Whither – or wither – Southie?
Once a center of political power with a reach that extended well beyond its own boundaries, with clout at the city, state, and national scenes as well, South Boston’s outsized influence, identity, even its footprint, are waning.
A new website promoting “Boston’s New Waterfront” has been launched to draw visitors and residents to the redeveloped area. But as Patriot Ledger business editor Jon Chesto notes, the site does little to bring attention to the neighborhood where the waterfront resides. Chesto, a former Boston Herald reporter who still lives in the city, points out the phrase “South Boston” only pops up six times on the site, either in press release quotes or in directions.
The site touts other areas of the neighborhood, including Fort Point, where apartments and condos catering to the yupscale are coming on line; Fan Pier, with the new shops and restaurants; and the Marine Industrial Park. The term “Seaport District” shows up more than Southie and you can bet that would never have happened in Jimmy Kelly’s, Billy Bulger’s or Joe Moakley’s time.
And it’s not just developers drumming up a new neighborhood. Mayor Thomas Menino has tried his hand at annexing and branding the inner harborside of South Boston. Menino launched a website declaring a section of what everyone once considered South Boston to be the Innovation District, to draw science and technology businesses, and a map on the site shows it distinctly separate from its one-time host.
In Southie itself, there’s a battle going on for the heart of the neighborhood, with natives bemoaning the loss of identity and newbies pointing fingers at the locals for the problems. Herald columnist Peter Gelzinis, a lifelong Southie resident, bemoans the code of silence that continues in the neighborhood, a remnant from the neighborhood’s dark past, in the wake of the stabbing death of 67-year-old Barbara Coyne. But the comments on Gelzinis’s column are revealing for what people are thinking in the neighborhood.
Part of the rebranding effort may be to separate the redeveloped area from Southie, which is seeing a spike in crime, mostly aimed at newcomers. Former mayor Ray Flynn lays it on the increase of drug use and says part of that problem is the lack of police presence in South Boston, again something that would not have happened even 10 years ago with the power of its pols. Flynn talked about how his own home was broken into while he and his wife were at a funeral.
It’s a world of difference for the neighborhood whose fame is legend internationally.
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