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Coming soon? End of the Dot Divide

Many interesting policy issues have been brought to light via the answers on the questionnaires that the Reporter sent last month to the mayoral candidates, and that information will be made available in full in the coming days. One of the questions we posed to the field is not likely to come up in any other survey or debate, but it holds interest to many of us who care about this neighborhood’s sometimes awkward identity.

We asked, “Will you work to eliminate the long-time distinction used by the Boston Redevelopment Authority and other city agencies to divide the neighborhood into ‘North Dorchester’ and ‘South Dorchester’? Please explain.”

Charles Yancey, a Dorchester resident who is himself sometimes misidentified in the press as being from Mattapan, gave the most concise answer: “Yes.  This is an arbitrary and unnecessary designation.”

John Barros, who lives in Uphams Corner, also kept it simple and action-oriented: “I would work with residents of Dorchester to properly identify the neighborhood as simply Dorchester. All city maps and reference tools would change and identify the neighborhood as such.”

Charlotte Golar Richie, another Dot resident who ran the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development explained her position this way: “… I have never been a fan of using the ‘North’ and ‘South’ terms, as I worry that there is a manufactured socio-economic and racial divide that is created through the use of these terms.  As mayor, I will definitely want to find a more appropriate way to address planning, programmatic and funding needs of smaller sections of our city’s largest neighborhood, while at the same time promoting unity of purpose, planning, and place.” 

Marty Walsh, another neighborhood resident, wrote: “As a lifelong resident of this neighborhood, I don’t treat someone I meet from Savin Hill differently than someone I meet from Bowdoin-Geneva. As mayor I will only support policy that works to unite us all as Bostonians.” (When asked this week to specifically address his posture on the city’s use of the terms, Walsh said: “Those designations of North and South Dorchester should absolutely be done away with. No question.”)

Bill Walczak, a Savin Hill resident, has long been a loud critic of City Hall’s clumsiness on this issue. “I have been one of the people who have pointed out that the North/South designation doesn’t even make sense from a geographic perspective.  A plaque at Lena Park, located in ‘South Dorchester,’ talked about its work in ‘North Dorchester.’ The designation became code for racial differences … Dorchester is a large neighborhood, and needs sub-districts, but the sub-districts need to make sense to the residents.”

John Connolly was similarly clear in his stance: “Yes,” he wrote. “Although the neighborhood is the city’s largest, it is one Dorchester in the eyes of the residents and should be treated as such by the city’s leadership.”

Mike Ross, the city councillor from Mission Hill/Back Bay, said, in part: “Community involvement only works if we are all speaking the same language. I’d favor discontinuing the use of those terms, which are archaic and, for many, have a loaded racial meaning.”

Felix Arroyo, a citywide councillor, said: "As Mayor, I will work closely with Neighborhood Associations and community residents to determine and define the appropriate boundaries for the neighborhood of Dorchester to eliminate unnecessary or outdated divisions. However, this is not a problem unique to Dorchester and, if elected, I would ensure that the Boston Redevelopment Authority uses distinctions that accurately reflect all our city’s neighborhoods.:

Ending the Dorchester Divide at City Hall isn’t on anyone’s ‘to-do’ list on Day One of a new administration. That’s fine. But it’s good to know that the major candidates for this job understand that the old way of carving up Dorchester should end with the next city administration.

– Bill Forry

Editor's note: Councillor Arroyo's response on this question was inadvertently not included in the print edition of the Reporter editorial. It was added here online.

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