In a wide-ranging interview with the Reporter this week, Mayor Martin Walsh offered a mayoral eye-view of where Dorchester is at and where it is going. He touched on the positive effects of the failed 2024 Olympics bid on the community, on Columbia Point, on transportation and infrastructure, housing and services for residents, the drug problem, potholes, and his move from one end of the neighborhood to the other.
“It’s over,” the mayor said of the Olympic bid, just eight days after the USOC and Boston 2024 agreed to back out of the deal. “I’ve moved on because there’s so much to do in the city.” But he called the process of developing the bid, which was paid for by Boston 2024, a rich source of “legacy opportunities” for issues like developing fixes for transportation concerns on Columbia Point, including an untangling of Kosciuszko Circle, as well as a long-sought-after update for flood-prone Morrissey Boulevard.
“It actually saves us considerable amounts of money,” Walsh said. “The original Columbia Point task force in 2011 really didn’t get into deep road improvements.”
In 2011, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) published the Columbia Point Master Plan, which was proffered as a blueprint for the community’s interests on the peninsula and was informed by local stakeholders and longtime residents of the Columbia and Savin Hill area. Walsh said he hoped to see that task force reconvened for the purpose of blending ideas from the Boston 2024 bid into the existing master plan.
As for who carries the torch for the funding that will be needed, City Hall or the delegation at the State House, Walsh said it would have to be “a joint effort, because it’s going to be state funding that will pay for the fixes. It really has to be a catalyst to get that going because I don’t know if the state will make an infrastructure improvement like the size that was going to be done with the Olympic Village.”
The cost of the proposed fix to the Kosciuszko rotary was put at roughly $200 million.
As to Columbia Point itself, Walsh said its fate will be fleshed out in the making of the first citywide master plan in more than 50 years, a process City Hall has dubbed “Imagine Boston 2030.” He deferred to the findings of the task force working with the BRA on ongoing details. “I think if we’re able to come up with a planning process that envisions something longer-term there and sustainable, the issues can be worked out,” he said.
About ‘Dorchester pride’
“How do you grow as a community and keep your identity at the same time?” Walsh asked rhetorically in his response to a question about the biggest challenges Dorchester faces as a neighborhood. He cited a mix of reactions locally as Boston continues to develop and people increasingly see Dorchester as a new residential enclave.
“I think some neighborhoods are tired of condos and coming out and pushing people out, and other areas want condos and pushing people out.”
As rents rise and demand for housing continues to tick up, Walsh said, he wants to strengthen services in the neighborhoods. “It’s about making sure there’s a bank in every community, make it so there’s good food in every community, supporting restaurants and businesses,” he said. “How are people from Dorchester being able to benefit from a changing community?”
Another challenge for Dorchester the mayor mentioned are the so-called “nuisance crimes that we have to stay on top of in certain pockets of the community, whether it’s young people drinking in the park or people down the beach with fires going late in the night or disrespecting communities.”
Last month a bullet pierced a home near Savin Hill beach, spurring a Boston Globe column entitled “Crime creeping into Savin Hill, and residents feel ignored.”
“It seems a bit more serious this year, it seems like it’s ticked up with the gunshot down the beach and that’s something you pay extra attention to,” the mayor told the Reporter this week. “You don’t want people in their homes and worrying about a shooting. So that’s something that we have to sound off the police department.”
Potholes a ‘bump in the road’
Last month, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting found that “Boston had a habit of implying potholes had been fixed when they haven’t,” citing a sample of half of the 78 cases on the Citizens Connect app reported to the Public Works department not meeting the city’s guidelines for fixing potholes.
Walsh disputed the number and the story. In his 2015 State of the City speech and in later comments, he has touted the number of potholes filled by his administration, something he said on Tuesday that he will continue to do.
“If we have to make adjustments where we find out that there’s a problem, we’re going to make adjustments so we don’t have that problem,” he said. Those adjustments include addressing how the city uses and completes queries on the Citizens Connect app, as well as convening a recent meeting of top public works officials.
“Whatever you do in life there is always going to be a bump in the road and I still stand by the men and women that work for public works, the parks, the transportation department, or Office of Neighborhood Services. They work hard and the numbers that we’re seeing as far as what we’re doing is surpassing any numbers in the city of Boston and we’re going to continue to do that.”
‘Wait and see’ on legalizing pot
Walsh, an outspoken opponent of marijuana legalization, including medical marijuana, spoke with the Reporter on the same day the Zoning Board of Appeals approved the city’s first medical marijuana dispensary. He said he will “abide by the terms of the law.”
“We’re going to have a medical marijuana facility, probably more than one in the city of Boston, and one was sited in town and I’m sure there’s going to be another one. We’ll just move forward and let’s see what happens,” he said.
Last year, Walsh vowed to block medical marijuana dispensaries. He also campaigned against two previous statewide marijuana legalization efforts, in 2008 and 2012. He demurred when asked if he would take the same steps to block a potential ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in 2016. “We’ll see what happens. They have to get signatures first and get on the ballot and take it from there. I plan on voting against the law. We’ll see what happens.”
A move to Lower Mills
Last month, the Reporter broke the story that Walsh was leaving Savin Hill and moving to Lower Mills, a decision that he acknowledges “upset some people” while adding that “it’s a decision I made to get a bigger home.” Though not as big as some news outlets would have you believe, he joked, “It’s not a mansion and it’s not in Milton. It’s in Lower Mills and it’s Dorchester. A mansion is what you’d see in probably Brookline.”
The home at 2 Butler St. is a large, two-story single-family home at the corner of Richmond Street. Walsh and his longtime girlfriend Lorrie Higgins will move into the house later this summer.
“I’m excited about it. I’m excited and sad at the same time. It’s one of those things; I’m happy about the new home, but I’m sad about leaving.”