Cultural districts? OK. Ethnic enclaves? No.

An article in the April 22 Boston Globe brought light to a bubbling movement to re-brand sections of the city using ethnic labels. The idea is to create “cultural districts” that are officially designated by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. The designation comes with a small grant – $5,000 for starters – and support in steering tourists and other state resources to the districts.

It’s a fine idea, if applied the right way. For instance, the city of Boston has started with two “cultural districts” in the Fenway and the “Literary” district, described by the Globe as “a swath along Boylston Street.”

A new proposal to start one in Roxbury uses the historic Dudley Square and John Eliot Square as its geographic locus. Sounds great.

But the Globe’s reporting reveals that there are other proposed districts, including ones in Dorchester and Mattapan, that would lean on single ethnic groups. The city would, under such a plan, put up signs welcoming people to these sections.

Instead of Mattapan Square, we are told, visitors would be welcomed to “Little Haiti” and Fields Corner would be labeled as “Little Saigon.”

Really? What century are we living in?

Modern-day Mattapan and Dorchester are vibrant, multicultural communities, not ethnic enclaves. No one ethnic group gets to lay claim to any village or district in these neighborhoods. And the city and state, most certainly, should not be in the business of assigning ethnic tags to diverse city neighborhoods.

A few years ago, the Adams Corner business district dabbled with this sort of mono-ethnic embrace. For months, a key stretch of Adams Street was festooned with Irish and American flags on city street poles. The banners were left over from a weekend Irish festival that was, taken on its own, a welcome display of Irish-American pride. But the flags should have come down soon after. No flag other than the American flag should be permanently flown from public property. Eventually, after complaints to City Hall, the banners were taken down.

The point was plain: No ethnic group has a lasting claim on any corner, any block— nor should they have one. We are a city that welcomes everyone. E pluribus unum.

Private businesses can, and should, fly their flags proudly on their storefronts. In fact, we encourage them to do so. It helps to put on display the rich tapestry that defines our city. We are all for ethnic-oriented parades, street festivals, and ceremonies; the more the merrier.

But the Walsh administration and our state elected officials should make it clear to the Massachusetts Cultural Council that balkanizing our city by enclaves is an idea whose time has come and – thank goodness – gone.

Let’s let our rich diversity be our calling card instead.

Amazon isn't alone in redlining Boston
Amazon caved into public pressure led by Mayor Walsh this week and will begin servicing Roxbury and parts of Dorchester in the 02121 zip code that were left out of their same-day delivery business. The company's change of heart is welcome, but there are many other delivery apps that claim to serve Boston, but continue to "redline" out sections of the city— including Dorchester and Mattapan.

We'd like to see the Walsh administration apply this same level of public pressure to these companies, which we highlighted in a story last January. Amazon is an important step, but it's the tip of a discriminatory iceberg.
– BF