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    In a Roxbury Park, civility is a force against blight

    For a neighborhood to improve, people need to take responsibility for it — and when they do, a little civility and collaboration goes a long way. Consider the case of Ramsay Park in Roxbury, which last month was the subject of an intervention by the City of Boston and concerned citizens.

    The park’s woes have long been evident in the empty “nips” — miniature liquor bottles — that loiterers have thrown about the park. A 1998 Globe story noted how “the bounty of nip liquor bottles sprinkled about, including in the tot lot, provides a daily reminder that all is not as it should be here.” This year, the litter remained a significant chore for public works crews, and unruly behavior from consumption of nips contributed to 40 arrests for public drinking this summer. In addition to stepping up police patrols, the city removed benches on Washington Street — making the park less appealing to drunken loiterers but also taking away an amenity that, under better circumstances, would enhance the park.

    A major new push to end the downward spiral occurred late last month. On a Saturday, a city-coordinated cleanup involving Boston University medical students brought residents out of their homes to thank the volunteers. The city also put pressure on the owners of nearby Brothers Liquors, the apparent source of the nips. The city took the store to the Licensing Board, originally intending to ask the board to restrict the sale of nips and single bottles and cans of beer at Brothers.


    Here’s where civility and collaboration come in: In the hallway before the scheduled hearing, two city officials — Hilani Morales, the city’s neighborhood coordinator for the South End, and Neighborhood Services Coordinator Jay Walsh — met with Brothers Liquors owners Victor and German Fernandez and their attorney Ethan Schaff to hammer out a compromise under which the store will stop selling nips in 30 days. Sales of single bottles and cans of beer can continue but will be reviewed next year.

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    The Fernandez brothers also agreed to help clean the park at least once a month. “Sometimes, you are too busy to see your surroundings,” said Victor Fernandez, whose business has depended on sales of nips and single bottles. “But one day, I took a walk in the park, and I could see that the nips were a problem.”

    Walsh said this is the fourth successful recent negotiation to curb nip sales near community spaces. Stable parks help foster stable communities. Someday, one of the biggest winners may be Brothers Liquors, which could gain customers as its neighborhood stabilizes. A civil, cooperative approach can nip classic urban problems in the bud.