BOSTON — Ahead of Boston’s mayoral election, we’re visiting the city’s neighborhoods to find out what challenges they face and what voters there want in a new mayor.
WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer toured Andrew Square in South Boston, as well as the community’s burgeoning Broadway station area, with Linda Zablocki, president of the Andrew Square Civic Association. Zablocki explained why she thinks her neighborhood hasn’t been as spiffed up as other parts of Southie.
Linda Zablocki: I think that has to do with because there’s a whole side of the opposite side of the street which has been industrial for many, many years, and a lot of the areas took really cleaning up. Down the other end over here, there was a junkyard. I remember, as a kid, the piles used to be as high as a four-story building and you would see the crane moving the stuff. You would have rust all over your furniture, which you never thought was harmful at the time. But that was purchased. There was a developer who was going to develop it. And then we had the crash, the whole real estate crash.
Sacha Pfeiffer: So Andrew Square is an area that still has a gritty feel, sort of pseudo-industrial feel, even though the Southie waterfront and Broadway station area are much different. What do you think Andrew Square, in particular, needs out of a new mayor?
I think we need to look at investment for restaurants, for stores, for more walkability. I mean, we have many, many people moving in. We have many condos that are here. Most people don’t use their cars. If we could have walkability, accessibility. We have a lot of seniors. So maybe there is some type of an incentive that maybe the mayor can look into for places like this area, some type of a city funding help to get these things moving, to get businesses in, to get it lively like when I was a kid.
And what’s keeping that from happening now? Is it the cost of rent, in part?
I think some of it is cost of renting. I think some is the industrial across the street. And there’s a lot of investment to be done. But I think the benefits — that anybody who invests in this area — the benefits would be tremendous, because we have gentrified so much. Like I said, people would be walking to these areas.
One of the unfortunate things that South Boston is becoming known for is drug overdoses, drug addiction, and there is a methadone clinic somewhere in this area. How does that tie in to what you see happening in Andrew Square?
The methadone clinic — they’re right over the bridge on Southampton Street, and it’s not considered South Boston. It’s actually the Newmarket Square area. But you might have 10 or 15 [addicts] now that leave that clinic. They come into the Andrew Square area, I think, because of the simple fact we have we have the train station right here, too, which makes it very convenient for people to get certain places. And what happens is we have a lot of them walking back, and I think that — this is my personal opinion — is that they get their methadone dose and then they take whatever their prescription drugs that they have, because there have been cases in my eyes that I have seen, that the babies were drooling less than the parents pushing the carriage. To the point of people holding each other up, that if it wasn’t for the both of them leaning into each other, that they would have been on ground. We call them, like, the Zombies.
What do you want the next mayor to do to try to make this a better situation?
I would like the mayor to get a committee together, and not take forever, that can bang heads and come up with some type of a system that the cops have the right to either take these people into protective custody, get them to a rehab. And I think that possibly what we need to look at is better, stronger, longer, rehabilitation for them. I mean, we need to help these people. It’s a disease and it is an epidemic. I think somebody had told me that, like, every 1.5 minutes there is a drug overdose in the country. That’s an epidemic. That’s more than people dying of cancer, more than people dying of a heart attack. Yet we address those issues.
We’re hearing a police car, obviously. Do you think you need a bigger police presence in South Boston?
Every place has been cut back, and yes, we do. And I’m a big fan — big, big fan, big advocate, of community policing. I know that even in the housing developments, which we have three of the largest of the Boston housing developments in South Boston. They used to have what they call a team cop. And it wasn’t one cop. It was, like, two or three who knew the area, who knew the people who lived in there. It was almost like when you were a kid, and you had — I lived in the city, so they used to have truant officers. They used to have a walking detail. They knew your name. You need to have that. You need to have that commonality. You need to have something there.
Another part of South Boston that’s undergone dramatic change is the little business district on East Broadway, as well as that lower West Broadway area near Broadway station, which is now a lot of fancy condos. Could we take a ride down there and you show us that area, as well?
Sure. Yup, surely.
Now we’re near one of the South Boston projects, one of the housing projects.
Yes, this is Mary Ellen McCormack [public housing development] or, as it used to be known, Old Harbor.
These are the projects where the Bulger family and…
[Joe] Moakley was brought up here.
A lot of big Boston names, big politicians, notorious Boston names came out of here. A lot of these projects — in fact, we’re going to see one on the left — have been…
Gotten major facelifts.
And that’s the Old Colony [public housing development] over there. Right now they’re doing it over. You’re going to go up to this set of lights and take a left.
The cost of housing in South Boston has become a huge issue — rents exploding, young people wanting to live here.
Three-families being condoed.
Most three-families are condoed. Most people who buy them do not buy them for the sake of having a three-family rental. They buy them to rehab and condo. And it really has outpriced people in South Boston. And the other thing that comes with that is our taxes go up tremendously, whether you have put a new doorknob on or done nothing to your home. Your taxes are going up because of the area all around you, what the going price is for. That’s another thing the mayor can look at.
All right, we’ve parked in the parking lot of Amrheins, one of the oldest restaurants in South Boston — it’s been around since the 1800s — and now we’re going to see a block that looks nothing like it did even a year or two ago.
Correct. And this is a brand-new building where the old Quiet Man [Pub] used to be. Starbucks is going in. I think around the corner Stephanie’s in South Boston is going in, which is originally from Newbury Street.
Right, still on Newbury. So this is an area of South Boston that you might argue doesn’t need much help from the next mayor. It seems to be doing quite well on its own. Where do you think the new mayor factors into all this?
Communication from his office — with the community groups, especially. You have to have that. And they’re big shoes to fill because Menino has done a lot of work. He has done a lot of work in his years. And the way I look at it is like a hairdo. He’s got the bun up and he’s got it all together, but now we need to put the bobby pins in to hold the fly-aways. And that’s what mayor has to look at. The development is great, but how fast do we want to go? How close do we want to be to another house? Should we not have any setbacks? Should this building have been set back a foot with some greenery out front? Are we going to be the concrete jungle?
So develop in a thoughtful way?
Absolutely, yeah. We have to look at the long term. We’re going from an amoeba to an astronaut within a month or two months. And that’s because we’re doing everything so fast. It’s just happening — you turn around and you see a little plot of land the size of a postage stamp, and all of a sudden there’s a 50-foot building there with condos. What is the long-term effect? Nobody is looking at this. We welcome all of this development. We’ve looked at some of these eyesores for much too long, and we welcome it all. But it also has to be done in collaboration with most everybody being happy with the outcome of the project.