Job moving to Burlington, MA from New York City. Where should I live?
May 7, 2011 6:30 AM   Subscribe

BostonMetroFilter: My job may be moving from New York to Burlington, MA soon. If I decide to keep the job and relocate, where in the Boston area should I live?

I currently live in the Upper East Side of Manhattan with my wife, and our rent budget is around $2,200-$2,600. My instincts tell me I would be happier living in the city, and we could look for a place in Boston. But my initial assessments show that prices seem to be almost as expensive as Manhattan, and I'm not sure if Boston justifies these prices I'm seeing.

On the other hand, I've been to Burlington a bunch of times, and I have a very bad impression of how bland, non-descript suburbia it looks. Still, we're thinking about having a baby soon, and maybe it's time to find a larger place and I give the suburbs a try?

The problem is I don't know the Boston area at all. I have no idea what are the communities like, what can I get for my money, etc. Here are the things I am looking for, in no particular order.

- A rental, something larger than the Manhattan one bedroom I live today, around $2,500/mo. If it's in a building, washer and dryer in unit is a big big plus. Doorman is a plus. Not being in a walk-up is a plus. But a house is OK too!
- Walking distance to basic necessities - groceries, dry cleaning, etc.
- Cycling-friendly - we like to go on long rides on weekends.
- Close to parks or nature.
- Close to a large body of water, or even preferrably, the sea.
- Access to some art & culture and events wouldn't hurt. Yes, I understand I am coming from New York and I will have to adjust my expectations.
- Absolute maximum sixty minute commute to Burlington, justifiable if the place is fantastic. Due to job location driving seems to be mandatory, so I can't avoid that, though I'd much prefer to use public transportation.
- A baby could be on the way soon, so considerations about schools/day care are appreciated!

Any tip is much appreciated! Feel free to brainstorm and tell me about places I should find out more about it. If you want to reach me, use the throwaway e-mail byebyenewyork123 at gmail dot com
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You definitely don't want to live in Burlington. I spent a summer working there, and a bunch of my friends have jobs there.

I can only really speak for the neighborhoods between Burlington and Boston proper. If you really care about ocean access, you'll want to look east instead of south east, to the north shore areas like Malden or Revere. But from what little I know about those areas, they're probably not what you want.

Your best bets are going to be Waltham, Watertown, Somerville, or maybe Arlington. Medford would work, too. All of these towns are 30ish minute commutes to Burlington and have more or less what you're looking for. I live in Somerville and am quite happy there. It's on the T, lots of festivals going on, very walkable, and pretty cheap relative to the rest of Boston. For $2500 you can get a very nice 2 BR, no problem. Somerville has a respectable bike path running through it, too. The park situation is not great in a lot of these places.

There are also good options on the other side of the city (eg Brookline, Newton, Jamaica Plain), but they would be a much more brutal commute. Probably outside 60 minutes, but I don't know for sure. If those are in range, they'd also put you closer to the water and offer basically everything else you're looking for. Might be a great fit. Google maps claims you could get there in 35 minutes, but I think during rush hour that's totally unreasonable. I'd be shocked if it's under an hour in practice, but someone who knows that area (and drives 93N in the morning - I never have) could say with more certainty.

Door men are just not a thing in this area. You're never going to find them. The closest you'll see is big managed buildings with a front desk (eg places like Archstone). But even in relatively high density places like Somerville, there just aren't apartment buildings like there are in Manhattan.

In all the cities I mentioned, the two major options you're going to have are small-ish apartment complexes and 2-3 family houses. Lots of the houses are not super nice, but there are plenty that have been recently redone that have all the amenities you're looking for. There are also a handful of really huge rental communities that are sort of like gated communities in the West, but with higher density buildings. Kinda hard to explain. They're not a bad option.

If you live in Arlington or Somerville, there's a bus that runs from Alewife (the end of the red line - one stop from Somerville's Davis Square stop, or walkable from some parts of Arlington) to the main offices in Burlington. It depends where you're working there, but the big corporate campuses (MITRE, Sun-now-Oracle, iRobot, and others) have stops on the route. Most of the smaller office parks are covered, too. The bus is a bit of a crapshoot sometimes in terms of timeliness, but if public transport is a priority for you (it was for me), it's manageable. I don't know what the transport situation is like from the communities further west like Belmont, Watertown, and Waltham. They may have busses too, but I kinda doubt it.

Good luck!
posted by heresiarch at 7:04 AM on May 7, 2011

I think you want to look at communities between Burlington and Boston on I-93 or route 3 - the obvious choices would be Medford, Arlington, Somerville, Cambridge, or maybe the North End or Charlestown (in Boston). Maybe Lexington. You should be able to find places that are walking distance to necessities and parks in any of these communities; the closer in you get to Boston, the more access you have to arts, culture, and water (though you have the Mystic River and several ponds and things out that way), and further out you go, the more home you get for your money.
posted by mskyle at 7:08 AM on May 7, 2011

Oh yeah, and heresiarch is right, there are no doormen in Boston.

I have not heard great things about buses to Route 128 tech campuses; I have one friend who quit a job rather than take that bus when her company moved, and another who broke down and bought a car. And then quit. But the situation may have changed, or your hours/lifestyle may be a better fit. And if you lived close to Alewife it wouldn't be quite so bad.
posted by mskyle at 7:13 AM on May 7, 2011

My instincts tell me I would be happier living in the city

I concur with your instincts.

Burlington sucks, no doubt about it. The good part is that it's easily accesible from all parts of the Boston Metro area as you can easily get there from 95/128, 93, 3 and 2. If you live in the city, it's also a reverse commute. I'm not going to waste your time with the towns further from Boston like Billerica, Acton, Wilmington and you can pretty much forget the sleepy towns of Woburn, Arlington, Winchester and Lexington. They're expensive suburbs that roll up the streets around 7pm. Nothing going on there. Public transportation is limited to the occasional bus so any time you need to go anywhere, you have tons of cars jamming roads that were designed to handle donkey carts.

Cambridge, on the other hand, is relatively close to Burlington via route 2, is tied into the public transportation network, has a lot going on, is very progressive and isn't as expensive as Boston. You can find good deals all over the city but the Harvard Sq. and West Cambridge areas tend to be more expensive.

Somerville has some good spots, like Davis Sq. but from what I'm hearing, the rental stock is somewhat run down. You'll easily be able to find a floor-through in your price range, probably with a yard and parking. Avoid East Somerville and Medford, Malden, Chelsea and Everett. Don't even consider Revere or East Boston.

Boston proper itself isn't that bad and you'll be able to find a place in your range but your commute options become more complicated and parking can be a hassle. There are parts of Brighton not overrun by college kids, but Allston, Kenmore, Fenway and Mission Hill is now the domain of the colleges. Brookline is nice, it's like a town within the city, but parking it tough and you'll have to find you way to the Mass Pike in order to make it out to 95/128 for your commute. The Back Bay, Bay Village, North End and Beacon Hill tends be more expensive, smaller apartments and parking is non-existant or very expensive. I've lived down in those areas and they're all nice and it is definitely city living, but the parking can become a problem. The South End is a great alternative and definitely worth looking into. Expensive but a great place for a more mature crowd.

Jamaica Plain is cool and funky but hard to get to.

South Boston, believe it or not, has decent housing on the water out towards City Point. Parking is still tough but can be had, you can get to the pike pretty easily so your commute will probably be 40 minutes or so, but it hasn't reached the 21st century in the social sense. I live there now and although I'm from the Boston Irish tree, sometimes I still ask myself how I'm related to these people. They're in their own little time machine and the dials aren't reading right. You have to know how to deal with townies if you want to make the best of it.

West Roxbury and Chestnut Hill are sleepy intra-city suburbs and Newton is not my kind of town. Waltham is kind of a mix of shithole and apartment complexes. It's where people end up on a compromise between work and city.

My to cents.
posted by jsavimbi at 7:15 AM on May 7, 2011

I'm from NYC (Upper East Side, too--10028 represent!) and now live in Boston. I'm moving to JP, which is prolly not right for you, but I think there are a lot of awesome living options here in town that you might consider. I moved into my current place with zero research whatsoever, and my lease started at about $2200 for a 1,000 sqft. 1br in a 24-hour doorman building. Living here has been certainly fine, but in JP I'm getting a 1,250 sqft. 2br for $1700.

If you want to keep the East Side feel, you'd do well in the Back Bay area, though that's pretty tony and can be pricy. The South End is like our Village or SoHo (i.e., former artist enclave that is being overrun with yuppies, which is fine (I'm a yuppie and wanted to live there)). I'd avoid the North End like the plague. Hipsters live in JP and Somerville. Cambridge is a mix, but I'd pass until I can live in the really nice areas (lovely GF used to live in Central, which is shitty, and that colors my view).

There is a lot of great stuff around, and you'll find something good. I may hit you up with an email (or feel free to email me, address is in profile); I don't like to talk too much about where I live online.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:20 AM on May 7, 2011

Oh, also--word to the wise. Finding an apartment is a bit of a pain in the ass. Much of it is tied to June 1/September 1 moving dates, due to the school year. It's really not like NYC in that regard. Given your price range, I'd definitely recommend engaging a broker (or six) to find something.

Lovely GF did find our new place on CL, but we worked with no fewer than 7 brokers, and probably saw 20-30 places before we found one we liked. I felt like a lot of the housing stock is shitty (maybe this is the same way everywhere), but I kept having to re-iterate to brokers that we were looking for "condo quality" rentals, which I think you have a right to expect if you're paying up to $2500-2600. It's out there, but you have to get some smart brokers. We were looking mainly in Brookline, which is really nice (but pricy) and JP, which is nice and cool but a bit out of the way (and certainly much lower on the hog than Brookline). Brookline, though, has one of the best public schools in the country, so if you ended up in there, you would not be sending kids to private school. The total mindfuck in Brookline is that you CANNOT park your car on the street (any street) overnight. You need a parking spot. If it doesn't come with your unit, you're paying easy $200 for it.

There are plenty of doorman buildings in Boston, though it's by no means as ubiquitous as NYC. If you're on Park, every building has a doorman. Even on Commonwealth, which is sort of our Park Ave., there are very few (though Churchill is quoted as saying that Commonwealth was the most beautiful street in the US).

I don't know where you're from originally, but if you like UES living in NYC, I'd definitely avoid Cambridge and Somerville--lots of triple deckers, which I think are small and dark, and they're tightly packed. Somerville is said to have one of the highest population densities in the US. Food's good though.

Sorry, I could go on all day. I loved growing up in NYC. I love living in Boston. I move in four weeks to JP, so I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the Boston rental market.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:38 AM on May 7, 2011

I'm in Arlington and it meets a lot of what you're looking for - easy drive to Burlington (as close as 10 minutes), green space and ponds in town and close to larger parks, the Minuteman Bike Path, walkable neighborhoods with shops (along Mass Ave, with clusters in East Arlington, Arlington Center, and Arlington Heights to the west). For access to the city, there's frequent bus service into Harvard Square, and parts of East Arlington are walking distance to the red line at Alewife. There are a lot of families with young children, and you could get half of a two-family, maybe a house, for that price range. It does close up and get quiet at night - for more of an urban and less of a family vibe, Cambridge or Somerville would be a little farther from Burlington but still a reasonable commute.
posted by songs about trains at 8:20 AM on May 7, 2011

I think you've gotten a lot of good advice in the thread so far. I'm going to chime in once again to check out both Cambridge and Sommerville. Brookline also fits your description, and I love love love the Coolidge Corner area, but I can definitely forsee commuting problems with that area.

Cambridge and Sommerville are on the right side of the river for you, and closer to the highways. As was mentioned, I think Cambridge may even have a bus to Burlington. Word of warning however: the Boston buses are quite sporadic, at least as compared to Manhattan's. It may be a frustrating commute.

I would say check out Porter Square (Cambridge) and Davis Square (Somerville) (they're adjacent stops on the redline). This area is close enough to Cambridge/Boston that the city is still your playground, have their own urban centers, are far enough away that the rent is cheaper, and has trees/parks/etc. and thus is a destination for lots of young families.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:25 AM on May 7, 2011

I often think about how to describe Boston to New Yorkers, and I've come up with this list. It's hotly disputed by some of my friends, but I think helpful. It's not exact, but a decent approximation:

-Brookline/Porter Square and Davis Square, are the Park Slope(s) of Boston.
-Central Square is some amalgamation of Brooklyn Heights/Carol Garden, and in some cases, Prospect Heights, of Boston.
-Jamaica Plain is the Williamsburg/East Bushwick of Boston.
-Beacon Hill is the Upper East Side of Boston.
-The South End is the Murray Hill of Boston. [I consider it young and fratty. I get a lot of disagreement about this comparison. Some people might wish to call it the Upper West Side of Boston, or maybe even The West Village of Boston.]
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:35 AM on May 7, 2011

A lot of good, solid advice in this thread already.

In general, based on just the criteria you've listed:
-I wouldn't worry about parks or culture (Boston is much smaller than New York, it's much easier to access all of it - and it has lots of parks, ponds, and a lovely river).
-Cycling will be about equal no matter where you are except downtown, where it'll be somewhat more deadly.
-Anything not blatantly way too far out in the suburbs will almost certainly be in walking distance of necessities.
-Like I said, lots of ponds, and the Charles river - I think you'll have to forego immediate ocean access though.
-I don't know anything about daycare/schools,'re on your own, there.

Looking at all your criteria all together, I'd recommend something in the Fresh Pond area of Cambridge, or just over the line into Belmont/Watertown to the west of the pond. It's not far from the Alewife T stop, not far from Route 2 (easy commute, at least by Boston standards...~45 minutes I'd estimate, though I don't know exactly where in Burlington you're headed) and everything else you're looking for.

Another possibility would be Malden, up by the northernmost end of the Orange Line, but I am not terribly familiar with that area. I get the impression that it's even more suburban, though, which is probably not what you're after.

You will pretty much need to stay north of the river to keep your commute down. I'd suggest West Roxbury or Brookline if you weren't as concerned about the commute, but those are definitely going to add substantial time to it; Somerville and parts of Cambridge that are further east/south than Fresh Pond also have some really nice neighborhoods, but you're adding another 15-20 minutes onto your commute - might still be acceptable, but there's not much benefit to them that you wouldn't get from finding something around Fresh Pond, so why add a potentially unnecessary half-hour or more of commuting every day? Waltham, Woburn and other suburbs even further north than I've recommended are nice towns, but more suburban and generally an extra logistical step removed from access to the rest of Boston (i.e., instead of a short walk, then hopping on the T, you're taking a short walk to a bus stop, taking the bus to the T stop then hopping on the T).
posted by mstokes650 at 9:22 AM on May 7, 2011

Cambridge, or The South End.
posted by R. Mutt at 12:12 PM on May 7, 2011

I think you're going to need to check out school systems for sure. I have cousins in Boston who were totally committed to public education until they dealt with it for a few years. Overcrowded schools, endless changes of schools, etc. Their kids ended up switching to private school until high school then both went to public exam high schools, the equivalent of Bronx Science if you're from NYC and know about schools there. The Cambridge Schools were good some years back, I don't know about now.
posted by mareli at 12:33 PM on May 7, 2011

I think "heresiarch" is spot on. I disagree with someone who said "avoid Medford." I live in Medford, and it's a great compromise between urban and accessibility. Medford Square and West Medford Square would be the neighborhoods to target. Both have a few decent restaurants and some residential services within walking distance, are a short bike ride from the Middlesex Fells (a large, decent nature area), and are convenient to highways and bus transportation. West Medford Square also has a commuter rail train that runs into Boston.

That said, if you really want urban, I do think Cambridge, Somerville, or possibly Arlington Center might be a better bet. Cambridge is probably the most likely of these to have the NYC-style apartment building with a concierge or doorman, especially in neighborhoods like Harvard Square and Central Square. Living closer to the Harvard Square end of the city will give you the best chance of keeping a commute to Burlington reasonable.
posted by maxim0512 at 1:52 PM on May 7, 2011

I grew up in Burlington and I guess its alright to raise a family.
Safe, decent schools, mall, etc. Middle-upper class for the most part.
But I can understand if you're a city person, this would be lame.

I would suggest Belmont/Arlington for the reasons others have stated.
posted by KogeLiz at 2:06 PM on May 7, 2011

Access to Route 2 proper leaving Boston pretty much starts at Alewife Station. This means that north Cambridge, west Somerville and the lower parts of Arlington are all very close to Route 2. And Teele, Davis and Porter Squares in Somerville are all closer to Alewife (in Cambridge) than Harvard, for example. So definitely take a careful look into the maps to understand how these areas abut.

My take is Davis, Teele, and Porter are probably more connected areas than living right by Fresh Pond / Alewife, and they are pretty much as close to Route 2. I live near Porter and it takes about ten minutes in the morning, at most, to get on to Route 2 by car.

An area not mentioned so far is Union Square in Somerville, which is a little hipper and older than Davis residents-wise. Being only on the buses it tends to have lower rents.

And another area of Cambridge to consider is Inman Square, which is close to Central and Harvard, but again only on the buses. Like Union in Somerville, a bit hipper than the other areas near it that are on the Red Line T.
posted by galaksit at 2:55 PM on May 7, 2011

I never lived in NYC but when my husband got a job in Burlington, we moved to East Arlington to have a better commute but to also stay close to Boston/Cambridge. Alewife is about a 10 minute walk away so you can take the T into the city or take the 350/351 bus to Burlington if you choose to do so. Otherwise, it's about a 30 minute drive through local streets (route 3A) because driving via Rte 2 to 95/128 takes longer and is more infuriating.

The walk to Alewife is via the Minuteman Bike Path (which is plowed to varying success in the winter). Mass Ave and the occaisional 350 bus stop isn't far away and there are lots of local businesses within walking distance.

You can also use the bike path to walk to the town center and check out the farmer's market in the summer. On the way, you'll pass sports fields and playgrounds and Spy Pond. Beyond Alewife is the Fresh Pond area which has a Trader Joe's and a Whole Foods. East Arlington also has a movie theatre with 3D capability and sometimes also shows opera and ballet performances. There are several Zipcar locations nearby.

I don't know about schools/daycare but it does have its own parents email list so you could join and ask. There's also a town email list which is good for keeping up on local events or free on curb/for sale/yard sale stuff but the drama can come quick depending on the issue.
posted by zix at 4:20 PM on May 7, 2011

With all due respect to Admiral Haddock, I live in Central Square and Love it! It's urban and funky and yuppy all at once. But if you're used to the UES you'd probably prefer something like the Harvard Square area of Cambridge, the Back Bay of Boston, or even Beacon Hill (close to I-93 access!). You're renting, so I wouldn't worry yet about moving out to the burbs - get a feel for Boston before you move to the burbs (there are plenty of lovely ones not far from Burlington, but save those for baby days).

If you really want the doorman, you might try the big towers in the West End (near Beacon Hill) - they have easy I-93 access and are close to the Red and Green lines. They're soul-less, but would make an easy introduction to the city.
posted by ldthomps at 6:33 PM on May 7, 2011

I always thought Lexington was a nice little suburb, with bike paths, parks, good schools and a pretty little downtown area. Then again, I grew up in Billerica, so most towns in the area were a step up.
posted by platinum at 6:36 PM on May 7, 2011

South End is overpriced and feels completely fake-posh. If I was commuting to Burlington, Somerville and Cambridge would be top on my list. Medford has some places with good value but it's not as happening as Somerville/Cambridge, and it's further away from the city.

Here's a 3 bed/2 bath for $1900 in Medford, just for an example. Here's a place in Cambridge, with 2 floors, 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, for $2300.
posted by barnone at 8:37 PM on May 7, 2011

Newburyport. Very reasonable rents, small-to-middling-town, train access to Boston, big cycling culture, and on the ocean.
Frankly, no place in metro Boston comes close to the culture in NY, so adjust that expectation, and focus on the positives.
posted by heigh-hothederryo at 9:14 PM on May 7, 2011

For instance.
And it's a reasonable commute to Burlington.
posted by heigh-hothederryo at 9:17 PM on May 7, 2011

Chiming in with Medford - my coworker commutes Burlington to Medford and says it takes 15-20 minutes. Medford puts you close enough to either the orange or red lines (or buses) that you could go in to town without driving.

That said I love living in Somerville, nearish to the Medford line (i.e. the Davis Sq/Tufts area)
posted by maryr at 8:09 PM on May 10, 2011

I live in JP and commuted to Burlington for 3 years. Having lived in Boston for much longer than that, I can tell you that the Big Dig really helped w/ traffic. I worked right off of exit 32 on I95. It would take me roughly 35ish minutes to drive not during rush hour. Plus, going JP to Burlington up 93N to 95S was against rush hour traffic for the most part. Overall, it was pretty easy, although sometimes a bit unpredictable. :) It takes about 15 minutes to get onto I93 from JP, then 20ish minutes to get to Burlington. So, it would depend on your tolerance for driving and if your job is a bit flexible on hours.

JP is a great choice b/c there's tons of walkable stuff, but also easy access to the T (orange line). You may feel it's a bit too "country" though. Many homes have small yards and driveways, although not all. It's also mostly triple deckers. If you want a high rise, you'll need to live downtown.

Medford would also be a good choice; Medford Sq is the best part of town, but not on the T. You can get a bus to get to the Malden Center stop on the Orange line.

Somerville, in the Davis Sq area is great; it's right on the red line. You'd get to Burlington via Rt 2, then I95 N. Probably be about a 30 min drive.

Kendall Sq in Cambridge might be good. It's close to Beacon hill on the Red line. To get to Burlington, you could drive to where Storrow Dr hits I93, then get on 93 N. It would probably take you around 30 minutes to drive to Burlington.

If you live off in the depths of the green line or on the commuter rail, you will generally, realistically, probably not get downtown all that much. I would only choose to line on the Red, Orange, or Blue lines.
posted by reddot at 6:12 PM on May 13, 2011

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