Boston Relocation - Neighborhood Recommendations
April 4, 2019 1:29 PM   Subscribe

Do any Boston-area MeFites have personal recommendations for walkable, family-friendly neighborhoods in commuting distance of central Boston and/or Cambridge that meet some or all of the below criteria?

Spouse and I (plus toddler child + pets) have recently relocated back to the US from a large city in south/western Europe. The city we moved to is in a southern US state that is very “happening” right now in terms of great tech job opportunities and subsequent exponential population growth. The job that brought us here is great, and there are many nice things about this city, but LSS we know we do not want to stay here long term - namely because of the car-centric culture and lack of public transportation/lack of sidewalks(!), and it just doesn’t feel like a “fit”.

Spouse and I are each originally from the Midwest, and previously lived together in a very walkable, neighborhood-oriented city there, and we still own a home there, but aren’t planning to move there nor back to European city at the moment, so we are considering a move to the east coast, e.g. Boston/NYC/NJ, which are all hotbeds of both of our industries, and seem to offer more of what we are looking for in a city, and current/future quality of life. Spouse is currently being recruited for a job in Boston, so this is where we are considering first.

What is important to us/we would like:
• Walkable to school (~15-20 min) and work (~20-30 min transit or 35-45 min walk to central Boston and/or Cambridge)
• Green space and parks with playgrounds, walking and biking paths
• Diversity/living in a multicultural neighborhood (our current neighborhoods/parts of this city feel very “bubble-like”)
• Safe, community-oriented neighborhood (both our neighborhoods in European city and previous Midwest city had “town squares” surrounded by shops, library, restaurants, etc. and had lots of community events centered there, and we miss that dearly)
• Romance-language immersion school option(s) for pre-primary, and/or beyond (Toddler is in an immersion Montessori nursery school currently and we would like to continue that model until at least Kindergarten, but are open to different models of teaching, unless there are great options into primary and beyond?)
• Good food/restaurants/coffee/fresh bakeries (no dietary restrictions and we love all types of food, high and low-brow, a real bakery on/around the block would be a bonus…)
• Access to a swimming pool and/or swimming lessons, access to winter activities, e.g. ice rink

We will plan to rent initially, preferably a 3 bedroom townhouse/house with at least a small garden and ideally an assigned parking space. Is $4-6K realistic for that type of accommodation? If not, it would be helpful to know what would have to give – until we know the city/neighborhoods better, I’d say it would be easier to increase budget than to increase commute?

I saw this previous thread (not exactly the same situation, and we are not considering Philadelphia, but has a lot of similar desirables; is also ~5 years old so things may have changed since?)
and this (while not the same southern city, we are looking to do the reverse for many of the reasons noted in the comments..!)
and both were helpful, but any additional more recent suggestions/thoughts are much appreciated.

Thank you.
posted by subwaytiles to Travel & Transportation around Boston, MA (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would be looking at Somerville first. It should be noted that renting whole houses isn't as common in Boston, though I'm sure there must be some availability.
posted by praemunire at 2:01 PM on April 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think for what you're aiming toward, Jamaica Plain is probably the ideal location. This is an example of what $5K/month will get you in that area, and a sense of the neighborhood. Schools in walking distance (depending on which school), about 30 minutes transit (orange line) to central Boston, compared to other neighborhoods a lot of green space, diverse, family-friendly, a lot to see and do. East Boston is a slightly less green & more multicultural area with cheaper rents (10 minutes to downtown via blue line under the harbor). This is what $3,800/month will get you in that area. To my mind, Somerville is a lot more bustling/studenty/gentrified/monocultural than JP or Eastie, but I may be off there. Good luck and welcome to the area!
posted by pammeke at 2:04 PM on April 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

For reference, this is an example of what $5,600/month will get you in Somerville. As you can see from the map, significantly less green space.
posted by pammeke at 2:07 PM on April 4, 2019

I wouldn't call Somerville monocultural, but certainly your dollar will go further in JP. (I personally find the Orange Line to be the most annoying, slow, rickety line of all, but that's anecdotal.)
posted by praemunire at 2:15 PM on April 4, 2019

Having lived in Boston (Fenway, Ruggles, Allston) and Somerville, I would forget about the city and look into Arlington. It's got three walkable town square areas (East, the Center and the Heights), playgrounds, very good schools, a sense of community, it's not filled with college students, there are ponds and a Boys and Girls Club with a pool, lots of playgrounds, it's on the Minuteman Bike Path, you can bus into Harvard Square in 10 minutes or bus/drive to Alewife and take the T, a town beach, and it's mostly houses.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:16 PM on April 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

Try Beverly, just north of Salem. It has a real downtown with a thriving arts scene and I think you'll find rentals well within your price range. Avoid the new construction, though.

I'm not sure about immersion school options but I know there are Montessori schools around.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 2:19 PM on April 4, 2019

One last comment on this, I promise: as someone who lives in Arlington, in my experience, I wanted to add (in case it's helpful):

1. The morning/evening commute takes 30 minutes on the bus to Harvard Square (15 minutes by bus/car to Alewife in Cambridge - but not the Harvard bit) and another 20-30 minutes from those stations (respectively) to downtown

2. From the few years I've lived in Arlington Center, I experience it as a very white part of the city. Certainly less multicultural than JP or Eastie (probably on par with most of Somerville & Boston 'proper').

That said, it definitely would tick your other boxes. This is an example of an Arlington home renting for $4,200/month.

(Editing to add: I've selected places that are pet-friendly in the examples I gave. Hope that helps.)
posted by pammeke at 2:26 PM on April 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Cambridge and Somerville check just about all your boxes, and at $4-6K for rent, you will have a lot of options. Look around Davis and Porter Squares - they’re walkable, full of parks and kids, and very neighborhood-y. Happy to chat more over MeMail if you’d like.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:31 PM on April 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

East Arlington (but only East Arlington; looking west of the Center into the Heights will get you more space but lengthen your commute significantly and you lose a lot of the walkability):

* absolutely walkable to school. Our downstairs' neighbors' kids walked to elementary school six blocks away, then started using the bike path to get to junior high and high school a bit farther away. As for getting to Cambridge tech jobs, we're about a ten minute walk from Alewife, which gives you a one-seat ride to Kendall five T stops away where most of the tech jobs are north of the river. The other major seat of tech jobs in the area is going to be the Seaport, and that commute will be longer; everyone else who's saying JP is on target in certain areas but the Seaport is just not an easy place to get to unless you literally live in Southie and walk, but Southie doesn't have a lot of green space the same way JP does.

* Green space: two parks, one with a playground and one with a large dog run, and a regional bike path in my neighborhood.

* Diversity: ... this is where Arlington is seriously less likely to check that box. It's 85% white and does feel like a bubble of whiteness, especially compared to T-accessible parts of Cambridge and Somerville; we're Asian-American and we do still feel like we kinda stand out and don't entirely belong. If we could afford to move back to Cambridge or Somerville proper, this would be a significant contributing reason why. We actually used to live in Roxbury, a plurality black neighborhood in Boston, and we were literally the only two Asian-Americans in our precinct, but that did not feel quite as awkward as living here does, sometimes. (Though this could also be because we have not had kids yet, and everything community-wise around here involves kids.) Also, there are distinct tensions between the townie lifers - who've lived here forever, mostly live in the Center and the Heights, and think you don't count unless you've lived here forever, too, five years isn't nearly enough - and those of us living in the East who have been priced out of Cambridge and Somerville, who bring "crazy new ideas" like wanting to walk and ride bikes to get around instead of always being in a car stuck in traffic on Lake Street.

On preview, I concur with pammeke. (The house she links is right next to a large cemetery, but there's also a playground with swings and stuff nearby; it's a longer walk to Alewife or Davis T stops, though, and the 87 to Davis does not go as frequently or reliably as the 77 on Mass Ave does.) You'll find Mass Ave kind of functions as a lightweight dividing line; there is more racial diversity northeast of Mass Ave in that part of town as compared to southwest of it, and reports on the school districts reflect it. When you tell other town parents your kids go to Thompson, there are certain "racially-tinged" judgments being made about your family right there.)

* Safe, community-oriented neighborhood: true, more so if you have kids. Kids give you an instant in to just about every kind of gathering around here. We're a 10-minute walk from Capitol Square, with a children's branch of the library, a small movie theatre with excellent ice cream, a yoga studio, and a good variety of restaurants.

* immersion school options for pre-primary - There's a Spanish immersion preschool in East Arlington, a French immersion school just over the border in North Cambridge, and a Mandarin immersion school right by Alewife. There's a Montessori school in Cambridge but that's further away and would probably require you hopping on the 77. Others with kids will know more than me, though; this is just what I've seen walking around the neighborhood.

* good food/restaurants/coffee/fresh bakeries: Locally, you just walk out to Mass Ave and head up towards Lake St; there's like half a dozen pizza places, a hot pot place, a smoothie-and-healthy food joint, a vegan Chinese place, a diner, two ice cream shops, a bakery, a fancy pour-over coffee place ...

* swimming and ice skating: long walk or short bike ride up the bike path to the Boys and Girls Club pool. You'll also have access to the Reservation, a pond with a proper swimming beach, but it's only open mid June to mid August, and it's like four miles away, so probably like 45 minutes to get there total if you go by bus. Ice rink is on the other side of town but is open more of the year than most (August to April!).
posted by Pandora Kouti at 3:10 PM on April 4, 2019

Former Cambridge resident checking in here to say I agree with others that Cambridge and Somerville are probably great options. Specific neighborhoods to consider include Davis Square, Porter Square, Inman Square, and Central Square / Cambridgeport.

The other neighborhoods recommended above cover kind of a wide geographic range depending on where you're ultimately commuting to. For instance, I personally wouldn't commute from Jamaica Plain to Cambridge, nor Arlington to downtown Boston, on the T. Or at least I wouldn't expect it to take less than 30 minutes. JP to downtown is fine, Arlington to Cambridge is fine. I assume the "tech job" you speak of will be at Kendall Sq. or nearby, which is what I based my neighborhood recommendations on.

All of these places are good for the following factors:
- easy walkability to local schools, and good transit options.
- Lots of green space with playgrounds and bike options.
- safe, community-oriented neighborhoods. As another person originally from the midwest, you have not seen town squares until you've seen the town squares in Cambridge / Somerville.
- Good food, coffee, bakeries, etc., within an arm's reach.

I don't personally know about "romance language immersion" schools and I think you'd need to be more specific in order to find the good options. As to swimming pools, it looks like there is a decent option along Memorial Drive if you choose (or can easily access) the Central Square / Cambridgeport neighborhood.

As to diversity... I'm not going to sugarcoat it, Boston and most of the communities north of the river are pretty damn white. In fact Boston is kind of famous for being not particularly friendly to African Americans, to the point where Barry Bonds said he would never move to the Red Sox because the city was too racist. Asian- and Indian-Americans have better representation in the university areas (which are, like, everywhere), but yeah, black and Latino representation is not great, generally. JP, Southie, and Dorchester are better in this regard if it's a priority to you. That said I don't think you will at feel like you're in "a bubble" no matter what neighborhood you choose.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 3:10 PM on April 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh, and as someone who considered moving to both Arlington and Jamaica Plain, I will nth that they are both absolutely wonderful areas, that the JP-Cambridge commute is enough of a hassle to possibly be a dealbreaker, and that Arlington is whiiiiiiiite. If you’re planning to stick around for elementary school, the Cambridge public school system is good and decently diverse - no elementary school is over ~55% any one race. (Also they have multiple immersion options, but they’re in high demand and you’re not guaranteed a spot.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:39 PM on April 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

I think where you live in the Boston area all depends on where the job is. I agree that getting from Jamaica Plain to Cambridge can be a pain on public transportation, especially because the Red Line has had a lot of issues and late trains are a problem. Another big consideration are schools- I sent my kids to Boston Public Schools, and there is a lot of good in the schools, but the lottery to enter them is pretty nuts. Jamaica Plain has a number of "good" schools, but again, getting into them can be a hassle. Cambridge as a school system is much smaller, and they do balance by socioeconomic status, which does bring a lot of diversity to each school. Brookline is another option- schools are very good, and somewhat diverse, though not socioeconomically (for the most part). There areas I would look at in Brookline are Coolidge Corner or Brookline Village. Newton also has areas that are very much like you describe, West Newton and Newton Centre. If the job is accessible by commuter rail, that opens up a much wider area to look at. I would say that your rental range is good.
posted by momochan at 4:27 PM on April 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

If you’re looking at Cambridge and Somerville (which I agree are good bets) you might also look at parts of Medford, mostly because your money will go a little further here. I live in the Medford Hills/South Medford area (around Tufts University), and we border Somerville, so the area has a similar feel but we do tend to have slightly bigger yards for example, than Somerville, which is very dense. We are on a bus line that goes direct to Harvard Square. It’s usually about 30 minutes during the morning commute (15-20 with no traffic). This part of Medford is also walkable to Davis Square, so there is Red Line T access, and in a few years (hopefully, fingers crossed) we’ll have the Green Line extension and a direct T to downtown. I don’t have kids so I can’t speak to the quality of schools, but we are a few blocks from an elementary school, so definitely walkable. I can walk to at least 4 Italian bakeries that I can think of.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 5:50 PM on April 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Arlington doesn't have townhouses but what's called 'two family' a full ground floor unit, the second floor being also full 2-4 bedroom. East Arlington (yikes we should probably do a meetup;-) ticks off many if not all of your criteria, there's no overnight parking so almost all homes have driveways of some sort. It is very in demand. There's a town email list where places are announced.

Boston is quite diverse but it's all hidden quiet everyone stays on their block nice, south west Medford a good 10 minute walk from east Arlington most families are african american but you'd never know it unless go looking.
posted by sammyo at 7:07 PM on April 4, 2019

I've thought that if I ever moved back to Boston I would probably live in Arlington - either Arlington Center or closer to Cambridge near Mass Ave. I have a young family too, and Arlington has the space, walkability and access to bus transit that I think I'd like. The houses are a bit bigger and you have access to parks. I've lived in both Somerville and JP, and though there are certainly families in both locations, I don't think I'd bring my family there - it'd really be the lack of access to parks that would be a problem for me. Toddlers need to run and be free.

Anecdote: When I lived in Somerville there was a young family that lived above me, and the combo of lack of access to parks, dragging the stroller up and down from the second floor, and the lack of shoveled sidewalks in the winter that drove the family back to the midwest within 2 years. Frankly, I don't blame them. Winter can be long in Boston - make sure you have easy walkability to good places (inside and outside) to bring the kids.
posted by Toddles at 7:33 PM on April 4, 2019

One more thing about these areas if you have little kids. The joke (but not really) progression is come to Boston proper for college, graduate and go south to Dorchester, west to Allston or north to Somerville. You have kids and move further northwest to Arlington, west to Newton or north to Medford. Kids get older and you realize you want the best possible public schools, so you move your school-aged kids from Arlington to Lexington or Concord, Newton to Wellesley or Weston (or stay in Newton cuz their schools are good), or Medford to Melrose. My first adult job was at WGBH which is on the Red line, so I went from Allston to Arlington to Lexington. My Allston friends from 1987 are my Lexington neighbors. (Obviously none of these rules apply if you use the code that you go to school in Boston which means Harvard.)

Arlington has lots of families with little kids. They hang out and are very involved in schools. Arlington High is probably going to be rebuilt and will be done by the time your kids go there.

Like Joey Buttafoucault notes, the Boston area has an ugly history with racial discrimination. Busing is still an issue. METCO is still a problem. Suburban white flight remains the reality, and there are pockets of townies in Arlington, Somerville and Medford; not so much in Cambridge. They have Trump signs on their lawns and are fairly vocal about all them gays and blacks moving in and destroying the neighborhood. But like everywhere else, you get to know them as neighbors and they can be delightful.

Cambridge ticks off many of your boxes, but it is wicked expensive. I know anecdotally from friends and Cambridge teachers that educations vary from school to school because of administrators. There are some real hotshots out there, and there are some real duds. In higher grades the schools are amazing for kids who need special ed services and kids who are independent high flyers, but if your kid is in the average range (and despite what we all want to think, most of our kids are average), it will be a very stressful experience for them.

Can we have that Arlington meetup before I move up to Vermont in July?
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:13 AM on April 5, 2019

I've lived in JP for about 20 years and commute to Cambridge. It is indeed a drag during rush hour and it's a lot better if you're comfortable doing it on a bike.

One aspect of Boston that I haven't seen mentioned yet is the public school lottery. "Move to neighborhood, then walk kid to nearby school" is only a reliable plan if you're heading to private school. If you're in public school then you're subject to the whims of the assignment lottery and you could be assigned to a school miles away even if you live across the street from one. Sometimes it works out but it's also the reason why a lot of people move when their kids are school age -- they take a couple cracks at the lottery and then move if it turns out badly. It's very difficult to navigate if you're moving into Boston at the same time your kids are turning kindergarten age. (I should also state for the record that while it can be a beaurocratic nightmare for parents it's better than what we had before, which was a de facto segregated public school system.)

I really love JP but with your preferences and housing budget I'd probably be looking in Cambridge.
posted by range at 6:12 AM on April 5, 2019

I agree that you should look at Cambridge and Somerville. In the Davis Square area you should have no problem finding a 3bed/2bath place with parking and a small yard in your price range (you may share the yard with neighbors if you end up in a two-family). The red line is right there, there are restaurants and coffee shops aplenty along with a small grocery store, a library, an independent movie theater, candlepin bowling, etc. etc. When the weather is nice everyone is outside and there is usually someone playing music in the plaza. When the weather sucks - which let's be honest is pretty often - there are still tons of people outside because going outside is how you get around. Tons of great playgrounds and parks. There is a bike path that will eventually run all the way to the Charles River, though that's a long-term plan and I don't know when it will happen. On the other end it extends out to Lexington I think.

The area is packed with families. And while there are certainly people who choose to leave the area for more suburban locales when they have kids or when their kids reach school-age, there are also plenty of people who stick around. We have two young kids and no thoughts towards leaving. I've experienced a strong sense of community here, both in my little neighborhood and in the city as a whole.

There is a bilingual French/English school in North Cambridge, walking distance from the Davis/Teele area in Somerville. We have friends whose son attends the preschool and they seem very happy with it.

Feel free to send me a message if you want to chat further.
posted by lomes at 7:01 AM on April 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

I should add a warning that renting in the Boston area (Cambridge and Somerville included) with kids can be a nightmare. There are some serious issues with discrimination against families, largely because of a law requiring that rental units be tested for lead and de-leaded at the owner's expense if there is a child under the age of 6 living in the unit. A lot of people end up buying for this reason.
posted by lomes at 7:08 AM on April 5, 2019

I lived in both Arlington and Somerville (Davis Square) with kids. Some thoughts:

--If you're in Arlington on one of the side streets off Mass Ave (where we were), you have to be pretty cautious about traffic. Cars go very fast when there's no traffic and would routinely turn off Mass Ave onto our street and go way over the speed limit. I would panic anytime my kids were playing with a ball, thinking if it accidentally went into the street their lives could be at stake.

--Apart from that, I find Arlington lacking in neighborhood life. There are clusters of stores/restaurants but they tend to be around busy intersections. It feels fairly dominated by cars; it feels suburban.

--Zero good transportation options in Arlington, unless you walk to Alewife to get the red line. And Alewife is a madhouse, with crazy traffic.

--Speaking of traffic, if you live anywhere near Mass Ave, be prepared for ridiculous traffic. It is not bus-friendly nor bike-friendly, in my opinion.

--Davis Square definitely has more of a neighborhood vibe but is also orientated more toward singles/couples vs people with kids. Lots of bars. Also, we had rats in our backyard and routinely saw them running around the streets; something to think about if your kids are playing out there...

--Porter Square is nicer but as you get closer to Harvard everything will be way more expensive and probably overpriced.

--Newton is more suburban and more homogeneous but Newton Center has a nice, relaxed (though slightly wealthy) vibe.

--My kids went to the French school (ISBOS) for years; it's a great school but a little snobby (many very wealthy French ex-pats) and extremely expensive, with not great financial aid.

It's funny--we moved out eventually of the Boston area to Western Mass because of the mind-blowing traffic and a lack of the things you seem to want in a city. My partner and I have both lived in cities throughout the US and Europe (NYC, SF, Madrid, Paris), and the Boston area always felt like it was missing something. And now it's getting kind of like SF, with all the tech jobs and money sucking a lot of the life out of the area, really making it unaffordable for families or people who don't have huge salaries.
posted by sound_of_silver at 8:52 AM on April 5, 2019

Anywhere in Cambridge sounds perfect. If I had unlimited money (and I have a young family), I would move to around Dana Park near Cambridgeport. That said, it IS really difficult renting with a young family; not a reason not to move there but definitely A Thing. Also having lived in Southern Europe and the Southeast, do not underestimate the winters, esp. with kids (though I know you are from the Midwest.) Boston winters with kids can be rough, and can mean quite a lot of time entertaining a toddler indoors.
posted by heavenknows at 11:56 AM on April 6, 2019

Another Arlington person here (yes, on the meetup!) One thing to know about the Boston metro is that transit options tend to be heavily aimed at going into Boston, not from point to point between suburbs.

I live in Arlington and work in Watertown (c. 5 miles). By public transit, it either involves two buses and a half mile walk, or bus, subway, and bus, and a quarter mile (and both take about 75 minutes). If I drive and leave home at 7am, it's a 25 minute drive. (If I leave home much after 7:20 or head home after about 4:15, it can double to 45 minutes or so.)

So one place I'd start is 'where are you likely to looking for jobs'. Maybe with a side of 'and what is your schedule likely to be?' (For example, there are frequent buses that go from Arlington to Harvard Square, but less frequent and probably more annoying options if you are aiming for, say, Central Square or Kendall, unless you're close enough to walk to Alewife.) You may find somewhere that's directly on a subway line opens up options a lot more.

Swimming: There's a pool at the Boys and Girls Club in town, and I have friends with young kids who have done swimming lessons there, but the hours are not great if you're an adult wanting to do laps. (I have a membership to a fitness club close to where I work with a pool.) There's also a YMCA in Woburn, a town or two over.

One other thing to be aware of is that some areas of the metro are much more heavily college-and-university focused (in ways that may or may not be obvious - when leases turn over, kinds of housing that get favoured, kinds of amenities in neighborhoods, amount of noise/parties/high density apartments.) Usually once you get outside moderate walking radius of the campuses, that's less of an issue.

For rentals, many places will go through realtors (with a fee: usual here is first month, last month, and a realtor fee of another full month, or first, fee, and security. Sometimes landlords will split the fee with tenants.) It may make sense for you to find a realtor who knows the areas you're interested in really well - they can advise about transit, etc.

(If you want someone who knows Arlington to talk to, I ended up moving apartments in East Arlington in January, and the realtor who handled knows the area very well. Feel free to MeFi mail me and I'm glad to pass on the contact info.)
posted by jenettsilver at 2:09 PM on April 6, 2019

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