Where should we live in the Boston area?
April 24, 2013 5:17 PM   Subscribe

You guys helped me land the job, now please help us figure out where to live! I'll be working in the Back Bay area and my husband in Waltham, near Prospect Park (thus not near the train station).

My job only got confirmed recently, so unfortunately we've put off the apartment hunting to rather too late. Our initial choice was Davis Square, close to the Red Line, so that I could take that to work in the Back Bay and my husband could drive to Waltham.

Decent Davis Square apartments are hard to find so we need to figure out other options. Porter Square would be our next choice, what do you all think of that? We're feeling constrained because we both need a reliable subway nearby and a not too terrible traffic and parking situation for my husband. Are there some areas we aren't thinking of that would work? What about Brighton or Fenway? How bad is driving from say, Harvard Square to Waltham in the morning and driving back in the evening. What about Central Square or locations further into the city? Would having permit-parking only be a constant source of annoyance? Any help or guidance would be much appreciated. We could afford about $2500 a month max.
posted by peacheater to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Porter Square is great. That would probably be a really good commute compromise for you and your husband.

I know too many crazy students who live in the Fenway area, so I say: Avoid!
posted by ablazingsaddle at 5:41 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Porter Square is a lot like Davis Square -- I like it. You might look at Alewife too but it's a bit more residential.

Anywhere on the Red Line North of Boston is good. Where you should live depends on what you're looking for. Davis or Porter -- a good place where many young professionals live, with lots of restaurants, near grocery stores, etc. The other squares have this too, plus the following personalities: Harvard -- you're preppy and want to live near the best university. Kendall -- you're not preppy and want to live near the best university. Central -- you're a full-time artist/hipster. Alewife -- I'm not sure. Union/Inman/(other places not on the Red Line) -- the slight rent saving you get by living here isn't worth the extra commuting time. Going across the river gets you into the much higher rents and limited parking of Back Bay (which might make sense if you both worked in downtown Boston, and Newbury St. has great window-shopping) and farther south than that is kind of far away and not as good a deal.

There's generally plenty of street parking in Somerville and limited but adequate street parking in Cambridge (you'd need a resident parking pass, which just requires showing you've received mail at your apartment -- see RMV website). A few times a winter there will be a "snow emergency" where they close one side of the street to parking so they can plow, making finding parking an annoyance in Somerville and very difficult (but doable with a bit of a hike to the nearest free off-street parking lot) in Cambridge.

Generally, driving for a reverse commute like that is no problem. I can't speak to that route in particular but usually it's only a little slow through residential areas and then usually fast out to the job. (Coming into the city in the morning, however, is constant bumper-to-bumper traffic.)

Congratulations on your move! This is a great place to live right now.
posted by sninctown at 5:58 PM on April 24, 2013

You might want to think about exciting Watertown! There are express buses from Watertown Square to Copley (in the Back Bay), and there's access to the Mass Pike/other major roads, and it's got good amenities. Of course it's not as cool as the Cambridge places you're thinking about.

Brighton (Brighton Center or maybe Oak Square, NOT the Commonwealth Ave. part unless you like hanging around lots of students) is pretty similar in terms of transport connections and coolness level.

Driving in Harvard Square is a nightmare. I really wouldn't recommend living in/near Harvard Square to someone who had a driving commute.

You might even want to think about the Back Bay/South End/Bay Village - parking could be an issue, but your husband's reverse commute would not be too bad (get on the Mass Pike) and your commute would be great.

Can you give any more clues about what kind of neighborhood atmosphere/amenities you want, how big of an apartment you need, etc.?
posted by mskyle at 6:04 PM on April 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

Davis Sq is actually very doable, if you're willing to search for a while. My roommate and I have a very recently gut reno'd (like, we were the first occupants post-reno) 1100+ sqft 2bed/2bath for ~$2.2k/mo. Granite counters, central air jacuzzi tub upstairs, the whole shebang.

Yes, permit parking is sort of annoying, but you deal with it.

We're about the same distance from Davis as Porter is, and equidistant to both (9m on foot), so don't give up on Davis, you just have to be a few blocks out. I wouldn't go much further than Cedar St in terms of convenience factor though.
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 6:05 PM on April 24, 2013

Speaking as someone with three years of experience with Somerville resident permit parking, it's really not that bad. Snow emergencies and street sweeping are annoying, but if you stay aware of weather conditions and plan ahead to the extent that you can, they're doable. Depending on what street you end up on, your husband might have some trouble finding a space on your exact street after 6pm, but he should be able to find something on an adjacent street.

Can't speak to the parking experience on the Cambridge side since I've never lived there. I've heard they're more aggressive about ticketing for things like not moving the car within a certain time period (Somerville and Cambridge both have an "over 48" ordinance that requires you to move your car at least every 48 hours, but in Somerville it's never enforced outside of situations where there's been a snowstorm and you don't clean off your car), but I don't know if that's true. Though I suppose it matters less if your husband is commuting every day.

As you might expect, the closer you get to downtown, the harder it is to keep a car. (There are parking spaces in Back Bay that sell for more than homes in other states.) I think the Porter-Davis area is one of the last places on the northern side of the city where you can keep a car without it being a huge pain in the ass. I would not recommend trying in Allston/Brighton/Fenway.
posted by Kosh at 6:18 PM on April 24, 2013

I wouldn't necessarily optimize to the Red Line. I lived in (and LOVED) Central and if I were going to Back Bay would take the 1 bus. I think on $2500 you could find a solid place there. I rented a 2br/2ba at the Holmes building (almost on top of the Central T/Bus stop) for $2450 last year and prior. Rents have jumped, but not that much. Garage parking under the building was $150-$175. Be warned, the management co is utterly incompetent, though.

Alternately, what about something on the Worcester commuter rail line where you can hop off at Back Bay Station? This will get you out to much more car-friendly locales without too crazy a commute.
posted by keasby at 7:24 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm going to dissent from the Porter Square love. Porter Square has everything you "need"-- a nearby grocery store, T station, commuter rail, local stores... and yet, it is less than the sum of its parts. Living in Porter Square, there will be no single feature that will be lacking in terms of what would be expected in a vibrant city neighborhood, yet it somehow manages not to actually be a vibrant city neighborhood, though it is near several.

But the combination of transit access, not-too-difficult-access to street parking, and ease of getting out of the city can't be beat.
posted by deanc at 8:33 PM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses!

deanc I hear you about Porter Square, so we're continuing to look for places in the Davis Square area but can't really rule out Porter Square at this late date.

Can you give any more clues about what kind of neighborhood atmosphere/amenities you want, how big of an apartment you need, etc.?

We're looking for a 1 bedroom apartment. A 2 bedroom would be fine, but actually not preferred -- we'd prefer a better-looking 1 bedroom over a 2 bedroom as we don't really have that much stuff and want to keep cleaning time low.

In terms of neighborhood atmosphere, we are moving from Ithaca, NY. Ithaca is a great place, but we're really looking for something a bit more urban feeling after many years here, since we both grew up in big cities and like that kind of atmosphere. We want to be surrounded by interesting places we could walk to -- nice restaurants, quaint shops, have friendly neighbors etc.
posted by peacheater at 5:48 AM on April 25, 2013

You shoul look at East Arlington, although it may be as hard to find something as in Davis, and is certainly less urban feeling. Walking distance to the Alewife T station, so your commute would be about the same (one more stop on the T), and your husband's drive would be noticeably better - even though it's technically a reverse commute, driving in to Cambridge or Somerville during evening rush hour can get pretty nasty. If he can flex his schedule a little, it will help his drive a lot (like 20 minutes instead of 40). There is no overnight parking in Arlington but almost any apartment will come with at least one off-street space.
posted by mr vino at 5:56 AM on April 25, 2013

I live near Davis - about a 13 minute walk, but it's also about a 13 minute walk from Porter Square (the shopping center, anyway). My neighbhorhood is called Ball Square (the breakfast capital of Somerville! which incidentally is the breakfast capital of Boston). You might also consider Teele Square, where my husband lived for years. Both are outside the immediate Davis area but an easy walk. Most apartments in this area (well, in Boston in general) turn over in September, but you might have better luck if you can put it off to June 1 instead of May - any chance of a temporary sublet in the mean time?
posted by hungrybruno at 6:31 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm sorry, I should have made it clear in my initial question that I'm looking for a lease beginning June 1, but will be looking for apartments this coming weekend.
posted by peacheater at 7:00 AM on April 25, 2013

I think keasby has it—Central Square will solve your problems. It's ~3 minutes to get to the Mass Pike, which goes west to 95 (you'll hear it referred to as 128 by locals, but it's I-95 on the maps), where your husband would then go three exits north. That's the reverse commute I used to do from my then-girlfriend's place in Central to my office in Waltham, and it's a total breeze, even at peak hours. You could then either take the 1 bus to Back Bay, or go Red Line to Park Street and take the Green to your office, depending on where you'll be working.

Central Square is fantastic. I'd live there in a heartbeat if we could afford to buy a place there: tons of music and bars and restaurants, and not populated solely by Davis Square hipsters or popped-collar Harvard students. Rent is comparable with what you'd see further out into Somerville: $2500 will rent you a lot of apartment, and you could get by on $2000 without living in squalor, and I cannot speak highly enough of the neighborhood.
posted by Mayor West at 7:08 AM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a resident of Central, I'd vouch for it giving you the urban feeling, but there's also currently construction between Central and the pike (on Western), and that reverse commute is pretty busy. I love it here, but if I worked in Waltham, I'd prefer to at least start with commuting from Porter/Davis/Alewife or Watertown.

A temporary sublet would also give you the advantage that you could get to start to know the neighborhoods better before signing for the Fall.
posted by ldthomps at 10:45 AM on April 25, 2013

I just did this, albeit at a much less convenient time rental-wise (March) and with a smaller budget. I also work in North Waltham.

I think you're getting some pretty good advice, but I'll offer this caveat: I live ~9 miles from work, on the Medford/Malden line, and my commute is about 45 minutes on a good day. It takes at least 30 minutes to travel 3 miles through Somerville. Once I hit MA-2, it's 11 minutes to travel the remaining 6 miles.

So, I'd recommend being as close to MA-2 as possible. Alewife/Arlington will be the very most convenient while still being close to the city.

I lived in Watertown for a while (Boylston St) and my commute was still about 25 minutes. I loved everything we looked at in Cambridge, but couldn't afford any of it -- it sounds like you're going to have better luck in that regard. (Probably bring your checkbook with you when you go to view apartments.)
posted by woodvine at 12:53 PM on April 25, 2013

Best answer: Do you realize that Porter Square is less than a mile out from either Davis or Harvard? (Just looked it up: .7 miles between the Porter Square T station and the Davis station). Boston-area neighborhoods are really small. You can walk easily to Davis and/or Harvard, depending on where you end up in Porter Square. I live in Los Angeles now, and I while I technically live in Echo Park, and I am farther away from Echo Park lake than you will be from a lot of walkable destinations.

So, yes, Porter is more of a general area than a real neighborhood, but you're not stranded in the middle of nowhere. Pretty much any of the neighborhoods mentioned here will be more urban than Ithaca and within walking distance to a lot of awesome stuff. I love the section of Mass Ave between Porter and Harvard (unless everything cool has closed since I left), and the Japanese food court in Porter is awesome.

I would rather live in Davis Square over Porter, too, though. Good luck!
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:01 PM on April 25, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses everyone! We ended up finding a good-sized 1 bedroom about 5 minutes walk from Porter Square for $2100 plus utilities, so we're pretty happy. On-street parking seems reasonable and there's the option of getting off-street parking for an additional fee. It's about 12 minutes walk from the Davis Square area as well (not the T station, but where the restaurants and the like start). Porter doesn't seem to have as much going on as Davis but it's got a lot of conveniences in close proximity and is not really much of a walk from the action.
posted by peacheater at 7:40 PM on April 28, 2013

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