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Downtown Journal: The Tourists Are Coming, The Tourists Are Coming!

Welcome to Downtown Journal!
An occasional column about city life by Monica Collins

Don’t get me wrong. I think tourists are indigenous to the North End/Waterfront. And like other indigenous creatures – seagulls, rabbits, rats and pigeons — I accept them as part of our environment and who we are. Kind of.

I draw the line at littering, rudeness, and illegal behavior on the part of the visitors. However, as long as they pay attention to the rules – of the road, the city, and their tour guides – I think we can all get along. Sigh.

Sometimes, I grow weary of living in a trammeled-upon quadrant of the city. In spring, summer and fall, the street outside our home rumbles with tourist trolleys and buses; the sea channel brims with an armada of sightseeing ferries. When the trolley windows and boat decks are open, I can hear shreds from the tour guide’s practiced patter. Often, the guide prattles on about the price of real estate. He throws out numbers to astound the guests. Homeowners who live in the properties along the sightseeing route must cringe when they hear their real estate values being bandied about. Or maybe they swell with glee.

Pride is a common commodity along the tourist trail. I am very proud my city. When U.S. News and World Report recently named Boston one of the top three best cities in the world to spend a summer vacation – up there with Paris, France and Florence, Italy – I had a moment of glow before the dread of the hungering horde set in. Just as the zombies invade on TV’s “The Walking Dead,” so the tourists will soon be unleashed carrying Mike’s Pastry boxes, asking to pet my dog because they miss their own woofer back home, or wondering how to get to Hanover Street/Quincy Market/the Constitution/whatever landmark.

Again, don’t get me wrong. I am polite and happy to give them guidance. My dog, unfortunately, is not so game. He’s a shy guy and skittish when strange hands reach down to stroke his fur. If the visitors ask my recommendations for good places in the neighborhood, I have my patter: I steer them toward Modern Pastry, the Boston Public Market, whatever North End eatery has captured my fancy, and Battery Wharf because the views from there are astounding and the generous historical markers are interesting.

Boston gives a property tax abatement and, sometimes, in my harebrained imagination, I envision a tourist mitigation. Anyone whose legal address is within a quarter mile of the Freedom Trail, or right along the Harborwalk, would be given a tax break in acknowledgment of how the property takes a thumping from visitors. It would also be a small payment for civic cooperation in putting on a good face even when involved in private quotidian business as well as for facing uncommon dangers. We remember last year’s festival season when the invasion became downright scary. Police had to be called and stayed vigilant when gangs of kids roamed Commercial Street and Puopolo Park after the early feasts. I remember the ominous roar of that crowd.

So far, the only benefit from a tough winter and frigid spring is the brief respite from visitor overload. Now, as the tourist season warms up, I gird myself. Still, I am pleased my home is in a place where the world wants to be. Living in this neighborhood also opens me up to unlikely, outlandish opportunities. Where else can you find fried Oreos on a summer Sunday?

Over 15 years, Monica Collins wrote a column about the city — called “Downtown Journal” — for the Boston Herald. She’s also written for The Boston Globe and Boston magazine. In 2002, she created “Ask Dog Lady,” a lifestyle column about people and pets that continues to run in the South End News and Salem News. She lives in Boston with her husband Ben and dog Dexter. 

13 Replies to “Downtown Journal: The Tourists Are Coming, The Tourists Are Coming!

  1. The residents of Venice Italy are fed up with tourists. They are sick of the large cruise ships taking over the lagoon. They feel that it’s becoming a Disney like place. They want to be separated from the tourists. Thousands have left because of too many tourists. Should be interesting to see how it works out.

    1. A friend in Salt Lake told me they have a term for tourist there, Tourons. The combined tourist with moron and came up with the term. So if you ever visit Salt Lake, you might hear that.

  2. Tourists visiting Boston and the NE come with the territory. Not exactly a new experience .Deal with it we have since we were kids.

  3. I find many tourists, especially the family ones, not as bad as a lot of (but not all) the college kids who live here, 9-10 months of the year partying every weekend, throwing up on our streets, throwing out their trash in an uncaring matter, and, as “temporary residents” having little respect for the true essence of our neighborhood and its permanent, full-time residents.

    1. We have to be careful and not giving the impression that tourists are somehow the enemy and aren’t welcomed here.This is Boston for God’s sake and with the city’s attractions and history of course tourists are going to flock here.Growing up here I was not thrilled with busloads of people”invading” the neighborhood but I was too young and dumb to understand why we people want to visit the Paul Revere House , the Old North Church etc. because I saw these places everyday and I didn’t think that it was a bug deal.The overwhelming majority of tourists that I have encountered have been friendly friendly and respectful. I certainly would not lump them in with as you describe “the college kids who live here 9-10 months of the year partying every weekend ,throwing up on OUR streets and throwing out their trash in an uncaring matter”Cities like Orlando and Vegas would fold up in a week without tourists.

      1. I’m not complaining about tourists – they’re welcome here, and are what makes Boston and the North End what it is so many businesses here thrive on the tourism. What I was trying to say above, I’d take them (the tourists) over these college kids that move in September 1 and wreak havoc.
        Perhaps I worded it wrong, but I am NOT making tourists out to be the enemy, AT ALL – I said I don’t see the tourists as bad as other types of people that move in here. Like you, I don’t understand why people dread tourists – I’m proud to say I live here, and to show the tourists that, too.

  4. People complain about tourists everywhere where tourism is a significant part of the economy. But then again, tourism can be a significant part of an economy. That can be good. The trick is collecting enough in sales tax, such that homeowners aren’t subsidizing commercial interests.

  5. ‘Like’ your gentle article, Monica. Now, if we can just keep the ‘quaintness’ of this area by not allowing chain establishments to mar its charm and isolate those humongous tourist busses from the ever-shrinking Atlantic and Commercial Streets.

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