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In Bowdoin-Geneva, signs of hope amid economic isolation

A view from Bowdoin Street down Hendry Street. Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

The Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood in Dorchester has suffered from crime and instability for years, but not for a lack of effort by concerned residents and the City of Boston. A five-part Globe series last week highlighted not just the pain created by gang-related violence and poverty in the neighborhood, but also the myriad ways — successful and unsuccessful — in which residents push back against these ills.

Boston must continue its rather sophisticated efforts to keep up the pressure, through community policing and code enforcement, on individuals and homes that drag the neighborhood down. But the city and Bowdoin-Geneva residents must also look for solutions to an overarching problem: the economic isolation that afflicts the neighborhood and limits the prospects of so many in it.

Looming over the residents are aimless young men who fight over turf because there are no better options, and the never-ending cycle of attacks and retaliations that denies peace to an entire neighborhood. Yet the area also has civically engaged people — from a priest to officials at nonprofits to a young woman hell-bent on having a community garden — who are working hard to make life better. And a picture emerges of Boston police as a department that cultivates links with community leaders, and that’s willing to take some risks in steering troubled young people onto a better path. When a young man with a blemished record tries to put on a peaceful neighborhood event, the police department goes along because officers want to do all they can to nudge him toward a law-abiding life.

Still, not all of the needs of the neighborhood can be fixed one resident at a time. The neighborhood would benefit from tighter connections to more economically vital areas; from the kinds of business development that allow residents to find employment without walking for miles; from routes out of the neighborhood for young people who want to break with street life but somehow never manage to.


Families in Bowdoin-Geneva face many of the same problems as in other neighborhoods — for instance, how to keep the streets clean and the kids occupied. It’s just that, compared with most other neighborhoods in Greater Boston, Bowdoin-Geneva starts from a much more difficult point; its margin of error is thinner; the choices residents face are harder. And the avoidance of disaster relies heavily — too heavily — on the daily exertions of the individuals who care about the neighborhood.