Tuesday, July 1, 2008

'Cleaner, brighter and safer'

South Coast Today, the web site of the New Bedford Standard Times, has a story online titled "Immigrant-focused commerce plays strong role in local economy." The piece makes reference to a report by the Boston Redevelopment Authority called The New Bostonians:

A 2005 study of immigrant entrepreneurs in three Boston communities found that their new businesses revitalized neighborhoods and stimulated the local economy by reviving commerce, creating jobs and spin-off businesses, and enhancing public safety. The study, which covered East Boston, Allston Village and Fields Corner, was commissioned by the Immigrant Learning Center, an advocacy group in Malden that provides free English classes to adult immigrants and refugees.

When Central and South American immigrants opened new businesses in East Boston, they made the neighborhood "cleaner, brighter and safer," said Marcia Hohn, executive director of the center.

"Storefronts were boarded up and there was trash on the streets," she said. "It was dirty and dark. They came in and opened up businesses and made it attractive. ... The story might be being repeated in New Bedford."

I have many friends and relatives -- some who have stayed in Eastie and others who've moved away -- who view the influx of Latino immigrants in completely different terms, but in my view the newcomers have filled a void, as second- and third-generation Italian Americans moved on to the North Shore suburbs. The "there goes the neighborhood" view also ignores the fact that the Italians arrived here after waves of Irish, Canadians, and Russian Jews made Eastie their home.

The fact is that storefronts are occupied from Maverick to Jeffries Point, from Central Square to Day Square, and beyond. There is lots of foot traffic and bustling local businesses in these areas, and crime is still relatively low. There is a growing arts community in the neighborhood, and young professionals are moving in as well. East Boston has become a model of diversity.

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