Let's take a walk down the block. Today, we're on Centre Street in West Roxbury.

It's a cloudy, drizzly day, but the fixtures of the neighborhood make it vibrant. I stop into one of the mainstays, the Corrib Pub, to meet longtime resident Myles Duffey.

“On behalf of West Roxbury, welcome,” he said. “And I apologize for the weather."

Duffey shows me more of the block.

“That was my childhood home there,” he said. “I could almost throw a rock and hit my house. To be able to step out of your house and walk as a child down to the stores — it's a type of opportunity to engage with your friends after school. It's a city neighborhood, but very tight and warm that way.”

If Boston is The Hub, West Roxbury is definitely a spoke. It feels more like a suburb than an urban center, and folks like Duffey like it that way.

But with changing leadership in Boston come worries about what will change here.

West Roxbury has historically been a conservative and very politically active pocket of the city. But now, the city is arguably seeing its most progressive era ever, with politicians like Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and City Councilor Kendra Lara bringing new ideals to the places they represent.

In Lara's case, it's also the first time this neighborhood is being represented by a person of color.

Duffey says there are questions about how current leadership aligns with the values of the neighborhood.

“Particularly when you're talking about local neighborhood issues, not everything relates to politics,” he said. “Instead, it's more social and more real. It's about your neighborhood. It's wonderful to see the growth and the change and the diversity that has come upon the city. It's something to be celebrated. West Roxbury has some older, more conservative views than what we're hearing today, and I'm sure that creates anxiety among some.”

One way that anxiety is manifesting is in the debate over the city’s bike lanes. The city of Boston is planning to construct them along Centre Street, a busy four-lane thoroughfare.

The plan, which is set to be implemented by the end of the year, would cut those four lanes to three, including a flex lane in the middle. The plan would also trade 5 percent of Centre Street’s on-street parking spots for protected bike lanes.

It's become a contentious issue. During a recent community meeting at the nearby Elks Lodge, many residents voiced their concerns about the plan.

A crowded room with people sitting in many rows of seats.
A community meeting about changes to Centre Street in West Roxbury.
Paris Alston GBH News

“They've not considered the impact on the residential streets,” one person said. “They are jamming a half-baked project down our throats and hoping we'll just go along with it.”

“If I need my mom to go to the hospital and there's like standstill traffic on Centre Street, that's a problem,” said another.

“We as drivers pay excise tax,” a third person said. “So now that bikers are gonna have their own lane, should they have insurance?”

Not everyone feels that way. One resident, Steve Lewis, spoke up in favor of the changes, saying his children’s K-8 school is nearby.

“They cross the street at Bellevue every day, and every day, I'm terrified. Four lanes is too much,” Lewis said. “It needs to slow down, it needs to be safer. That blinking light doesn't do anything, cars blow through that red light with our kids during school pick-up and drop-off.”

But there was something else Lewis needed to get off his chest.

“I'm also here because I am absolutely sick of people in this group, people in this neighborhood, declaring West Roxbury doesn't want this,” he said.

Other people in the room erupted. One person booed and yelled “Go home.”

I followed up with Lewis after the meeting to learn more about what he meant.

“It's not just about the road,” he said. “It's a deeper cultural issue. What's happening in West Roxbury is the same thing that's happening in a lot of places around the country. People are having a hard time reconciling the fact that the country and that the neighborhood of West Roxbury is changing and that reaction, I think, is just sort of intensified by the echo chambers of social media.”

Lewis said some of the same people who pushed back at the meeting are vocal in community Facebook groups about “othering” those who support progressive policies and leaders. This is about much more than just bike lanes.

One person who spoke at the Elks Lodge meeting was Catherine Vitale of Dorchester, an outspoken conservative candidate for At-Large City Councilor.

"The biggest tool that the Wu admin is using against us is our close-knit neighborhoods and the way that we sit together,” she said. “It's not about bike riders or residents. it's about the agenda they're pushing. They're gonna turn us into 15-minute cities, they wanna pack us in like sardines. Part of these big developments is they're trying to make it as undesirable as possible to drive cars in the city. They want us to stay in the 15 minute radius and they want to watch everything that we do and control everything that we do.”

Back on the block, Myles Duffey said it all comes down to really understanding the neighborhood as a whole and not judging it solely by its public disputes.

“There's too much to celebrate,” he said. “We have challenges, but if we continue to put forward a positive message and speak to each other face-to-face in real dialogue, when we are confronted with these challenges, we can do so in a responsible manner."

What that means for a changing West Roxbury is yet to be seen.