City life can be loud. Sometimes it’s a parade of vehicles — mostly dirt bikes and ATVs — cruising in large packs through Roxbury, Hyde Park, and Dorchester, including Circuit Drive, the winding boulevard that cuts through Franklin Park. It’s a sight to behold, the stream of riders on vehicles roaring along the city roads on the weekends. Someone described it to me as the Boston version of “Mad Max,” a post-apocalyptic unruly crowd of misfits with their faces covered.
The boisterousness includes the gatherings with loud music around the fringes of Franklin Park. Such has been city life at Franklin Park and environs for decades, although recent media coverage would have you believe this is some kind of crime-driven aberration rather than the normal ambiance. The noise around Franklin Park is such that police and elected officials keep getting calls to do something about it. But the public dialogue has not included the people enjoying themselves on their bikes and hanging out with friends at the park.
At a Zoom community meeting last week to discuss what to do about “the plague of dirt bikes and all-night parties,” as a local media outlet described it, City Councilor Julia Mejia rightfully called out the lack of voices of those at the center of the issue. What some call a “quality of life issue” may look a lot different for the people riding a dirt bike in a pack or playing music for hours at Franklin Park. The dynamic raises interesting questions: Who does a vast green space like Franklin Park belong to if not those who grew up around it? And who are we listening to when we talk about policy solutions for urban nuisances?
Dirt bikes and ATVs are a quality of life issue and genuine public safety concern that need to be addressed, especially as the weather gets warmer and more residents head outside.— Annissa Essaibi George (@AnnissaForBos) May 3, 2021
Looking forward to hearing from the community tomorrow night and coming up with solutions. https://t.co/62xi65H0eb
On Sunday afternoon, I approached six Dominican American young adults who were hanging out outside their cars parked alongside North Jewish War Vets Drive at Franklin Park. They’re all in their early 20s and grew up in the city. They did not want to be identified for fear of being harassed or targeted by the police.
“We’re just here hanging out, ‘en el teteo,’” one of them told me in Spanish. ‘Teteo’ is Dominican slang for the type of gathering that’s unique to their culture. “It’s enjoying yourself with others, hanging out, listening to music, and dancing. What you see in the news is that we’re being wild and disruptive, but in reality we’re not doing any harm. We’re just trying to have fun.” El teteo also involves smoking hookahs and blasting music out of running cars, primarily dembow (Dominican street music,) merengue, and bachata.
There is no nightclub in the city where they can do that. “If we only had a big, open space, like a huge parking lot with no housing nearby, we’d go there,” one of them told me. But no one is asking them what they want. It’s no wonder none of them have voted in their local elections. “All we want is a space we can call our own and do our thing,” they said.
Alejandra Tejeda and Malaysia Fuller-Staten agree. They are the hosts of “[Insert] Name Here,” a weekly online talk show where they discuss the latest in Boston politics and pop culture. Tejeda and Fuller-Staten, who also goes by Malikai Unique, were born and raised in Boston. In their latest show, they discussed Boston’s bike culture and the controversy around Franklin Park. “These are mainly young adult Black men,” Tejeda, 24, who is Afro-Latina, said on the show. “I don’t know if people have noticed — and you don’t, because you don’t pay attention to things that Black people care about — but in the Northeast, bike culture in the past 20 years has been really big. If anything, guidelines need to be adjusted to make [ATV and dirt bike riding] safer.” (To be clear, it is illegal to operate ATVs and dirt bikes on public roads and in parks.)
Guys wow like 100 bikes and atvs just passed my house and my quality of life is still intact.— Alejandra (@atejeda97) May 9, 2021
I even waved at some of them 😂
“It’s ridiculous how much we make out of people doing things just for enjoyment,” Tejeda told me in an interview. “This issue has been blown out of proportion. This is the thing that matters the most?”
“What’s going on at Franklin Park is really one of the clearest examples of Boston subcultures merging,” said Fuller-Staten, 23. “You have Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Black Americans, and Afro-Caribbeans,” she said. “Here they’re able to come together and play their music, do the hookah, and ride [ATVS] in the same shared space.”
Ideas about what to do at Franklin Park include increasing police patrols in the area, installing speed bumps in the park, dedicating a public space, or having designated hours at Franklin Park for dirt bikes and ATVs. But the city ought to convene a dialogue that involves the voices of all Bostonians. There’s been far more concern about the quality of life that Franklin Park Zoo animals deserve than the people who use the park. Elected officials should stop talking down to those who depend on the park for their quality of life and bring them to the table.