So You Want to Live in Dorchester
Navigate the market with our trusty neighborhood guide, and spend your weekends ogling triple-deckers.
To think of Dorchester as just one neighborhood is pretty laughable. With 160,000 residents spread across six square miles, it rivals the size and population of Cambridge. But the essence of Boston’s largest neighborhood goes far beyond those numbers. Dorchester contains multitudes. It’s filled with diversity and thriving families and active community organizations. Yet it also has a history of cultivated segregation, and heartbreak due to gun violence. It’s a neighborhood that can’t be described in just a few lines. Simply put: Dorchester is complicated.
Dorchester was annexed to Boston in 1870, but didn’t see its population swell until the 1920s, when newly installed streetcar lines changed the fabric of the neighborhood. One of the original “streetcar suburbs,” the electric trolley transformed Dorchester from an enclave built by and for the wealthy to the home of working-class folks, as steetcars allowed them to commute to their jobs downtown. Along with the trolley came homes for these workers, like the iconic triple-decker so often associated with Dorchester. Immigrants flocked to the area from Ireland, Poland, and other countries, and a vibrant community was formed.
While Dorchester has always had a strong Irish Catholic presence, the area around Blue Hill Avenue was a thriving Jewish neighborhood in the 40s and 50s. By the 1960s, conflict was rife thanks to block-busting, redlining, and the “White Flight” to the suburbs. In just one year, 1969, the Jewish population of Dorchester-Mattapan dropped from 50,000 to 6,000, as real estate agents instilled fear in white families and intentionally funneled low-income black families into the area. Effects of this are still visible today, as it’s no secret Boston’s neighborhoods are home to racial divides.
Dorchester is ultimately a cultural and architectural melting pot, with rich history and excellent restaurants sprinkled in. When it comes to coveted spots to live, Ashmont Hill is highly desirable and filled with sprawling Victorian houses. Homes in Neponset and Savin Hill get snapped up in days, and the latter’s Over the Bridge area is historic and leafy. Neighborhoods like Jones Hill and Ashmont are home to large LBGTQ populations, while Fields Corner has a large Vietnamese population and plenty of twenty-somethings looking for reasonable rent. Areas like Four Corners and Bowdoin-Geneva have suffered from gun violence, but they’re still home to many Bostonians who love and defend their communities.
Residents say neighbors are very involved in their sub-neighborhoods, sometimes to a fault (“One neighbor will help you shovel your driveway, while another will report you for having debris on your sidewalk,”). But it’s likely Dorchester residents act this way out of a fierce love for their neighborhood—there’s an overwhelming sentiment that they don’t want to end up like South Boston. As prices continue to rise across the city, Dorchester could use more housing at all price levels.
And yes, you still may find the occasional Wahlberg running around Dorchester. But, of course, to solely identify Boston’s biggest neighborhood with one family does a massive disservice to the countless generations that came before it.
Prices at a Glance
Median single-family home price: $579,000
Median condo price: $393,000
Average rent price: $2,633 per month
What You Can Buy
A Federal-Style Home Near St. Mark’s
23 Florida Street, Dorchester
Size: 2,970 square feet
A Condo in a Triple-Decker
60 Dix Street #1, Dorchester
Size: 1,250 square feet
Public Transit Options
The Savin Hill, Fields Corner, Shawmut, JFK/UMass, and Ashmont stops on the Red Line
The Ashmont, Cedar Grove, and Butler stops on the Ashmont-Mattapan High-Speed Line, which connects to the Red Line
The Uphams Corner, Bowdoin/Geneva, Talbot Avenue stops on the Commuter Rail
What a Real Estate Agent Says
Dorchester remains one of the most desirable neighborhoods for buyers due to the high volume of inventory, variety of housing stock, and reasonable prices compared to other neighborhoods in Boston. That said, prices are increasing. The median price is up almost 15 percent in Q3 year over year at $600,000, and the average price per square foot is $325. Volume is also down by 4 percent.
Buyers should consider looking in the Lower Mills area of Dorchester and Mattapan, right on the trolley line which connects to the Red Line at Ashmont station. There is great walkability to Lower Mills restaurants, cafes, bars and shops. Another area to consider is west of Washington Street and the Upham’s Corner area which is rapidly being redeveloped
—Leslie MacKinnon, Compass
45 Morrissey Blvd., Boston
450 Washington St., Boston
Stop & Shop
340 Freeport St., Boston
Stop & Shop, South Bay Center
1100 Mass Ave., Boston
America’s Food Basket
217 Bowdoin St., Boston
America’s Food Basket
500 Geneva Ave., Boston
America’s Food Basket
576 Washington St., Boston
With residents from all over the world, Dorchester is jam-packed with global cuisines. Grab a pączki, or a Polish donut, at DJ’s Market in the Polish Triangle, or a Cape Verdean dish in Uphams Corner. Have breakfast at McKenna’s Café in Savin Hill (and keep an eye out for Mayor Marty Walsh while you’re there). Slurp pho and bubble tea in Fields Corner, or enjoy Jamaican food in Codman Square. Try the new Oasis Vegan Veggie Parlor in Four Corners, or swing into Adams Village for a visit to Green Hills Bakery, where you’ll probably hear an Irish accent or two over baked goods and coffee. Across the street is the Erie Pub, which may say “Men’s Bar” on the front, but welcomes women these days. Dbar and Ashmont Grill are neighborhood staples, while the Lower Mills area has a growing scene with newer spots like Yellow Door Taqueria and the Bowery Bar, as well as mainstays like Lower Mills Tavern. Grab a beer at Dorchester Brewing Company before heading to the new AMC movie theater at South Bay, or take hold of the karaoke mic at the Banshee. Then, cap it all off with a chocolate turtle from Phillips Candy House.
Did You Know?
Dorchester’s many sub-neighborhoods can get confusing. But anyone who’s originally from the neighborhood (OFD) would ask “What parish are you from?” to determine where you live. Once overwhelmingly Catholic, the neighborhood used to be geographically organized by church parish. But in recent decades, parishes have struggled to survive due to dwindling church attendance and financial struggles. Of course, you’ll still find plenty of Catholics in Dot, with churches serving a more diverse population than the primarily Irish parishioners of decades past.
Home and rent prices by Zillow. Icons via iStock.
Note: This neighborhood guide was updated after an earlier version was published in May 2018.