Area gets double mayoral treatment as Menino honored and Walsh promises continued focus
By Meghan E. Irons
The two mayors — one current, one former — returned to the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood Monday, visiting two spots in a community trying mightily to turn a critical corner.
There was Thomas M. Menino, the former mayor, basking in praise and a bright morning sun and sitting in quiet reflection on his own honorary bench Monday.
The 8-foot-long metal bench pays tribute to Menino’s unwavering support for the Teen Center at St. Peter’s, a refuge and pathway to college for community teenagers.
“This bench is a reminder that Mayor Thomas Menino for 20 years loved and took care of the youth of Bowdoin-Geneva,’’ reads a green metal plaque on the bench.
And there, a block or so away, was Menino’s successor, Martin J. Walsh, who joined another neighborhood celebration, at the Bowdoin Street Health Center. It is another haven, this one for people experiencing high incidence of obesity, diabetes, poverty, and the impact of gun violence.
The presence of both Boston leaders in one of the city’s embattled neighborhoods retrained the spotlight on Bowdoin-Geneva. During his 20 years in office, Menino made the neighborhood one of his causes, visiting there each Christmas Eve to hand out toys and candy.
He gave $7,000 in seed money to launch the Teen Center. Under his watch, the city devoted resources to fix up parks, create youth programs, and target problem landlords.
Still, Bowdoin-Geneva, alternating between peace and random shootings, has struggled through the years.
Walsh, who has been less visible in the neighborhood than Menino, said he will continue to focus on the neighborhood. He pointed to his initiative to tamp down violence and to his controversial gun buyback program as key moves to help keep the peace. But he vowed he will not simply “throw money” at the neighborhood to improve it.
“We are going to continue the great work that is happening here,’’ Walsh said.
Bowdoin-Geneva, which sits at the edge of four larger neighborhoods, was the focus of a five-part Globe series in 2012. Residents and authorities said crime is declining, community gardens are blooming, and ideas for a food co-op, complete with a cafe and grocery store, are taking root.
Residents have started to come together, too. Ten community groups that had been meeting on their own have united under one umbrella organization called Bowdoin Geneva Residents Association. Members have been meeting since September to articulate their dreams, set goals, and hash out ways to get more of their neighbors engaged in the community. They now have a Facebook page.
“The truth is, there is a lot going on in the neighborhood,’’ said Evandro Carvalho, the recently elected state representative for the Fifth Suffolk House District in Roxbury and Dorchester. “I grew up here and I live here. We are going to pay special attention to the neighborhood.”
On Monday, about a dozen people gathered outside the Teen Center, where the bench honoring Menino, donated by St. Peter Catholic Church, adorns a patch of gravel.
The former mayor, in blue shirt and striped tie, sat quietly next to Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, who thanked Menino for his “continued advocacy and concern’’ for Bowdoin-Geneva and for his support for the Teen Center.
Afterward, Menino said he was pleased with how far the neighborhood has come.
“I love this neighborhood,’’ Menino said. “We made a lot of strides over the last couple of years. Folks are looking differently at Bowdoin-Geneva than they did several years ago. It’s a community coming together.”
An hour after the Menino event, Walsh stood under a large white tent and helped to launch the ceremonial expansion of the health center.
The health facility, part of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, raised $4 million to expand its third floor and create a wellness center, which will promote exercise and healthy eating in a neighborhood plagued with health woes.
Billed as the first of its kind in the neighborhood, the wellness center will include an exercise studio, physical therapy rooms, and a demonstration kitchen for cooking classes.
“Seven years ago, we realized that to really help the community, we really needed a place . . . where they can come to reduce stress brought on by poverty,’’ Adela Margules, the health center’s executive director, said at the ceremony.
Margules said her hope is to bridge health inequities and to give Bowdoin-Geneva “what other neighborhoods have.”
Walsh’s administration said that throughout the years, the city has been involved in efforts to improve Bowdoin-Geneva, such as redeveloping senior housing and sprucing up Geneva Cliffs and Ronan Park.
Residents would like to see more: They have said they want Bowdoin-Geneva to feel more like a full-service community by having a bank, bakery, and meat market.
A city-created neighborhood response team, which addresses residents’ complaints, will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Holland Elementary School.