Moving from Dot to Dot--a look back

By Jennifer Smith
Dorchester by Choice

Four years ago, I joined the staff of the Dorchester Reporter. It was bit of a joke at the time that I had moved from the Boston Globe newsroom to the only newspaper closer to my apartment in Southie just so I could have a five-minute-shorter walk to work in the morning.

Three years ago, on Easter Sunday, I was standing with friends and coworkers in what we used to call the “Savin Hill Hole” across from the Savin Hill train station, toasting its imminent transformation into more condos and a retail space after having sat vacant through three generations of Reporter staffers.

That village became my home a few months later, when I bit the bullet and moved into a three-decker just off Dot Ave. I mention the Savin Hill Hole date just so everyone knows I didn’t move to Dorchester and immediately begin to gentrify everything around me. (It did kind of feel like it!)

Now the pit by the station is condos and a forthcoming taqueria. The long vacant variety store on the corner of Sydney Street, which is going to be a new market, already houses a fitness studio. What was Savin Scoop (Side note: Will someone please bring ice cream to Savin Hill; I’m dying here) is now my beloved Honeycomb Cafe, without which I would starve to death on my way to wait a million hours on the T platform.

Two longtime nearby pubs – the Dot Tavern and Tom English’s – are now out of commission. The former will come back at some point, but the latter will likely be replaced with a restaurant of some sort and abut a brand new Dorchester Market, with both of them sitting under new rental units.

These aren’t necessarily bad changes, to be clear. Some are going to make my life a lot more convenient, and I am thrilled that the other staple in my diet, Ba Le, is not only doing well but expanding.

So I’m not leaving. I live here now. But as I swap a daily one-stop commute to Columbia Point for a trek from the Red Line to the Orange or Green Lines to Northeastern University’s School of Law, it’s going to be with a small pit in my stomach.

I’m the senior homeowner in my three-decker. The lovely family living downstairs was getting a bit too big for the space and moved to a single-family house nearby shortly after I arrived, and my upstairs neighbor moved in with her boyfriend the next year. There’s a decent amount of shuffle on my street, even though most of the units are condos that are getting pricier every year.

Everyone who knows me knows I live to break down development moves, planning and zoning changes, and every bit of housing data I can get my hands on. It’s been a specific experience to live just a hair north of the Glovers Corner planning study, west of the alleged Morrissey Boulevard redesign, south of the embattled JFK/UMass station, and east of the Uphams Corner revitalization that will bring a new library and other needed amenities and housing to my neighboring village. I and the paper have followed these developments step by step.

So it’s going to be strange to step back from sitting through every possible civic and BPDA meeting and read my local paper instead of sitting inside its newsroom every day. It’ll be strange, too, mostly sitting out covering this fall’s city council campaigns, even though I’ll follow them closely. My four years here at the Reporter, two of them as news editor, made me appreciate community journalism in a way I didn’t quite expect to.

It should go without saying, but I love, love, love this paper and this neighborhood. It’s full of people who just care an unbelievable amount about where they live and how it changes.

Journalists all have different reasons why they pursued the profession. Some want to promote civic engagement by reaching as many voters as possible. Others want to delve deep into the shady recesses of government and shed light on systemic failures. Some want to speak truth to power. Some want to bring their skills to the largest possible platform, to be known and respected. Some just want to be of use in a bread-and-butter informational way. None of these are mutually exclusive.

No matter the size of the organization serving them, everyone who comes seeking news should have the benefit of deeply engaged and informed reporters who genuinely care about the region they cover even when the news isn’t always splashy. To be fair, it’s often splashy. This is Boston. But the Reporter places as much value in the civic debate over eight new neighborhood condos as it does massive land sales around Bayside; it puts as much emphasis on local community priorities as it does on the impact of city policies.

I’m writing this from Utah, where I went to high school and where my mom still lives. I’m about to get on a plane to California, where I grew up. By the time I’ve finished law school, I’ll have spent a third of my life in Boston, the majority of that time in Dorchester. It’s a neighborhood dealing with the same strains as the rest of the city and many, many other places— affordability, transit, basic quality of life investments, education, crime, identity — though in its own flavors and proportions. I’m so glad to have had four years to piece through it all alongside you.

So I’ll see everyone around Dot. It has been a privilege.