One of the best and most controversial blogs in a long time is The South End is Over, a scathing but I think fairly accurate assessment of the evolution of Boston’s hippest neighborhood — and my home for three years — from gritty to gayborhood to yuppieville.
The blog has attracted not only the ire of those it criticizes, but the interest of Boston Magazine, which recently ran an article inspired by it, The South End is So Over.
“You wouldn’t know it from the thriving businesses or the still-hot real estate market, but there is a growing chorus of Bostonians who believe this has been the year the South End as they knew and loved it died, became hopelessly passé, jumped the shark. These critics—disaffected current or former residents, mostly—contend that the neighborhood has rapidly declined from an über-hip, multicultural melting pot into rich, white-bread uniformity, a shift that proves our city deserves its reputation as an unstylish, provincial burg irredeemably stratified by race and class…If the South End was Boston’s last great chance to put a star on the national coolness map, the argument goes, then we blew it, quickly overdeveloping everything wonderful about it into oblivion.”
As one resident told the magazine, “It’s lost all the things that made it Boston’s coolest place to live…Now it’s where rich people go to buy the experience of being hip, without actually being hip.”
When I was attending Boston University, long after the first wave of gentrification had hit the South End, the neighborhood felt decidedly “authentic” (whatever that means) — vast blocks of public housing coexisted with rehabbed brownstones, dark alleys still played host to plentiful sketchiness, and gay men by far outnumbered married couples and yuppies. By the time I moved to Columbus Ave. in 2003, the area had been spruced up further, but still retained a bit of grit — who hadn’t been mugged at one time or another while living in the South End? When I finally moved out in 2006, the chic shops had begun to hit Tremont Street, and the too-trendy restaurants far outnumbered the neighborhood’s crappy cheap-eats options. It felt almost like Disneyfication was happening. The latest wave of gentrification has only accelerated the changes, and visiting Boston today depresses me a bit — parts of the South End feel way too polished. As the author wonders, “Is this progress?”