Living in Boston vs. living in Philadelphia?
February 22, 2013 7:55 AM   Subscribe

I've got the chance to spend two years doing research work at a university in either Boston or Philadelphia. I've never been to either city, and I can't visit them before deciding. I'm looking for general impressions of what life would be like in each place. (I've posted some other details inside, but because I'm so ignorant of both places, this is pretty free-form...)

Just impressions of one or the other would be fine, but I'm especially interested in how the two cities differ. (FWIW, I've lived in Toronto, Vancouver, and NYC, so comparisons in terms of those places would all be understood.)

I care about these things:

- good transit/seasonal cycling options within the city (I don't drive)
- affordable train access to other cities (see above)
- green space (parks, streets with trees)
- ability to live without roommates in, let's just say it, a somewhat hip neighborhood
- nice coffee shops and small, eclectic bars
- vegetarian food, esp. Latin American, Indian, Ethiopian...
- decent 'indie' music scene, good independent dance nights
- friendly people!

One crucial detail: I would be significantly poorer in Boston (40k/yr) than in Philly (over 50k/yr). Can a person even live on that amount a year in transit distance to Cambridge?
posted by Beardman to Society & Culture (43 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
You want Philly, hands down. It's a lot more affordable, not as cold, and more centrally located to you have more access to other cities. Everyone I know who lives in Philly is very nice, there's a dance scene, plenty of vegetarian food (though I don't personally know how much ethic veg food there is, maybe someone else can speak to that).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:03 AM on February 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I went to school right outside Boston, and my sister lives in suburban Philly. I much, much, much prefer Boston. It has better transit in general- I lived there for four years without a car and never needed one. A bike is useful most of the year but not especially necessary if you live and go to school near the T. Can you share with us the neighborhood your school is in?

Lots of nice green space downtown, with the Public Garden and Boston Commons, as well as the nice esplanade loop around the Charles if you like to run or take long walks. Central Square in Cambridge has very good ethnic food and when I was there an excellent indie music scene. (I am old-ish but my visits back there have led me to believe that the music is still pretty good.) Overall, Boston is one of my favorite places to live even despite the bitter cold all winter; it's got a ton of stuff to do, beautiful old neighborhoods to poke around, and is so easy to have a nice life there without a car. I lived in Central Square on not much at all and was fine, but that area has gentrified quite a bit in the last 10 years. There are so many students in the area, though, that I would expect you could still find cheap housing.

Philly is OK- I am less familiar with it, which may be part of why I am less enthused about it. I generally stay downtown and take the commuter rail out to my sister's house when I visit. The downtown is tiny compared to Boston's, although I am less familiar with the area near UPenn so that may influence things. It's a nice enough place to visit and also has some wonderful old neighborhoods. I work in downtown Newark, NJ and I'm going to say that honestly a lot of Philly reminds me of Newark (areas of boarded up storefronts, etc). I'd go with being poorer in Boston.
posted by lyra4 at 8:06 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I lived in Boston on 40k/year; I recommend making more in Philly. You can certainly get by on that salary in the Hub (1/4 of the town is students, so there are things for poorer folks) but it means either roommates, living far away or saving nothing.

Boston has all the typical big city amenities, but what's distinctive about it is 1. it's historical and 2. there's a classist, older money vibe (recall, this is Mitt Romney's hometown). Obv, in the case of 2, being poorer feels worse in Boston than in other places. In the case of 1, its a nice feature, and I can think of only one American city that can compete with Boston's sense of history.

Lucky for you, its Philly
posted by charlemangy at 8:13 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can definitely live on 40k/yr in Boston, though most people have roommates. Finding a one bedroom or a studio that fits your budget might be a challenge - rents range from $1500 - $4000 depending on the apartment and neighborhood. I live in Somerville now, just north of Boston and Cambridge on the red line and it's by far my favorite part of greater Boston. We're having a restaurant revolution of sorts with lots of new places opening up.

If I were moving to Boston to study in Cambridge I'd look for housing in Inman Square, Union Square or Davis Square areas (Somerville neighborhoods tend to be centered around "squares" which may or may not actually be intersections), but there are many, many hip neighborhoods in Boston - the ones I mentioned are in Cambridge and Somerville, plus further from Cambridge there's Jamaica Plain, Allston/Brighton, Roslindale, Dorchester, etc, etc. We have (mostly) good public transit and plenty of awesome coffee shops and bars. There are a lot of trees in the neighborhoods (fewer downtown, but the greenway that runs through the city is lovely and the Common and Public Garden are great). People bike all year here but only the most steadfast are out in the snowy winter months, as soon as it's mostly melted the streets are full of bikes again. Mayor Menino is a really pro-bike (and frankly, kind of pro-hipster) mayor. I've lived here for eight years and I can't imagine moving, even though I used to think I'd want to try out a bunch of other cities.

All this being said, access to other cities is more affordable by bus than train, and in general Philly is probably going to be more affordable (and arguably warmer). I love Boston, but in your situation, Philly's probably a better bet.
posted by hungrybruno at 8:15 AM on February 22, 2013


Boston is great, but also expensive -- if you don't want roommates, and especially if you want to live in a hip neighborhood, it'll be tough to find anything under $1000, and most places will be more like $1200. (I do have friends who've lucked into good deals in the $800-$900 range, but those are rare.)
posted by cider at 8:15 AM on February 22, 2013


affordable train access to other cities (see above)

This doesn't exist. Use the bus (Greyhound/BoltBus/Chinatown buses/Megabus/etc). And those bus options between Boston/Philly/NYC/DC/Baltimore are actually very good!

Philly is going to be quite a bit less expensive and has faster access to NYC and DC.

Can a person even live on that amount a year in transit distance to Cambridge?

How do you want to live? It is not that hard to find a 1-bedroom in Cambridge for $1500/month. There are a lot of good roommate options if you're looking for that. But you'll feel significantly richer in Philadelphia on $50,000/yr than you will in Boston on $40,000/yr.
posted by deanc at 8:18 AM on February 22, 2013


Boston on 40K/year? I don't know if I'd recommend that. I did that 16 years ago on an income of around $40K and paid a rent of $900/$1000 a month for a nice one-bedroom (no roommates) in the North End. I didn't maintain a car, which was a huge savings. Electric heat; cost a bundle in the wintertime. I doubt that you would get anything like that apartment for that cost these days. I guess you could try the surrounding suburbs but you'll be spending a lot of time on the T. At least your preferences are inherently low-cost, which will help.

If I were more mobile these days I would definitely try out Philly; my tastes are similar to yours. I think it meets all of your criteria.
posted by Currer Belfry at 8:20 AM on February 22, 2013


I've never been to Boston, so I can't speak to that.

Philly is interesting. You'll find cheaper rents, a decent transport system and PA folks are usually pretty nice.

It's location is AWESOME for trains to places hither, thither and yon, and there's Megabus, for truly affordable transport outside the city.

Given the difference in the cost of housing and the salary, go for Philly. You won't be sorry.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:21 AM on February 22, 2013


It just occurred to me that when you talk about rail access to "other cities" you might mean places like "Worcester" and "Newburyport". In that case the commuter rail system in Massachusetts is very good and affordable. But if you mean "Amtrak", then keep in mind that it is best used for business travelers on expense accounts. If affordability is your priority, then there's generally a decent bus service between where you are and wherever Amtrak goes that is a LOT cheaper.
posted by deanc at 8:24 AM on February 22, 2013


In terms of access to other Cities, you'd prefer Philly. Boston is kind of up here on its own. Cheap (scary) buses to NYC ($15), but the train's $50-100; either takes 4-5 hours. The only thing we've got going for us in terms of "local travel" is Portland Maine, which is a great place to visit. From Philly, on the other hand, you can get to NYC via Amtrack ($50 again), commuter rail network (more like $25) and scary-bus ($15), and south toward DC for slightly more but still somewhat convenient.

My impression is that the Boston is better than Philly in terms of getting around the city easily by public transit. The down-side there is that the closer you are to a T stop, the higher your rent is. A map. Housing will be cheaper in Philly.
posted by aimedwander at 8:24 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm going to say that honestly a lot of Philly reminds me of Newark (areas of boarded up storefronts, etc).

That is incredibly far from reality.

I like Boston a lot, but Philly is definitely the winner here. First off, you're making more in a city with a lower cost of living, so double win there. There's a huge cycling community here, a rapidly-growing network of bike lanes (especially if you're going to be working at Penn), and a huge number of bike commuters period. SEPTA, the transit agency, gets a sometimes-deserved terrible rap, but it's not that bad: I've taken the buses and subways for years and they get me where I need to go pretty efficiently.

Philly is connected to Pittsburgh, NYC, and Washington (and beyond) directly via Amtrak, by SEPTA to Trenton, Delaware, and the Philly burbs, and via NJ Transit extension to NYC via Trenton and Newark; plus, it's a sub-2 hour BoltBus ride to NYC.

There is a ton of green space here, with the four corner parks (Rittenhouse, Washington, Franklin, and Logan squares), Fairmount Park running 4+ miles along the Schuylkill River with a multi-use path on either side, and the Wissahickon Gorge and trail beyond that for hiking and more cycling.

Philly has a bunch of awesome, hip neighborhoods (that aren't packed full of boarded up storefronts, wtf?) that are all walkable and have great transit options (East Passyunk/South Philly, Fishtown, Grad Hospital, West Philly, etc).

There's also tons of great food, vegetarian and otherwise: Ethiopian in West Philly, lots of great veg-friendly gastropubs and restaurants, and one of the best restaurants in the nation (seriously, just ranked top-12 by GQ and getting lots of great press otherwise) that just happens to be vegan, Vedge. We have tons of awesome bars, both fancy and divey (The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co., Bob and Barbara's), and some serious coffee (Ultimo, Rival Bros, Shot Tower, Bodhi, Hub Bub, etc.).

The indie music scene is huge; you can't throw a stone without hitting a show, and there's great local support for it. Moreover, the absolute best indie dance party in the world is here: Making Time.

And you know what? Philly gets a bad rap for having rude people, but the people I know and have met here are friendly, gregarious, unpretentious, and just generally awesome. Boston is fine, but this is really a no-brainer.
posted by The Michael The at 8:28 AM on February 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


Philly is a smaller city than Boston, but we've got everything you want. Hip neighborhoods! Decent within-city transit by foot, bike, bus, or subway! Great links to all other major cities on the Eastern seaboard, including Boston, with much easier access to DC/New York! Surprisingly decente vegetarian food! Off the top of my head, I can name good vegetarian Chinese, Middle Eastern, Ethiopian, and New American.

Plus, unless you want to live in a super-schmancy apartment in a super-schmancy part of town (that will be, by and large, less convenient to public transit anyways), you'll have your pick of hip places in the city where you can live without roommate.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:29 AM on February 22, 2013


Philadelphia is definitely what you want. I lived in Philly for 5 years without a car, never had a problem - biking is great. My ex-bf moved from Philly to Boston for med school and said constantly how much he missed philadelphia restaurants - Boston to him was just not a food town. There's great Ethiopian in West Philadelphia, and amazing Mexican in South Philly - Boston just does not have as lively an immigrant population. The weather is better, the rent is MUCH MUCH cheaper, Rittenhouse Park, Clark Park, and many many other parks are GREENER. It's much closer to NYC and DC (2 and 3 hours respectively vs. 6 and 9 hours from Boston). It is less rampant with gross undergrads and has a better grade of hipster. Fishtown, West Philadelphia, Northern Liberties, etc... so many great (and cheap) hip neighborhoods.

Please move to Philadelphia. You will not regret it. I miss Philly every day after moving to the frigid north :(
posted by permiechickie at 8:38 AM on February 22, 2013


I love Boston and it meets most of your criteria, but living alone on 40k would be tough. You would need to either:

1. Have roommates, which you don't want, or
2. Live outside the city, which would make commuting a problem: Inside the greater Boston area (the 617s [and now 774s], basically), transit is a little weird and spotty in places, in terms of how far you have to walk and how many connections you need to make. Once you get further out, it gets crappier. There are bike lanes but the city is still sort of adjusting to their existence. Mixed-use paths exist, but they tend to run around the perimeter of the city. So for more affordable digs, you would almost certainly have to live someplace where you'll have to walk far and wait a while for a bus. In a Boston winter, that's awful.

So go with Philly. I have friends who live there and they say it's nice.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:38 AM on February 22, 2013


Comparing Boston to Philly is like comparing a BMW to a Subaru. The BMW is high performance and pricey, and you choose it for its amenities. The Subaru is quirky, but has great features for its class, and you can get a lot of enjoyment out of it, particularly given the lower price. You might decide that the BMW is worth the cost, because you like the amenities and the brand association that comes with it, and you're willing to make the economic and personal sacrifices for it. Or you might decide that the stress of the additional costs just aren't worth it and go with the Subaru.
posted by deanc at 8:39 AM on February 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Comparing Boston to Philly is like comparing a BMW to a Subaru. (deanc)

Good metaphor, but I would say it's like comparing a BMW to a 1982 Ford Taurus. I've lived in both cities and I think they FEEL completely different.

To me, Philly feels gritty, blue color and unsophisticated. Boston feels like a sophisticated, thriving city full of amazing cultural institutions and a huge population of students and educated people. The snow and cold in Boston is ridiculous in the winter.

Just my 2 cents.
posted by kdern at 8:46 AM on February 22, 2013


I've never lived in either, but I'm pretty familiar with both.

Basically, this question is about your priorities. You'll find plenty of hip neighborhoods, eclectic coffee shops and bars, indie music concerts, and great food in both cities. I'd probably give Boston a slight edge in most of those areas (food is a possible exception), but it's not really enough that it should be a big factor in your decision. You can easily find what you want in this stuff in Boston or Philly.

There are certain similarities between Boston and Philly. Both cities have a sense of history that is unmatched in the US. Both have strong working-class cultures sitting alongside strong old-money cultures, sometimes uncomfortably (the old-money's a bit more present in Boston, though). They have broadly similar climates, though Boston is obviously colder. Both have lots of colleges and a large student population, though Boston's college scene is more prominent.

So, here are the important differences: Boston has better local transit, considerably less crime, and it's cleaner. Philly is much cheaper and has better connections to other cities (NYC, DC). Philly also feels a little more sprawling to me, and its winters are milder (though still cold).

Overall, I think Boston is probably a somewhat nicer place to live, but you'd be really scraping by on 40k if you didn't have roommates. You can live quite well in a hip part of Philly, in your own place, on 50k-plus, though. The question is, does Boston's edge as a place to live make up for the extra salary and lower cost of living you'll encounter in Philly? If I were in your shoes, I'd probably say "no," but these are the factors you should consider.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:50 AM on February 22, 2013


I can't speak about Boston, but you would be able to live pretty comfortably on 50K year. My wife and I do pretty well on not much more than that.

The public transportation in Philadelphia (center city anyway) is only limited if you refuse to take the bus. Many of the buses run frequently as well. My wife takes either the bus or the subway depending on what she feels like to work.

Also, where are people getting the notion that Boston is a bigger city than Philadelphia? Depending on how you define the city population, Philadelphia's is either much larger or roughly the same as the Boston metro area.
posted by nolnacs at 8:52 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know both cities pretty well (live near Boston, lived in Philly) and I think it's definite that you'd like Philly a lot better. A LOT better.

It's cheaper.
It has much better transit connections to all sorts of destinations up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
It has good cheap public transport.
It is loaded with bikers and bike paths and good cycling in the city and nearby.
Its pace is mellower. People are much friendlier.
It's better for hipsters. Lots and lots of young people, "urban homesteaders."
It's way more diverse, you'll meet more different kinds of people - income, racial, ethnic, age, politics.
Lots more cheap, low-key ethnic restaurants and a much better dining and food culture than Boston.
Fantastic public parks and green spaces, especially beautiful in spring.
Great music scene, very active. Easy to find things to do any night of the week.
The Phila. Museum of Art is truly world class. Lots of smaller museums abound. Lots of culture, high middle and low.
posted by Miko at 9:05 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I lived in Boston for 3 years working in biotech around 2000. I didn't like Boston at all because it seemed like most interesting things to do were considered interesting by millions of other people so it was a nightmare doing much of anything fun, like going to concerts, to movies, to the beach. Parking is always an issue. And while the trains are reliable, bussing is not. Plus, when I was there the trains didn't run much past midnight from my recollection, but maybe that has changed. I found many of the people extraordinarily rude and pushy. Good luck running along the Charles River bike/walking path, if you can find space that is. Honestly, we have much better restaurants in Cleveland, ethnic and celebrity chef kitchens. I have visited Philly several times to visit friends and for conferences, I loved Philly but cannot give you details on what it is like to live there. It is much closer to NY and DC. I would never move back to Boston in a million years.
posted by waving at 9:07 AM on February 22, 2013


Add me to the crowd doing Boston on $40K a year (or less - I was a graduate student!). I lived in Cambridge on that amount like many others, and a lot of the cooler kids who did not stay in Cambridge went to Somerville (cheaper, more space, quick ride to Cambridge).

Boston has everything you are looking for, in spades, in a dense urban area where you can walk most places and those you cannot walk to can be reached by subway or bicycle/car-sharing programs. To those saying Boston is unfriendly: Boston, as an overall atmosphere, maybe. Peg an individual person and they are usually good. Cambridge is much friendlier overall. I cannot defend the weather, but it isn't that bad.

I never went to Philly but did some interviews for jobs there. My research didn't leave me feeling excited enough about the area to pursue the jobs, especially after 10 years of living in and loving Boston/Cambridge.
posted by whatzit at 9:30 AM on February 22, 2013


Based on your preferences, I would suggest Philly over Boston, even though I would choose to live in Boston over Philly if I could. I've lived in Philly for several years and also in a suburb of Boston for about 5 years, with frequent trips into town.

With 50K in Philly, you will be able to live very well. There's more diversity, the restaurants are good, you're really close to NYC, and it's going to be very possible to live on your own without a roommate. There are definitely things not to like about Philly, but if you can live in a nice neighborhood (which you should be able to do on 50K), you won't really have all that much to worry about.

Good luck with your choice!
posted by smirkyfodder at 9:31 AM on February 22, 2013


I think Boston is a better city than Philly (8,000 times more cosmopolitan, a beautiful place, etc.) But I think Philly suits your needs better, and I'd go for more money. Having money in the bank is a huge quality of life issue. You could probably find a studio in Davis Square or something, but you could almost certainly do better price-wise in Philadelphia.

However, you sound like a Big City person. Boston isn't actually bigger than Philly, but it feels bigger and denser. The public transportation is also a lot better in Boston. Boston just feels like a more sophisticated, Big City place.

Food, IMO, is terrible in both cities.

2. there's a classist, older money vibe (recall, this is Mitt Romney's hometown). Obv, in the case of 2, being poorer feels worse in Boston than in other places.

Epic, Liz Lemon-style eye roll over here. I've lived in New York, LA, and Boston - being poor in New York or LA is far, far worse than in Boston. Boston is home to the blue bloods, but it also has a strong blue collar culture as well.

Maybe it's the underpaid person living in a super expensive city in, but: Choose 50K in a cheaper city. Sounds like a pretty easy choice to me.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:37 AM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I live in Boston (Cambridge) and wouldn't want to move to Philly because I love this town. But I agree with others that Philly is a better choice for you, just because your money will go further. They're both great cities with good biking and transport - you can't really make a bad choice. But for the young and cash-strapped, the edginess, location, and affordability of Philly makes it the winner.
posted by ldthomps at 9:38 AM on February 22, 2013


I've lived in Philly for 14 years, was in Boston 11 years before that.

I'm not in your demographic so I'm not going to go into much detail about how hip, etc. But re: biking, and the larger point of "friendliness": I bike-commuted from the suburbs to downtown in both places, and I can say that Philadelphia is WAYYY more hospitable for that. In Boston it was common for drivers to be actively hostile, yelling slurs out the window, purposefully squeezing me into parked cars, honking just to rattle me. Common, like, once a week.

Philly drivers are chill by comparison, and there are lots of bike lanes as well. SEPTA bus drivers are maniacs, but other than that it's generally an incident-free commute for me. And a lot of my route is on the Schulkill River trail, which is a long, well-maintained bike path just feet from the river (occasionally IN the river, when it's floody). If you live in the city, you can take the SRT all the way out to Valley Forge, and except for a couple blocks, never be on the street.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:38 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


You'll be doing research at a university. Do you want access to the resources of Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern University, University of Mass., Tufts University, Suffolk University, and dozens of others?

Or do you want.... Philly?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:44 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I live just outside of Philadelphia, and while I've liked Boston, I'm basically cold-blooded and the winter here is about at my limit.


- good transit/seasonal cycling options within the city (I don't drive)
Check! I mean, I'm not Septa's biggest fan, but this is a great area for biking, especially if you want to do longer rides on trails.

- affordable train access to other cities (see above)
Check! There's also NJ Transit access, both as a connection through Septa and through 30th St. Station.

- green space (parks, streets with trees)
Check! Many parks.

- ability to live without roommates in, let's just say it, a somewhat hip neighborhood
50k could get you a pretty sweet apartment in most of the city. Studios/1brs in Rittenhouse or new luxury apartment complexes are usually around $1000-1500, and that's kind of top of the line pricewise.

- nice coffee shops and small, eclectic bars
Oh man check.

- vegetarian food, esp. Latin American, Indian, Ethiopian...
Super check on this. Also, Vedge.

- decent 'indie' music scene, good independent dance nights
Oh yes.

- friendly people!
I have met many friendly people in Philly! Many of them at meetups! If you are thinking of stopping by, let us know.

I mean, I don't love everything about Philadelphia-- the downtown is smaller, the government is sometimes hilariously corrupt, the crime statistics are tragic. But the museum scene is incredible. Downtown is very walkable. Fairmont Park is great. The food scene is really quite good, and the vegan/vegetarian options are frequently surprising in the best of ways. There are at least 50 or so colleges and universities near Philadelphia, and depending on the kind of research that you're doing, you may like the resources of EZBorrow or access to the various top-of-the-line hospitals in the area. Or being two hours from DC. And it's much, much cheaper.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:49 AM on February 22, 2013


You'll be doing research at a university. Do you want access to the resources of Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern University, University of Mass., Tufts University, Suffolk University, and dozens of others?

Important note: being in physical proximity to these universities by no means translates to "access" to their research resources. It is impossible to use almost any Harvard libraries without being enrolled or having special status, for instance. These institutions are competitive and don't just open their research doors to all unaffiliated researchers.

Meanwhile, there is no shortage of higher education institutions in Philadelphia either, and Penn is equal to anything on the above list.
posted by Miko at 9:54 AM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Important note: being in physical proximity to these universities by no means translates to "access" to their research resources. It is impossible to use almost any Harvard libraries without being enrolled or having special status, for instance.

That is sort of true, but also sort of not true. It's not that difficult to obtain access to Harvard libraries. You can't just walk in, but I went to BU and used Harvard libraries as an undergrad more than once. I think I had to send a few emails first, but it's not impossible.

There is also a lot of cooperation between schools. Again, you can't just walk in to a library (you can at BU, but whatever), but you can attend lectures and take advantage of University resources in other ways, as well.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:59 AM on February 22, 2013


It's not that difficult to obtain access to Harvard libraries.

Some of them.
posted by Miko at 10:08 AM on February 22, 2013


Bostonian here. A lot of your questions are being very well addressed but I want to add:

you need to be okay with a freaking ton of snow. In our last storm, there was a state of emergency, highways were closed and mass transit completely shut down. And we're going to get hit again tomorrow.

Seriously, if you don't like snow (and all that it entails, like no bike riding for weeks), you will hate it here.

What else? Culturally, I think the notion of Boston Brahmins running the place is a false one. The city is filled with college students, computer geniuses and a ton of educators. We also have Southie (and to some extent, Somerville and the South Shore), where you live on the same block your whole life. What I mean is that our mix of locals and outsiders is a vibrant one.

It's a youthful city with a HUGE music scene (we were Austin before Austin was Austin), great veggie restaurants and lots of ethnic cuisine. So factor in the youth culture (coffee, dive bars, independent bookstores, etc...yeah, we've got those).

We also have Harvard Square, the Head of the Charles, the Harbor Islands, and beaches that are a train ride away.

Unfortunately, our transit system closes at 12:30 in the morning, but Bostonians have dealt with that forever.

Bostonians are known for being aggressive drivers towards bikers. They do not share the road.

$40k without roommates will be hard. You'll probably end up in a multi-family roomie situation in either Cambridge or Somerville. Both great options, but you're not going to swing a place on your own in a cool neighborhood.

I've heard people say that Boston most resembles a smaller, flatter San Francisco than any other US city. I think that's accurate.

But again, seriously...consider your tolerance for snow. Because the snow here SUCKS.
posted by kinetic at 10:25 AM on February 22, 2013


I think the notion of Boston Brahmins running the place is a false one.

But I think it's fair to say that money, in general (new or old), is a more significant power and presence in Boston than in Philly. It's expensive to live, it's expensive to eat, there's a lot of affluence, and it's very visible. As you move on in your profession, some old networks are really in place here and that can be strange. I recently read The Proper Bostonians and wished someone had given it to me as a manual for my job. It's overstated that it's a bunch of bluebloods everywhere, but this vibe is distinctly different from Philly.
posted by Miko at 11:05 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Based on your preferences (especially quality of life / living alone in a great neighborhood): Philly.
posted by kalapierson at 11:55 AM on February 22, 2013


Lived in Boston for roughly two years before moving to Philly. I’ve lived here for roughly three years.

Biased opinion: Boston is the worst place on the face of the planet and it should die a fiery death. Only move there if you enjoy a boring, blasé city chock full of college students and sub zero temperature.

Slightly less biased opinion: I spent most of my time in the Somerville/Cambridge/Back Bay areas of Boston and I didn’t care for the city at all. The entire city felt like one large college town with no real personality. On the other hand, Philly has a diverse selection of neighborhoods. Some of them (Olde City, University City) wouldn’t be out of place in the Boston area. Plus, we are where freedom was born! All Boston has is some losers whining about tea.

Addressing your specific concerns…

- good transit/seasonal cycling options within the city (I don't drive)

Both cities are fairly even on this point. I know cyclists in both cities and they manage just fine without a car. Boston has a higher chance of snowfall than Philly but they also deal with the snow a lot better.

- affordable train access to other cities (see above)

I’m not sure about train access but Philly is only a few hours away from NYC, DC, Delaware, Jersey Shore, etc if you don’t mind taking a bus.

- green space (parks, streets with trees)

Boston might have the edge here but Philly does have a number of smaller parks within the downtown area as well as Fairmount Park.

- ability to live without roommates in, let's just say it, a somewhat hip neighborhood

Very doable in Philly, especially on $50k/yr. Boston is overvalued and Philly is undervalued.

- nice coffee shops and small, eclectic bars

I’ve found nice bars and coffee shops in both cities. You’ll have no problem with this regardless of where you live.

- vegetarian food, esp. Latin American, Indian, Ethiopian...

I’m not a vegetarian but pretty much every restaurant in Philly has vegetarian/vegan options.

- decent 'indie' music scene, good independent dance nights

I like the Philly music scene better than Boston but both cities definitely have indie music scenes.

- friendly people!

Yeah, no. I think the people in both cities get a bad rap but there really are a lot of assholes in either place. I found Bostonians to be more…outwardly hostile than Philadelphians but this is 100% subjective.

Please feel free to MeMail me if you need any more info.
posted by Diskeater at 12:31 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


(about Boston) 2. there's a classist, older money vibe (recall, this is Mitt Romney's hometown).

Ahem, it is also John Kerry's.

Boston on 40K before taxes...remember MA has a 5.25% state income tax, but some of your rent can be exempted from that. (PA is 3.07%). So is the T pass if you buy 11 out of 12 monthly passes. This might make living a bit further out somewhat easier.
posted by Gungho at 12:57 PM on February 22, 2013


Food, IMO, is terrible in both cities.

Disregard this. I can't speak to the food scene in Boston, but the in Philly, it is really remarkable. We have almost too many affordable BYOs with amazing food.

Also, if you like craft beer, Philly has one of the best craft beer cultures in the country. You can walk into a shitty bar, and they will carry a local microbrew.

With 50k you can live like a king in Philly, which means a 1bdr apartment in Center City, which is within walking distance to Penn (plus Penn has shuttles).

You won't need a car in Philly.

For music, check out r5productions. They basically run this town's music scene.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:00 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Biased opinion: Boston is the worst place on the face of the planet and it should die a fiery death. Only move there if you enjoy a boring, blasé city chock full of college students and sub zero temperature.

Look, I think that the OP should go for the money and move to Philly, but why are there so many Boston haters? Is it the cold? I left and I'm never moving back, but why the vitriol? It's so weird.

The dislike towards my hometown (Boston) and my adopted hometown (LA) can be so extreme and irrational-sounding that, OP, take it with a giant grain of salt. But move to Philadelphia because you can afford to live there and maybe save some money.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:05 PM on February 22, 2013


Completely subjective opinion based on limited experience here: I love Boston! It just has such an international feel for such a smallish city, and I am a sucker for all the cute, windy streets, bookstores, intellectual feel . . . Of course, I have some positive personal associations with it as well - family that lives there that I go to visit not infrequently - so my opinion may be biased. I only lived there full time for three months but it really to me has such a nicer feel than Philly. Did my undergrad outside of Philly and it always just felt so big and dirty. It does have some cool neighborhoods, I suppose, and it is cheaper, but I would pay more for Boston any day.
posted by thesnowyslaps at 2:44 PM on February 22, 2013


Hello from Cambridge, MA!
I happen to be from New York City, so I can give you some comparison on that:

-Boston streets/sidewalks are a LOT cleaner than NYC's, and I have no idea why that is because I'm always having a hard time finding trash cans on the street

-The transit network is not nearly as robust as NYC's, but it's still easy to get by without a car.

-Boston felt a bit more pleasant in that there aren't so many people in the street yelling at you or asking you for money.. but I'm comparing it to New York here

-I'm sure you can handle the Boston cold, given the other places you've lived.

-Boston has a lot less diversity than NYC, it's kind of like white people everywhere unless you go to certain areas of town where pretty much no one in Cambridge goes to

-Boston definitely makes it feel like there are tons of students everywhere, compared to NYC at least.

I only got to go to Philly for one day, and I thought it was a wonderful place. If you could handle NYC being 'big and dirty' I'm sure Philly won't be any worse.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 3:07 PM on February 22, 2013


I’m not sure about train access but Philly is only a few hours away from NYC, DC, Delaware, Jersey Shore, etc if you don’t mind taking a bus.

You can definitely take the train! As someone mentioned above, NJ Transit runs from 30th st. to Atlantic City, fairly frequently. SEPTA/NJT go to NYC (change trains in Trenton from Septa to NJT), Delaware. Amtrak does the whole NE Corridor. And Patco goes to south Jersey, REPRESENT! :)

I loved Philly. I went to grad school there, and unlike NYC, which I grew up just outside, I really would consider moving back to the area (although, again, I'm a Jersey girl and not a city person; I love living outside a city). The live music was great (and way cheaper than here in Western Mass), tons of options. I'm a vegetarian and found lots of things to eat in University City/West Philly, as well as Center City.

The parks are great (love Fairmount Park), and I adore the architecture and feel of things there. There are some really great neighborhoods/towns just outside the city itself, too, like Manayunk/East Falls/etc.

Since moving to Western Mass 8 years ago, I have been to Boston exactly five times: three to use the airport and twice to take children on field trips. If that gives you a sense of my feelings about Boston. (I.e., I don't like it.)
posted by lysimache at 5:46 PM on February 22, 2013


I've never been to Philly but let me tell you about Boston.

- good transit/seasonal cycling options within the city (I don't drive)
Boston will serve you well on this.

- green space (parks, streets with trees)
Good on this too.

- ability to live without roommates in, let's just say it, a somewhat hip neighborhood
Hell no. I was looking for an apartment last spring and the rents had just jumped. Areas that used to be affordable no longer are. Sommerville? Nope. Jamaica Plain? Maybe. Rent will suck you dry and other living requirements are expensive in Boston as well.

- nice coffee shops and small, eclectic bars
- vegetarian food, esp. Latin American, Indian, Ethiopian...
- decent 'indie' music scene, good independent dance nights
- friendly people!

These are the things that are most important to me to actually enjoy living in a place and I'm going to be blunt: Boston fails really hard on these. The food is mostly extremely mediocre American pub fare. Yes, you can find good ethnic restaurants if you look, but it's not super easy.
The overall feel I get from Boston (Cambridge included!) is conservative. I have a hard time trying to explain this because Mass is a liberal state but someone upthread pointed out the old money thing. Dress shirts and khakis, fratboys, dress shirts and khakis, sportswear. I need to regularly see people with blue hair or I get hives– and Boston gives me hives.
posted by bobobox at 11:07 AM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Come to Philly, live in Queen Village. $50k in Philly will get you MUCH further than $40k in Boston. You can live comfortably, with kindred souls.
posted by jshort at 3:46 PM on February 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The overall feel I get from Boston (Cambridge included!) is conservative. I have a hard time trying to explain this because Mass is a liberal state but someone upthread pointed out the old money thing

I fully agree with what you're articulating here. It's not political conservatism, as in the political right, but it's a type of social conservatism that is basically gay-friendly and not misogynist or openly racist, but other than that kind of reinforces that there is a Way to Behave Within Appropriate Expectations and a preference for reserve in public and limited individual expression.
posted by Miko at 11:06 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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