July 26, 2006

North End Residents Battle Gentrification

"A wave of condo conversions is wiping out the North End’s mom-and-pop cafes and homey convenience stores, sparking a revolt in the tightly knit neighborhood," the Boston Herald reports. "Dozens of North End residents and activists packed a City Hall hearing yesterday to blast a proposal by a local developer to turn what had been the home of Prince Pantry into luxury condos.

"Faced with a small army of angry residents, the developer withdrew plans to convert the Prince Street building, though the one-time grocery store appears gone for good. A vote by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal left open the door for another condo proposal."

It's a tough dilemma for a neighborhood that's becoming even more economically attractive to redevelopment now that the elevated highway between it and downtown has been torn down. "At stake, say North End residents, is a way of life," the Herald notes. "With corner groceries and shops all within walking distance, longtime neighborhood residents haven’t needed a car to get around."

The North End's great, unique streetscape is one of the chief attractions that lures tourists (and suburbanites like me) to the area to dine and stroll. But for residents, the ability to walk to locally owned stores offers a viscerally appealing sense of place amidst an increasingly chain-stored, strip-malled America.

"It's a way of life that does not require inserting a key into a car to get a quart of milk," resident Tommye Mayer told the Herald.

Economics may make a high-end condo development more appealing than a small grocery store in the short term, but the city will lose something very special (not to mention lots of tourist dollars) if it allows the North End's special ambiance to morph into just another neighborhood of condo-dwellers.

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