South Boston

I wanted to try to put some skin on the bones of the issues being raised at the campaign meeting on Thursday, so on Friday I met with a public housing tenant who showed me around her neighbouhrood in South Boston.  It’s one of those places you think you might know something about, even if you’ve never been there.  South Boston is/was the centre of the city’s Irish community and is still its symbolic heart and the place where the big St Patrick’s day parade starts.  A monument to a local politican from the early 1930s captures a culture that may be gone, but not forgotten.

‘Everyone I knew growing up in South Boston was baptised, issued a union card and enrolled in the Democratic party’.

Perhaps it was this sense of identity, community solidarity and political activism that spawned some of the area’s public housing, like the 1,000 home Mary Ellen McCormack development (built 1938), one of the 50 sites Boston Housing Authority (BHA) is currently offering up to private developers.

MEM dev (2)

 Mary Ellen McCormack

Down the road from Mary Ellen McCormack is the 450 home ‘Old Colony’, now of 450 homes, but having partially undergone the type of redevelopment that BHA envisages for its entire stock.  As ever with regeneration projects, it’s not all bad, although at Thursday’s meeting I did hear a very familiar refrain that some of Boston’s new ‘affordable’ housing is nothing of the kind.  The new homes being built (some of which are still owned by BHA) look good, although as my companion said, ‘iI a tornado comes, these ones will get flattened, the old ones are solid.’

Old and nee Sth Boston pub hsg

Old and new public housing

The problem, however, lies in the policy architecture, not the physical.  Immediately across the road from Old Colony is a stretch of open space and then Carson Beach, a suprising thing to find in the middle of a gritty city!

Carson Beach

Carson Beach

This image is the stuff of property developer dreams.  You can write the sales blurb now ‘Come to vibrant, historic South Boston and enjoy spectacular water-front views from your luxury private condo – a five minute walk to the beach, a twenty minute walk to the office.  You can have it all!’  (Don’t worry about the low-income families who used to live here: we got rid of most of them.)

The local paper is advertising new homes for $1 million, so this is definitely one of what BHA defines as a ‘high market neighbourhood’.  My guide said ‘Take a photo of Old Colony.  It probably won’t be here the next time you come’.

Good night Mary Ellen

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4 Responses to South Boston

  1. tim sanders says:

    Very interesting, a real insight.

  2. Bill McGonagle says:

    I was born and raised in the Mary Ellen McCormack public housing development with my 5 brothers and sisters and my mom was a homemaker and my dad was a bus driver. I was an altar boy at St. Monica’s Church right up the street and me and my 2 brothers spent our summers on Carson Beach crossing Old Colony Avenue on the overpass that still stands there and I’m still a democrat. The development originally named Old Harbor or “Old Habah,” as we natives prefer, was renamed Mary Ellen McCormack in the early 60’s. It was renamed in honor of the mother of the late great Speaker of the US House of Representatives John W. McCormack. Mary Ellen is a place I have extraordinarily fond memories of: memories that I will carry with me for as long as I live. There are no plans to “offer up” my former home and current home to thousands of low-income families to private developers. If changes down the road are considered, they will only be considered if we can preserve Mary Ellen as a home for current and future generations of low-income families and after a significant amount of resident and community input.

    Bill McGonagle, the Administrator/CEO of the Boston Housing Authority.

  3. Glyn Robbins says:

    Hello Bill, I’m really pleased you took the trouble to respond (not many people in your position would have). I wanted to talk to you after the meeting last week, but got distracted. I’m very touched by your memories of Mary Ellen McCormack and also reassured. More to the point, I think BHA tenants will be too. I may be in touch again (off blog) if that’s OK, from one bus driver’s son to another! G

  4. Pingback: First Houses | Glyn Robbins

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