Seeing a neighborhood change

May 17, 2023

Growing up in South Boston, I always felt my neighborhood was totally different from where my BB&N friends lived. When I’d visit their suburban houses, I’d experience some amount of culture shock at the neatness of their often country-club-filled, cookie-cutter neighborhoods. However, I’ve begun to recognize that Southie has changed since I was younger. Realizing this as my junior year comes to a close has served as a surprising reminder of the passage of time.

Media and culture often portray South Boston as a traditional, working class, Irish-Catholic hotspot. For much of my childhood, this felt true. When I was younger, my neighbors were Irish couples in their seventies or eighties who had kept the same home for decades and been friends with my father’s parents. Unless during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March or the Veterans’ Day Parade in November, there was scarcely a sound in the neighborhood at night.

Somewhere in the past fifteen years, though, this shifted. Young millennial professionals, attracted to Southie’s quiet proximity to the city, now dominate the streets, throwing booming parties on Friday nights and walking their dogs in workout gear on Sunday mornings. These demographic changes have coincided with greater retail development. When I was seven, coffee shops and fast food restaurants felt like luxuries because they didn’t really exist in Southie. Now, there’s a Dunkin’, a Starbucks, a burrito place, and an independent cafe all within two blocks of me.

From an outside point of view, this may all seem mundane, but seeing it happen in real time feels different. Like watching paint dry, it’s difficult to notice change until it culminates, and now everything is culminating. When Chilicates, a new burrito place, opened a few weeks ago, over twenty people were packed inside the restaurant. Before then, I don’t think I’d ever seen twenty people packed in a building just a block from my house.

Developments like these have made my neighborhood’s shift impossible to avoid. Before, I noticed it on a subconscious level. Now, I’m hyper-aware of each 25-year-old moving in two doors down, each tropical juice shop opening its doors three blocks from me.

Though it sounds stupid to say at 17, this makes me feel strangely old. My own life charts nearly two decades of change in my neighborhood. And just like all the little shifts in my neighborhood are culminating into a big one, so too are the ones in my own life. I’ll be moving onto college next year, even though I was a middle schooler when the pandemic started. As this starts to dawn on me, at least Southie’s shifts provide me with a way to understand the ones happening to me.