Photography by Joel Benjamin
Eric Prentis is taking it to the streets of South Boston. Literally, he is walking every inch, of every neighborhood street in Southie. As part of the “NEW (Neighborhood Engagement Walks) Boston,” Eric is being take-charge about issues with infrastructure in our neighborhood. “The mayor really wants us to be proactive and get people involved in their neighborhoods. So, instead of us waiting behind a desk for a phone call about certain problems, the mayor has asked us to go out and find them and talk to people in person about them,” says Eric. As to what exactly he is looking for on the walks, Eric says it ranges from pot holes, to trees that need to be trimmed, to unsafe sidewalks. “These walks have been a great way to get folks engaged and start conversations about some of the issues they are experiencing living in the city.” When all is said and done, Eric will have walked approximately 70 miles when his neighborhood walk is complete.
Walking the city of South Boston is just one of the many things that Eric is responsible for as the South Boston Neighborhood Coordinator for Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services (ONS). “Simply put, I am the mayor’s point person for South Boston and the Polish Triangle in Dorchester. I facilitate meetings, work with residents on issues and work with the other city departments to make sure the city is doing the best job it can for residents,” It’s not an easy job but Eric takes it all in stride. He leaves his home each morning at 7:30am and doesn’t return again until 9pm in most cases. There is no typical day for him. “No two days are the same and that’s what I like most about it,” says Eric. From community meetings, to getting together with residents, returning phone calls, and solving problems with other departments, most people might get overwhelmed but Eric takes it all in stride. “If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I take a quick five minutes to focus on one thing on my list and get that done. It’s all good.”
Scoop on Eric:
Eric has lived in South Boston since the early 1990’s.
Where do you live now? I live on a nice, small quiet street with my wife Cristina (DiCecca) and we have really great neighbors…and I would like to keep it that way,” says Eric grinning.
Where did you go to school? Gate of Heaven, Don Bosco (closed) then finished high school at Newman Prep (same alma mater as Mayor Walsh)
Favorite spot in Southie? The Walsh Center (PAL Gym). I spent a lot of time there as a kid playing sports and then worked there for a few years when I got older and eventually met my now wife there.
Best part about living in Southie? Hands down the food. From Amrheins to Rondo’s to Lincoln to Mirisolas (I could go on forever) – you can’t go one block without running into a good place to eat. Also being so close to the beach and downtown is a plus.
Name something that people might be surprised to know about you? I’m known as the “sock guy” in my office. I have a vast collection of fashionable socks. I have a friendly sock competition with my department’s Chief of Staff (also from Southie) Dan Manning.
Since growing up in Southie, Southie have evolved into one of the most vibrant sought after neighborhoods in the city of Boston. Some say, it’s not the same old Southie but Eric believes the heart of this neighborhood is still beating. “South Boston has changed dramatically since i was a young kid. I would not say for the better or for the worse – it is just different. But luckily, the sense of pride and dedication to our community has remained high. Whether someone has been in the neighborhood for generations, or even just a few months, they pay attention and care about what is going on. That’s something I hope never changes.”
Q&A with Eric:
Favorite part of your job? I work for and with some really great people. From the mayor to Jerome Smith to Dan Manning and the rest of the neighborhood liaisons, we have a great office synergy and everyone tries to help each other when needed. I also get to represent the neighborhood I grew up in for the mayor which is pretty awesome!
Biggest complaint you get? I wouldn’t say I get a lot of complaints – as in people being upset – but of course there are issues that need to be addressed and I always encourage folks to bring these to my attention, but there really is no one particular issue that stands out.
Do you think the 7 day parking pilot program in City Point is working?
Time will tell, I do drive around there before I go home at night and have noticed more available parking spots, but in the end it’s about finding a solution to something that everyone sees as a issue.
What are you suggestions on how to be a good neighbor? Well, I remember growing up that people took really good care of the sidewalk and tree pits in front of their homes. I would always see people out sweeping the sidewalk and that seems to have gone away, which is a shame. South Boston used to be a very clean neighborhood and it can be again if we all pitch in and take pride in our great community. Also pick up you dog poop, it’s pretty gross.
Most passionate neighborhood meeting you’ve attended in your career?
In South Boston, they are all passionate meetings. People are very invested in what goes on here and that type of dedication to the community is what makes South Boston so great!
Funniest incident or story you’ve experienced in your career? I was walking into a zoning board hearing and my shirt got caught on the doorknob. I didn’t notice so I kept walking and everyone in the room heard a loud tear as my shirt ended up with a one foot rip along the buttons. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a spare shirt in the office, so I had to strategically place my tie over the rip until I could go home and get changed. Luckily, the hearings weren’t televised back then.
How can citizens that have issues or concerns/problems reach out the City of Boston? There are some great resources for residents to report constituent issues. You can call the Mayor’s Hotline at 617-635 -500 or use the Citizens’ Connect app on your smartphone. I actually use both myself!
Any last thoughts?
Mayor Walsh takes Neighborhood Services very seriously, and wants to hear from our office on a regular basis. We are in constant contact with him, and he is very tuned into what’s happening in every neighborhood. The mayor has really empowered our department, within this administration, to facilitate solutions across departments. It’s an exciting time to be in ONS, and I am proud to be here working hard for South Boston’s residents.
If you would like to join Eric on his walks, you can find his schedule here:http://www.cityofboston.gov/calendar/newboston.asp
You can follow him on twitter at @PrentisEric