The new Combat Zone?

By CHRIS FARAONE  |  October 20, 2010

Amidst mountains of blame cast upon everyone from absentee landlords to police, one undesirable fact persists: the Hub's blackest avenue is, as a whole, in a dire state. When the National Urban League and Blacks in Government hold their conferences here in 2011, their tours through our minority communities — linked by Blue Hill Ave — will be far from reassuring.

In the past few weeks, the Phoenix has trampled that path to profile the city's most depressed thoroughfare. We found that traveling Blue Hill Ave, from Dudley Street to Mattapan Square, reveals snapshots not only of the area's greatest problems — but of its possible solutions.

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Prostitutes and junkies congregate in overgrown thickets of weeds and rubbish along Blue Hill Ave.

The Combat Zone
The prostitutes who work corners between Grove Hall and Dudley Street are not of the Hollywood variety. They don't sport high heels or fishnet stockings; some are stinking and homeless, having succumbed to battles with drug addiction and insanity. Oftentimes veteran streetwalkers operate without pimps, and many wait at bus stops for hours until johns materialize, rather than approaching vehicles like hookers do on television.

This is the Mattapan section that Henriquez dubbed the new "Combat Zone," in reference to how prostitutes migrated here after Chinatown cleaned up in the early '90s. Undercover BPD officers have run concentrated crackdowns for years and arrested johns, including a Boston firefighter and the husband of a former Dorchester state representative. Still, such police operations are extremely costly, and have waned under current budget constraints. As a result, more than a dozen vacant lots serve as degenerate playgrounds for loiterers.

"We should be investing in more venues and organizations here," says Jorge Martinez, executive director of the Blue Hill Ave–based Project RIGHT ("Rebuild and Improve Grove Hall Together"). A tireless citizens' advocate, Martinez and his co-workers address everything from drug rehabilitation to small-business and residential development. "The only problem is that we still haven't figured out what to do with a lot of those lots. That's where we're stuck — it's not the city, it's us. . . . The rush to develop something to show that we're okay is not good enough anymore. This is not about mortar and brick — this is about human development and building community."

Despite the blight, a few roses have bloomed from "Combat Zone" concrete. On the southern side, just blocks away from the $13.5 million Grove Hall retail "Mecca," a complex featuring shops and community space plus 48 new affordable senior-housing units is nearing completion. Alaska Street, on the northern end, is among the most picturesque Victorian blocks in Boston, recently placing in United Way's Cleanest Street competition. In the middle of it all, the popular, Big Papi–frequented Dominican dining destination Merengue, which, along with the sometimes-troubled Breezeway Bar & Grill across the street, is a sort of oasis.

According to Martinez and likeminded doers, it's up to all parties, from home and shop owners to renters and patrons, to constantly communicate about effective anti-crime strategies and looming dangers.

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  Topics: News Features , Boston, Tom Menino, Mattapan,  More more >
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