole region. And it’s a wonderful asset, but cheek-to-jowl with this eyesore. And it’s a major redevelopment piece for the next administration.
So to the extent that you can speak for Dorchester as a life-time Dorchester guy and as an editor and a publisher of a Dorchester newspaper, 10 years from now, what do you think Dorchester wants the mayor of Boston to make sure this corner looks like? What should be in the place of this big, old, abandoned brick warehouse?
I think people would like to see something that kind of keeps the character of the place, but revitalizes it, so it’s not an empty shell. I think people could live with this building staying intact and just being redone and becoming loft housing with retail and other things. But what they want is they want a mayor who’s going to come in here and have the vision and the guts, really, to take this project on, make it a priority.
Bill, Dorchester has a reputation problem. You’ve acknowledged that. What does the mayor need to do to make people want to live here, want to buy homes here, be less afraid?
Well, I mean, it’s the answer that really no one has come up with yet. It’s the toughest nut to crack, I think, is public safety. We’ve heard a range of answers from, you know, tackling illegal guns — which is pretty much impossible for a mayor to do other than using the bully pulpit — to adding 200 more police officers, which is a financial issue, obviously, for the administration. I think it’s going to come down to them using their office to kind of embolden residents and to coalesce communities, crime watches, in partnership with the police. Community policing, you know? There’s always going to be some level of crime here, just as there will across the city. But people expect to see more services here, I think, and want to see just a little bit more of a hands-on approach.