Menino says Bellevue Urban Wild will remain just that

Between two pillars and an iron arch that read "Stanley Bellevue Urban Wild," Mayor Thomas Menino declared last Saturday that the ground upon which he stood would remain an urban wild in perpetuity. Neighbors delighted in what had been a long process to secure the site.

"This is the result of years of struggle for open space in our community," said local resident Michael Pratt in an interview on Monday. "This will be a safe haven for children."

An ornate Victorian house occupied the lot until the 1960s when it was torn down. Since then the lot has remained open to the public.

"One of the advantages we got out of the sad demolishing period is that we did get some open space," neighbor Irene Murray said. "We have been trying to preserve the space and after a lot of help from the Mayor, [Environment and Energy chief] Jim Hunt, and [City Councillor] Maureen Feeney we were able to do exactly that."

In the almost forty years during which the lot has remained vacant, developers have continually eyed the site and neighbors have consistently fought development.

"There's a million houses around here and so many families don't have a yard. Developers have tried to build on every postage stamp around here. Where were the children supposed to play?" asked Pratt.

Through a partnership between the city and local residents, the neighborhood found a solution.

The green space consists of two separate lots. One lot, which was owned by Dorchester Garden Lands, was turned over to the city with deed restrictions on the plot. The other lot, which was owned by LaRosa Development Corporation, was bought by the city.

The city then turned over maintenance of the "urban wild" to the Meetinghouse Hill Civic Association. The organization has traditionally maintained the space with neighbors pitching in to clean up and cut the grass.

"The great part about this is that there is no money involved [between the city and the civic association]," said Pratt.

"This is a public-private partnership," said Jim Hunt. "We're always looking to expand and maintain open space. It is critically important to quality of life."

For neighbors the park is more than simply open lot. They describe a bird sanctuary, a football field, and a classroom to learn civic lessons.

"This is an educational issue. Community kids come here to play and then we'll clean up together. This is a good lesson for community. We're passing on how to take care of this city," said Pratt.

The "Stanley Bellevue Urban Wild" is not the first project of its kind in Dorchester. Early this year the city and NStar came together to create a green space at the corner of Bowdoin Street and Geneva Avenue. The result was the Geneva Cliffs Urban Wild, which transformed an overgrown lot full of trash into a place of pride for the neighborhood. The Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation received a $25,000 grant to plan the layout of the sight.

No changes are in the works for this urban wild, however. For years the sight has remained virtually unchanged, with residents helping to keep the space clean.

When Mayor Thomas Menino left the corner of Bellevue and Stanley streets on Saturday, a casual observer would not have noted a change. There were no new flowers or bushes and the last leaves continued to fall off the almost barren trees. For residents, though, everything had changed. No longer would they wonder if those trees would last another winter.