Let’s take a walk down the block.

There was a time when outsiders framed Mattapan Square as a place to avoid because of violent crime in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s.

“It was called Mattapan, but the nickname behind it was always, since I was young, Murderpan,” longtime resident Wendell Delk said.

Today, Blue Hill Avenue is bustling, with three lanes going each way. A lot of drivers go through Mattapan Square to get to and from the suburbs while avoiding traffic on I-93.

There are people all up and down the block, many of them Haitian immigrants buying and selling everything from cell phone service to clothing from stores and folding tables.

A blue and red shirt with the word Haiti on the back hands outside a storefront. In the background a man stands next to the store holding a cell phone.
A Haiti jersey hangs on Blue Hill Avenue.
Emily Judem GBH News

But soon, the area could see major changes.

Earlier this year, the city announced that Blue Hill Avenue is getting a makeover. The plan is to put a bus lane in the middle of the road. The idea is getting mixed reviews.
“People like to race on Blue Hill,” said Greg Bardouille, who has lived in Mattapan for nearly 30 years. “They see you on the crosswalk and they’ll fly right by you, they don’t give you a break to cross. So I figure it’ll cut down on the speeding.”

But Christina Rowell, who works nearby at Daily Table, isn’t a fan.

“Please do not put one lane on Blue Hill,” Rowell said. “It’s going to back up a lot of traffic. You already got road rage so it’s going to be a lot more road rage.“

Delk, who grew up here and lives nearby, said he worries that the redesign won’t bring the development the neighborhood needs. He had to move his local comedy show, Tickle Me Tuesdays, to the Seaport because it was struggling in Mattapan.

”They need more restaurants that people can sit down and be hospitable to each other,” Delk said. “When I moved here in the ’70s, early ’80s, there were a lot of pubs and clubs in the area. It was actually four in Mattapan Square.”

Back then, the neighborhood was predominantly Jewish, Irish and Italian. Delk said that as more Caribbean immigrants moved in, watering holes like Conway’s Pub closed or moved away.

But had they remained, there could’ve been an opportunity.

“People driving ... from surrounding areas would say, ‘hey, people are eating outside,’” Delk said. “That probably would’ve opened it up to a more communicable way of life for Mattapan, where it’d become a melting pot.”

Right now, there are just three liquor licenses in all of Mattapan.

But state lawmakers are trying to create more, so that restaurants can compete, and Mattapan can become a destination.

“When you haven’t had investment in your community for so long, you’re very skeptical about somebody with someone is telling you is the solution."
Fatima Ali-Salaam, chair of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council

Some folks in Mattapan Square feel the city is ignoring them, especially if they’re critical of the plans for Blue Hill Avenue.

Fatima Ali-Salaam of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council says she understands.

“When you haven’t had investment in your community for so long, you’re very skeptical about what someone is telling you is the solution,” Ali-Salaam said.

She can envision that melting pot, as a Mattapan Square that is full, vibrant and a place everyone wants to be. She says the redesign can be a step in that direction, as long as residents hold the city accountable.

The final plan isn’t expected to be released until next year, and construction won’t begin until 2026.

Until then, many residents hope the upcoming changes will make Mattapan Square more than a place to pass through.