Never Mind that January Snow Storm: South-Enders Pack the Library to Hear Alison Barnet Beat Up on Gentrification

Alison Barnet reading from "South End Character" Weather emergency or not, South Enders trudged through snow and wind on January 21 to hear Alison Barnet talk about the neighborhood as she has known it since the 1960s, when she moved here. Her incisive weekly columns about the old South End now bundled in South End Character  drew enough of a crowd that the library's upstairs room was filled to capacity. By the time the event was over, not a drop of drink or a crumb of food was left. All the copies of South End Character had been autographed and sold. Such is the passion locals have for their neighborhoods, perhaps more so here than elsewhere.  The twist on all this present-day South End neighborhood loving is that Barnet pokes fun at it. "I've lived here for twenty years: when can I become a South Ender?" someone in the audience asked. "It isn't the number of years," Barnet answered. "It's an attitude. That has gone." Translation: Never. 

A gentrification malcontent, Barnet bemoans the loss of the "el" that thundered across Washington Street until it was taken down in the 1980s. She rakes over the coals letters from realtors, asking her to consider selling her residence because, as she puts it, "they think the neighborhood will be more attractive without me." She describes how, before AC became standard fare in the South End, everyone would sit on the stoop. "This was before people put all those flower pots on the steps," she added. "There was lots of room on those steps then. We didn't make it inside for hours. We belonged."

Barnet was a co-founder in the 1980s of The South End News, and still produces a column about local history for the weekly. Her criteria for the columns, she told the audience, include: what people don't know about; what has not been written about; something with a dark edge; the comforts of the old South End; the loss of urban characters and eccentrics; all in no more than 800 words. "When it's 802 words I have to decide which two have to go," she joked.

If you missed the library event, Alison Barnet will speak next at The South End Historical Society on Thursday, February 6 at 6:30 PM.  "South End Character"  will be sold there at that time. In addition, local stores offer copies to purchase, including  South End Food Emporium  or at Blunch, 59 East Springfield Street. The author can be reached at aabarnet@gmail.com.