Dorchester, sometimes abbreviated "Dot", is the largest neighborhood in Boston. It is southwest of Southie (nee Dorchester Heights), south of the the South End, south and east of Roxbury, east of Jamaica Plain, northeast of Mattapan, north of Milton, and northwest across the Neponset River from Quincy. Although Dorchester is a residential neighborhood and abuts Boston Harbor, Morrissey Boulevard (a section of Massachusetts Route 203) and the elevated Southeast Expressway section of Interstate 93 separate the homes from the harbor all the way from Harbor Point down to the Neponset, yielding the ironic nickname "Dorchester-By-The-Sea". To those who don't live there, Dorchester is probably best known for relatively frequent gang violence and Corita Kent's abstract paint stripes on the natural gas tanks between the harbor and the interstate, one of which is said to be a portrait of Ho Chi Minh. To me (*sniff*), it's just home.
The Dorchester colony was settled in May 1630, a month before Boston, named after the town in Dorset, England, and has remained throughout its history a residential neighborhood relatively convenient to the city but relatively poor. The ethnic mix reflects this, combining Irish, Hispanic, black, and Vietnamese populations (each of which has its own sub-neighborhood, although the lines blur as time goes on). Just as in South Boston, nearly all homes in Dorchester are "triple deckers": close-packed standalone flat-roofed three-story houses, most built in the early 20th century, each divided into three flats.
Dorchester Avenue, which runs pretty much north-south through the center of Dorchester, forms the neighborhood's main commercial district and is lined from end to end with a mix of homes and a wide variety of small shops and restaurants. As is typical of Boston's major surface streets, it is far too narrow for the volume of traffic it accommodates, and so is constantly full of sluggish traffic and desperately in need of repair.
Dorchester does not touch the Emerald Necklace except for a brief flirtation with Franklin Park, and what green space it has is mostly in the form of small, flat, grassy fields intended for sports. There are two somewhat more park-like areas near the water: the HarborWalk around the peninsula that hosts the JFK Library and UMass Boston, and the Pope Park sandwiched between I-93 and the Neponset. The Pope Park has a couple of hills in addition to the jogging track and soccer field, and the HarborWalk (an asphalt path sandwiched between a stone seawall and the grassy plateau housing UMB) is invariably crowded with fishermen.
Both the Ashmont and Quincy/Braintree branches of the MBTA Red Line pass through Dorchester. Heading out of the city, the two lines branch at JFK/UMass station, with the Braintree line making a long run directly to North Quincy while the Ashmont line serves Savin Hill, Fields Corner, Shawmut, and Ashmont. The presence of UMass Boston on Harbor Point and Harvard, MIT, and Tufts on the Red Line combined with the relatively low prices that come with living in a poor neighboorhood (not to mention the availability of DSL) make this neighborhood a favorite with Boston's less affluent students. The MBTA commuter rail stops at Uphams Corner and Morton Street on the Readville line, and JFK/UMass on the Middleborough/Lakeville line.
Major roads that connect Dorchester to the rest of the world include:
- Columbia Road, which connects South Boston to Franklin Park (and thence to Jamaica Plain) while separating Dorchester from Roxbury,
- Mass Ave, which runs from Columbia Road at Edward Everett Square to Boston proper, Cambridge, Arlington, and points north, and
- Route 203, consisting of Morrissey Boulevard, Gallivan Boulevard, and Morton Street, which runs along the eastern and southern borders of Dorchester to connect South Boston to Jamaica Plain.