Boston neighborhoods.
December 28, 2011 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Boston and suburbs nice urban neighborhoods.

It's quite possible I will get a job in Burlington Mass.
I currently live in NYC.
I want to live in an urban neighborhood with shops, restaurants and bars and retain the lifestyle I have now as much as possible. I will get a car for commuting but I don't want to have to drive everywhere. I want a short commute to Burlington but also to be able to take the bus or train from my house and be able to get into downtown Boston.
And , of course, I want a safe walkable neighborhood which is not uber expensive.
Thanks in advance!
posted by spacefire to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Davis Square in Somerville is small but vibrant. More affordable than similar neighbourhoods in Cambridge and Boston.
posted by Dragonness at 9:33 AM on December 28, 2011

You're largely describing most of the towns between Burlington and Boston proper. Directly touching Burlington is Lexington, Arlington, Winchester. All have nice centers, and are walkable.
posted by sammyo at 9:34 AM on December 28, 2011

Waltham. The downtown area is well known for its restaurants, and is near Rt. 95 for a straight shot up to Burlington.

(I live there, can answer more questions about it if you like.)
posted by Melismata at 9:36 AM on December 28, 2011

Arlington, Somerville, Waltham, or Watertown would be my initial suggestions.
posted by rmd1023 at 9:38 AM on December 28, 2011

If you want an area in which you can take public transit without having to use the commuter rail (which is good, but limits your schedule), you should start looking in the area of Malden (which is a little more suburban, but has 3 Orange Line stops) and move towards Boston.

On the other side of Burlington (further South along Rte 95/128), you could start at the Alewife section of Cambridge to stay on the Red line. Cambridge is going to be pricier, but it has much more of the urban landscape you might be looking for.

Somerville is really quite nice, is on the T, isn't ridiculously pricey (well, a lot of it is, but that's living in Massachusetts), and has been getting better all the time.
posted by xingcat at 9:39 AM on December 28, 2011

I came in to suggest Davis Square but I don't know how you define "short commute." You might want to look at Winchester Center, which has a lovely downtown with green space, restaurants and commuter rail. Arlington and Lexington have restaurants but not commuter rail (easy access to Red Line via bus). Belmont Center has commuter rail and a bus lines going into Harvard Square (Red Line) but very few places with liquor licences. Watertown is a little better off night-life and access wise but now your commute time is climbing. Waltham has terrific restaurants and you'd be only a few exits from Burlington via Rt 128 (Interstate 95) but it's a little harder to get into Cambridge/Boston.
posted by carmicha at 9:40 AM on December 28, 2011

Nthing Davis Square and Arlington Center. Both (esp. Arlington) are in the direction of Burlington, and both have some degree of an urban feel, with public transit, restaurants, etc. (Davis Square is the more urban of the two, but at the cost of a longer commute.)
posted by maxim0512 at 9:44 AM on December 28, 2011

As an LA girl who lives in Boston, I think Somerville (Davis in particular) is your best bet. Lexington, Arlington, Belmont, Waltham and Watertown have their charms but are not as urban or walkable. If I were you, I'd avoid Malden or Medford at all costs. I will say, I moved from LA to Belmont and it wasn't so bad, but I believe that is simply because of its proximity to Somerville and Cambridge. Same might go for Arlington. Do keep in mind though that the red line is out of commission on weekends between Alewife and Harvard until June. If you'd be moving early next year, that could make your winter miserable. Disclaimer: I have no idea where Burlington is, so your commute to there from Somerville might be untenable.
posted by pazazygeek at 9:49 AM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Davis Sq./Cambridge/ east Arlington has the community you are looking for, but in terms of commute, you are looking at about 30 min (maybe 45 on bad traffic days) to Burlington (my husband used to live in Arlington and commute to Woburn (which is right next to Burlington). You are reverse commuting, which helps, but it still takes awhile to get to the highway for those places (some places in Somerville less so, but Davis isn't one of them and the places closer to the highway are less walkable and/or nice). Winchester is a very nice town, pricey, but is closer to Burlington, so you'd have less a commute, and you *can* commuter rail into Boston from there (commuter rail is just less frequent and more expensive than the subway).

Waltham has some of the amenities you are looking for, but that commute to Burlington is going to suck, it's in the direction of traffic and so while close to 95, both two and work is packed and often barely moves. Newton has the same problem (had a friend who commuted to Woburn from these places and her commute was at least an hour each way).

Living in Burlington or Woburn would give you a very easy commute, and it is easy to get into Boston from here, you can use a bus or commuter rail (same issues with this as above), but we drive. But it's much more suburban and there isn't a lot of walkable fun things. Woburn center is getting better and I can walk to it, but it's not great and very much not NYC-like.
posted by katers890 at 10:10 AM on December 28, 2011

Do keep in mind though that the red line is out of commission on weekends between Alewife and Harvard until June.

This work is over at the beginning of March, thankfully.

Since it sounds like having a high level of access is important to you, if you want urban and walkable I would not recommend going further into the north-northwestern suburbs than Somerville. Many of those communities are very pleasant but getting into the city becomes a hassle even if you have commuter rail access, since you either become a slave to the CR timetable or you hassle with parking in the city (not recommended).

And since others have covered the specifics of the car commute here, I think you should find out if your employer offers a shuttle bus between Alewife Station (northwestern Red Line terminus, one station up from Davis Square in Someville) and their office.... I understand that some employers along the 128 beltway do this, in which case you would just take the Red Line a stop up to Alewife and connect with your shuttle there.
posted by Kosh at 10:15 AM on December 28, 2011

If you live in the city, you're going against the tide of rush-hour, so the commute isn't terrible. I once commuted to Chelmsford from Alston for a few months (long story), and it was manageable, except for parts of Rt. 3 north of Burlington.

In Somerville or Cambridge, it's a matter of taking Rt. 2 W, and then up Rt. 95 N. If you're an early riser or a night owl, traffic is light before 8am and after 9am, and tolerable before 4:30pm or after 6:00pm.

Boston isn't NYC, tho... there will be some adjustment and disappointment until you get used to the slower pace, the reduced scale, and the lack of late-night diversions. Also, New England-style tenement apartments may come as an unpleasant shock to someone used to NYC apartment buildings. (Or you may enjoy the extra space. A lot depends on when the place was last refurbished.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:26 AM on December 28, 2011

Nthing the whole idea of not going further than Somerville/Cambridge. Watertown, Belmont, Medford etc all are close to Boston, but don't have that walkable city feel - to me they feel more like suburbs. Cambridge and Somerville do have that city feel and are very close to Boston. You can hop on the T / bus, or grab a bike and it'll take you 20-30 minutes. Once you venture outside of these areas it'll take you longer to get into Boston, and you'll end up using your car more than you would want to.

I live in the eastern Somerville area, and I need to make my way out to Lexington every day (very close to Burlington). It takes me 30-40 minutes, and it's not a terrible commute. Mostly it's just waiting for lights to change until I can get onto route 2. Then the drive to Lexington is about 5 minutes on the highway. I love my location - specifically that I can just get on my bike, ride down 1.5 miles to get to the river, bike over it, and I'm in downtown Boston. Can't beat that. I never have to use my car unless I'm going to get a ton of groceries or I'm commuting to work, or if the weather is unpleasant. Lots of public transportation as well, and as bike friendly as you can get in this area. Somerville/Cambridge is perfect for you.

If you end up finding a place closer to route 2A (Mass Ave) in Somerville or Cambridge, your commute will shorten as well.
posted by carmel at 10:28 AM on December 28, 2011

You might find the MBTA's site helpful. The linked page shows you transit services near any given address so you can get an idea of what bus options you may have somewhere.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:32 AM on December 28, 2011

I used to live in NYC and now live north of Boston; for a while, I worked in Burlington.

Nthing those who say that Somerville is probably your best option if you want to work in Burlington with easy access to Boston/Cambridge and keep a lifestyle that is anything close to urban. Medford is OK but not particularly walkable, and I would pass on Malden.

Waltham has a lot of great ethnic restaurants that are walkable if you live in the right area. And I believe it's right on the commuter rail line. It would probably take you 30-40 minutes to get to Burlington from there, by car (it's all about the car once you're west of Rte 93 or north of the Mystic River). Waltham seems to get seedier-looking every time I go, however, but I don't know what it's like to live there in terms of cost or safety.

I feel pretty safe in saying that none of these places is anything like the NYC boroughs in terms of access to trains. Buses are another story, but consider the nasty weather we get up here. Depending on your age, waiting for or walking to a bus can be a big deal. If you're in your 20's, you probably won't mind it that much.

You do NOT want to live in Boston or Cambridge and commute to Burlington unless you want a lot of pain (been there, done that).
posted by Currer Belfry at 10:52 AM on December 28, 2011

For the urban component, I don't think you want to be further out than North Cambridge or South Arlington. For urbanity, Lexington is right out. For the short commute, I don't think you want to be any further IN than North Cambridge.

I haven't done it in years, but my impression is that Rte 95 is painful at both rush hours, in both directions to and from Burlington. Where in Burlington is this job? If it's in Northwest Park or the vicinity of the Burlington Mall, Lowell St./Middlesex Turnpike out of Arlington keeps you off 95.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:00 AM on December 28, 2011

My husband, when he was my boyfriend, essentially did the commute you would be looking at if you lived in Somerville, particularly Davis Square area. He lived there for 2 years and commuted by car for work to Woburn. It wasn't so bad because he went opposite traffic (going out of the city in the morning, coming in at night).

Arlington would be an okay choice, unless you want live music at a bar. Live music is banned in Arlington bars and other places, but it's a bus ride to Davis Square, Harvard Square, and some other more urbanish places.
posted by zizzle at 11:47 AM on December 28, 2011

I'm not sure where you're commuting to in Burlington, but you should also check out the 128 Business Council Shuttles, most of which leave from Alewife to companies around the 128 area.
posted by canine epigram at 12:25 PM on December 28, 2011

I live in North Cambridge and commute to the Burlington area - it's really not that bad. Maybe a half hour in each direction, depending on your schedule (leaving earlier than normal definitely helps). Commuting from the Camberville area requires taking Rte. 2 out to I-95 and then north. You could also live right downtown in Boston proper and take I-93 north and then I-95 south - I know a few people that do that and it's a little bit longer of a drive with more traffic, but it's not horrendous as far as I can tell. Lowell might also be an option, as it's significantly cheaper and currently in the process of gentrifying itself; it's where all the artsy people moved to after they got priced out of Davis Square.

If you're thinking of going into Boston weekday evenings for dinner and nightlife, then I think you're going to want to stay in either Somerville, Cambridge, or Boston. Trains don't run very late and you're pretty much stuck walking or taking a cab after 1:00 am.

Really, if you want the city then you're going to have to live in the city. I have friends that live in Waltham and they're always complaining about how they want the city life but it's just not there.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:59 PM on December 28, 2011

Thank you for all the answers, can anyone tell me if West Somerville is the same as Somerville proper in terms of access to things mentioned in the post?
posted by spacefire at 7:10 AM on December 29, 2011

West Somerville is generally more prosperous than the rest of Somerville (demographically, it's much more white, with fewer kids, fewer immigrants, and higher household income). West Somerville includes (or is sufficiently adjacent to) Davis Square, where you'll find your coffee houses and crepe places. One of the two existing MBTA stations in Somerville is in Davis Square.

The Alewife Brook Parkway (route 16) is either a useful arterial road or an utter clusterfuck, depending on traffic behavior.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:59 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I grew up in West Somerville, by Tufts. I much prefer where I live now, which is in East Arlington right off Mass Ave. and a straight shot up the road from Harvard and Porter Squares.
I work in Boston and commute by both bus and train. Arlington Center is a 5-minute walk and Burlington is an easy drive (especially if you stay off the major roads, which I cannot recommend enough).

West Somerville is nice (if you don't mind students) but it's a bit more removed from the things you're looking for in terms of urban neighborhood feel - safe walkable neighborhoods close to Boston, but not much going on.

I'm not sure the combination of things you want can be found without exception. If you really want city, you'll need to live in the city. Anywhere that has clusters of shops/restaurants creates a traffic snarl around it, both getting in and out. And Burlington is *very* suburban.
posted by noxetlux at 10:55 AM on December 29, 2011

I live in Jamaica Plain and commuted to Burlington for three years. It's mostly a reverse commute up 93. If you can vary your driving time from standard rush hour, it'll only take about 30 min.
posted by reddot at 5:55 AM on December 30, 2011

I also came in to say Somerville! I am about a mile from Davis and wish I were just a teeny bit closer - it's super cute and convenient (minus the miserable weekend Red Line situation going on right now).
posted by naoko at 7:40 PM on December 30, 2011

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