Help me learn about the neighborhoods in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
February 28, 2011 7:31 AM   Subscribe

I want to move to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Can someone map out the area in a way that I can understand the neighborhoods and squares?

I know about Central, Harvard, Porter, Davis (Somerville I think) and that's about it. I'm not sure which ones are safe, cool, close to the Mass Pike. I just know that I enjoy the culture I see there and the location close to the city of Boston.

I've spent a few days here and there in Cambridge, although not in awhile so I'm just not familiar enough with the area to scroll through Craigslist and know which areas I might be interested in. Can someone help!

I do know it's expensive and can be tricky to find nice places in the location of your dreams and all of that is okay. I just need a quick study on the area so that I can spend some time there and know what places to check out and investigate further. I'm also researching other towns around Boston and have a good grasp on all except Cambridge at this point.

Thanks!
posted by modoriculous to Travel & Transportation around Cambridge, MA (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
In addition to what you've listed, the other major neighborhoods are Kendall Square, East Cambridge, Huron Village, Inman Square, and Alewife.

Cambridge overall is an incredibly safe town; in fact, the city is boasting zero murders last year! The most dangerous area, in my opinion, is a stretch of Rindge Ave. near Alewife where there's a subsidized housing project that seems to attract drug gangs.

If you need access to the Mass Pike, I would stick close to East Cambridge/Kendall or Davis/Porter/Alewife areas. From East Cambridge you can get on I-93 south to the Pike, and from the north part of town you get on Rte. 2 west to Rte. 128 south.

As far as "cool", that's a bit subjective, but Davis Square is probably the trendiest neighborhood to live in right now. Kendall is a bit of an industrial wasteland - close to MIT, but generally devoid of things like supermarkets and restaurants. East Cambridge has more of a blue-collar vibe than the rest of town.

Everything has good public transit coverage expect Huron Village and Inman, which only have buses serving them.

It would be good to know what sort of things you like to be near, but if you want a good mix of access to the highway, restaurants, grocery, and accessibility to public transit and the rest of the city, I would go with Porter Square.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:41 AM on February 28, 2011


Great answer backseatpilot, especially about highway access and transportation. I'll be taking the Pike to work while my girlfriend will be using public transportation to get into Boston for her work. Sounds like Porter Square meets a lot of the aspects I'm looking for.

Things we'd like to do:

1. Access to markets, grocery stores.
2. Restaurants, bars, and places to go and listen to music, theatres would also be a plus.
3. Parks would be a plus. We don't have a dog but it would be nice to hang outside during the summer.
4. Access to a T to get into Boston. (GF works in the Financial District in Boston and would be commuting there during the week.)
posted by modoriculous at 7:47 AM on February 28, 2011


I know about Central, Harvard, Porter, Davis (Somerville I think) and that's about it. I'm not sure which ones are safe, cool, close to the Mass Pike.

The fastest way to get to the Mass Pike is to zip down Western Avenue from Central Square, across the Western Ave. bridge where you can merge onto the pike. The best way to get to I-93 is to head down Main Street from Central across the longfellow bridge and onto Storrow Drive east.

Personally, I would opt for central square-- porter has everything you "need", but it's not a place you'd want to hang out in.

If your gf is willing to use the Green Line, then East Cambridge is a nice option.
posted by deanc at 7:52 AM on February 28, 2011


You can use googlemaps to check the transit options (it includes public transit, bus and all) from places you look at. There are plenty of neighborhoods just far enough away from the various squares (say a 15 min walk) that are also served by buses that might be more affordable.
posted by canine epigram at 7:53 AM on February 28, 2011


Alewife, Porter, Harvard, Central, and Kendall square are all the Cambridge locations with immediate T access. Porter and Harvard are the more upscale of the list. Alewife is at the bottom. Cental and Kendall are in the middle somewhere. All have relatively easy access to the Pike and other major highways.

I've lived in Harvard Square for about 8 years, and it meets all your needs. Great access to the T and Pike, lots of green space, great restaurants, good stores. Tons of events available to the public at Harvard.

Drop me a line - I'm happy to help you through this as you're looking at ads and considering places to live.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:54 AM on February 28, 2011


This is an interactive map of the neighbourhoods of Boston, not Cambridge, but it might be interesting and useful nonetheless.

I've lived in Cambridge for 2.5 years and the main squares and neighhbourhoods of interest (Inman, Teele, Central Squares, etc.) come up in conversation every September when my fellow grad students move.

If you'd like, PM me when you're free and settled in and we can grab a beer or something.
posted by KevCed at 7:55 AM on February 28, 2011


I think taking 93 to the pike every day might end up wearing on you a bit.

From Allston/Brighton, you can hop directly on the pike without having to deal with the mess that is 93 during commuting hours. Also, don't discount that the traffic within Cambridge and Somerville can add significant time to your commute.

To give you an idea, my husband has a job well north of Boston, but we lived in Allston at the time. His choices on the way home were to hop off in the Somerville area and drive through the Mem drive traffic, get on to the pike from 93 and pay the $3 to get off at the Allston/Brighton tolls, or take his chances with Storrow Drive.

He'd drive 45 minutes just fine, and then three miles from home it'd take him as much as an hour to get there. I'd really think cautiously about moving to Porter or Central squares if you're intent on driving to work. I know people do it, but it also could very well be more of a pain than you anticipated.
posted by zizzle at 7:57 AM on February 28, 2011


We live outside Davis, so here's what we have in the Davis/Porter area:

1. Shaw's grocery in Porter, Downtown Wine and Spirits in Davis and Liquor World in Porter. Pemberton Market on Mass Ave. between Porter and Davis.

2. Lots of good restaurants in the area. Sugar and Spice, Gargoyle's, Posto, Foundry, Chez Henri for starters. Flatbread/Bowl Haven for candlepin bowling. Music - Johnny D's (blues mostly), Toad, Lizard Lounge. Somerville Theater in Davis has live music occasionally (in addition to the normal cinema offerings).

3. Parks are a bit more difficult, but Russell Field and Danehy Park are (long) walking distance towards Alewife, and the Cambridge Common in Harvard is about a ten minute walk.

4. Red Line stops in Porter, as well as commuter rail. Harvard is a major bus hub which can get you to some of the suburbs.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:57 AM on February 28, 2011


This is great, I'm so glad I asked this here, as usual I already have a ton of great answers. As far as driving I'll be going back towards Framingham. I used to live in Brighton and I did that commute which is against traffic and it took me no time at all to get to and from work as that I also am up early leaving around 6:30 or so. It also took me awhile just to get through Brighton center with the traffic lights and usual obstacles so even with that the commute wasn't bad. So I figure that factoring in a another 15-20 minutes on top of that to get to Cambridge won't be the end of the world, but definitely something to consider.

We used to go to the Whole Foods in Cambridge right after Allston and the pike. Does anyone know what neighborhood that section is a part of?
posted by modoriculous at 8:06 AM on February 28, 2011


It's been 5 years since I've driven in Cambridge, I meant the River Street bridge to get to the mass pike, not western ave.

We used to go to the Whole Foods in Cambridge right after Allston and the pike. Does anyone know what neighborhood that section is a part of?

"Cambridgeport."
posted by deanc at 8:09 AM on February 28, 2011


We used to go to the Whole Foods in Cambridge right after Allston and the pike. Does anyone know what neighborhood that section is a part of?

Cambridgeport (area between Central Square and the Charles River). There are also locations between Central and Harvard, and another in Alewife.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 8:10 AM on February 28, 2011


There are (at least) two Whole Foodses. The one you're referring to is in Cambridgeport, which is the area south of Mass Ave. near Central Sq. There's another one basically in Central sq, up a block on Prospect st, heading towards Inman sq.
posted by modernserf at 8:12 AM on February 28, 2011


Everyone types superfast here, but yeah, that area's Cambridgeport, of which the closest T stop is Central Square. It's on the Red Line, which would be a straight shot for your GF to South Station and it'd be closest for you to get on the Pike. The only thing Central Square doesn't have on your list is a movie theatre but the adjoining T stops (Harvard/Kendall) have them and neighboring MIT shows movies too.

Driving around Boston is fun, but driving Mem Drive during rush hour is an exercise in patience and knowing when which lane becomes a turning lane.
posted by zix at 8:23 AM on February 28, 2011


I hear that Area IV is now considered a trendy neighborhood-- basically the area bounded by Mass Ave/Main St, Prospect St, and Hampshire St. Central would be your closest T stop, about a 10 minute walk on average, and it's close to Kendall Square Cinema, plus hipster stuff like the Garment District, Lord Hobo, and some other fun bars and restaurants.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 8:29 AM on February 28, 2011




Cambrigeport ( south of Central Square)= MIT students and the like. But not crazy like Allston/Brighton. Lots of Biotech companies. Two and three family buildings with a few larger apartment buildings. Your best bet is here with great access to the pike, Trader Joe's, Bus line to Central Square and into Brookline and the Longwood Medical area.

Area 4= Tech Square/Kendall. Not much residential except two big subsidized projects. It does abut East Cambridge, and as mentioned has some nice amenities.

Riverside ( between River Street and Harvard Square) = many blue collar residents, lower quality housing stock than Cambridgeport.

East Cambridge: Portugese and Italian. Probably the only remaining ethnic area of Cambridge. lots of attached row houses.

North Cambridge ( north of Porter Square) = Overpriced relative to the other areas of Cambridge. No real access to either the Pike or 93.

Central Cambridge/Inman Square ( not to be confused with Central Square which is really part of Cambridgeport) = great mix similar to Cambridgeport in some areas but also like Area 4 in others (especially along Prospect street)

Porter Square: Some large older homes that have been broken up into apartments/condos. Lots of three family ( aka Dorchester triple deckers), no real access to either the pike or 93

Alewife= almost rural compared to the rest of Cambridge. Side streets off of Concord Avenue and Huron are nice. Professors row kind of place. Again, no access to the pike or 93.

Brattle Street just outside Harvard Square where you can find the homes of The Cambridge Elite...this strip extends from the river to Garden Street and from Harvard Square to Huron Avenue.
posted by Gungho at 10:25 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nice map of Cambridge a PDF that shows all the local names for the neighborhoods.
posted by Gungho at 10:29 AM on February 28, 2011


I would say a lot of Cambridgeport is slightly expensive-suburby residential now, but it is really a quick pop from there into Central for the Red Line or out to 90. I agree that parts of Riverside are lower quality housing stock than Cambridgeport, but there's a lot of more expensive condos over there, now, too.

I live in Central on the Area 4 side (which includes a fair bit of housing stock that isn't projects), and love it. I've bought a condo here after 10 years in the neighborhood because I think it has a great mix of urban, up-scale, gritty, and studenty - and it's super convenient to downtown. Even my area isn't cheap, but Central great markets, restaurants, and the T is right here. There are fewer parks than some areas, but really, I always just head down to the river when I want to hang out somewhere other than my porch. Feel free to memail me if you have questions.

One thing to keep in mind in your search if you need to drive is car parking - street parking isn't Awful in most neighborhoods, but keep it as a question.
posted by ldthomps at 11:31 AM on February 28, 2011


Some of the things you'll need to be careful of if you're looking for a place near porter are car insurance, and if you're looking at buying, property taxes. Both of these vary according by which city you're in, so the North side of Porter and the South side of Porter will have different rates, because the North side is Somerville.

backseatpilot: Everything has good public transit coverage expect Huron Village and Inman, which only have buses serving them.

I'm not really sure where this is coming from. I live in this area, between Porter Square and Huron Village. It's about a mile walk to Harvard or Porter T stops, and there are several bus routes as well. So it's pretty comparable to e.g. Inman, but at the same time you make it sound pretty bad, and it's really not.

Gungho: Side streets off of Concord Avenue and Huron are nice. Professors row kind of place. Again, no access to the pike or 93.

Brattle Street just outside Harvard Square where you can find the homes of The Cambridge Elite...this strip extends from the river to Garden Street and from Harvard Square to Huron Avenue.


There's a fair deal of not-extremely-expensive apartments and/or condos in this area if you spend some time looking for them, and this is actually one of the better areas of Cambridge in terms of access to the Mass pike. Huron->Sparks->Mem Drive->Western Ave Bridge->Soldier's Field->Mass Pike. Here's a link on google maps. The 9 minutes it claims jives pretty well with my experience for non-rush hour, though the stoplight on Mem can vary a bit. Obviously during rush hour the Pike can back up a bit, but that's going to be true for all access to it. There are various alternate routes you can take for the first bit depending on exactly where you're coming from that are still pretty comparable time and distance-wise. It's really not very much different from Cambridgeport, and in rush hour it might even be better.

93 is, of course, on the other side of town.
posted by atbash at 1:16 PM on February 28, 2011


As a data point, I used to commute from Riverside (between Mass Ave and the Charles, northwest of Western Ave) to Natick via the Pike, and it was a pretty reliable half-hour commute in the mornings. Loved the neighborhood, too-- 15 minute walk to Harvard, 10 minutes to Central, quiet, lots of bus routes, plenty of free parking.
posted by oinopaponton at 3:58 PM on February 28, 2011


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