Mattapan matriarchs Mary Burks and Annie Kinkead would love to see their neighborhood's shopping district sparkle again, with freshly paved crosswalks, store signs that match, and restaurants where families can gather and dine.
Those are lofty dreams of longtime neighborhood residents hoping to showcase Mattapan for all its potential. They say Mattapan is a close-knit, family-oriented, determined community — nothing like the violent precinct so often described in media accounts.
City and state officials gave the neighborhood a lift Monday, saying Mattapan Square will soon get half-a-million dollars in improvements.
"It's a long time coming. In fact, too long,'' Kinkead said. "We are going to stay on top of it to make sure it gets done. It's one thing to have words. It's another to have action."
Mayor Martin J. Walsh pledged that the city will use the money to plant trees, broaden sidewalks, and revive Mattapan's commercial hub this summer.
"We're going to make sure the square reflects the energy and spirit of this community,'' Walsh said.
The money is a small victory for community stalwarts, who have fought long and hard seeking help for the neighborhood, Burks said.
"We are now going to be seeing the fruits of our labor,'' she said.
The mayor and other elected officials said the $500,000 is coming from the state's Transportation Bond Bill, which includes provisions for Mattapan improvements introduced by state Representative Dan Cullinane and state Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, both Democrats whose districts include Mattapan.
Governor Deval Patrick released the money during his last year in office.
The state will invest another $500,000 for a transportation study of the square, the lawmakers said.
Mattapan, the scene of some of the city's most notorious incidents of violence, has been trying to lift its image. There's a gleaming new health center and a revived Almont Park, where the mayor and other elected leaders made their announcement Monday.
That park underwent a $4.2 million renovation and now boasts a playground, tennis court, and exercise equipment. By summer, it will have new basketball courts, a cricket field, and a baseball diamond. Mattapan recently started its first Soccer League and may soon establish a Little League team.
"We know this is an incredible community,'' Dorcena Forry said.
On Monday, the mayor hosted a coffee hour in the park, doling out good news, potted mums, and platitudes.
This "is fulfilling a commitment to . . . make Mattapan Square the vibrant, accessible, desirable gateway to Boston that it deserves to be for our business, for our community,'' Cullinane said.
Kinkead, now 80, has lived in Mattapan for half a century. Her late husband, Gareth Jr., established the first Crime Watch in the neighborhood, she said.
She and others carried on his legacy to make Mattapan better. Now, she would like to see the square revived.
"We need a family restaurant, more than one even, because we have so many different people living here,'' Kinkead said. "We don't have one."