What's it like around Downtown Crossing (Boston)?
June 24, 2008 8:12 AM   Subscribe

What's it like around Downtown Crossing (Boston)?

We're thinking about moving to a building right at Downtown Crossing (on Washington Street, between Winter/Summer and Temple Place). How's the neighborhood? We really like the apartment, and the location within the city, but we're a little worried about the immediate neighborhood. It seems a little sketchy, and we weren't even there that late. Is it safe at night? Thanks in advance for any input, positive or negative.
posted by Perplexity to Grab Bag (39 answers total)
AVOID AVOID AVOID- it is a dirty mess. No life after the stores close, and only a magnet for homeless after hours. Other than that it is an area wher VERY expensive condos are being built. YMMV, but I would think that the new owners would most likely never leave their buildings. The "neighborhood" has no identity like The North End or SOWA.
posted by Gungho at 8:30 AM on June 24, 2008

Ehh, it's a nice place to visit but I don't think I'd live there. (* by nice I mean ok)
posted by eatcake at 8:35 AM on June 24, 2008

Sketchy at best - I wouldn't want to live there.
posted by o0dano0o at 8:42 AM on June 24, 2008

I think the area is definitely a little sketchy. Plus, it's super-noisy until really late. There's cars all over the place, drunk people yelling at each other, cabs honking at everyone... I wouldn't live there, if it were me.
posted by sutel at 8:43 AM on June 24, 2008

I work around the corner on State Street and I would not consider living in Downtown Crossing unless I was getting an exceptional deal.
posted by preparat at 8:44 AM on June 24, 2008

You'll be surrounded by sketchy men yelling about Jesus, cars honking about whatever, and generally annoyed Bostonians who bustle about trying to shop. Plus for whatever reason I find it *dreadful* in the rain. Good to get your shopping done, bad to live. Avoid!

What about across the way closer to the Public Garden/Newbury side? Much much nicer...
posted by Eudaimonia at 8:52 AM on June 24, 2008

Don't do it. It smells like urine. It would be a gross and noisy place to live, and there's no excuse for moving there when there are so many wonderful neighborhoods to choose from!
posted by moxiedoll at 8:53 AM on June 24, 2008

It does tend to feel like no man's land late at night after everything closes. It's probably the last neighborhood I'd want to live in, in Boston proper.
posted by jdl at 8:53 AM on June 24, 2008

Response by poster: Wow. This is kind of depressing. But I guess I'm glad I asked. The place is really fantastic, huge, and in our price range. I guess maybe this is why.
posted by Perplexity at 8:54 AM on June 24, 2008

It depends on you and the money. I've seen that neighborhood (though only when shopping). For the right price, I think I would live there.

If you are still thinking about it, make the landlord a lower offer, insist on extra locks or bars or whatever it might need (look for security flaws), make it a short-term lease in case it's worse than you expected, and explain to the owner that your offer is the best he or she is going to get from nice people who don't get drunk every night and break things and leave strange stains.
posted by pracowity at 9:09 AM on June 24, 2008

While I agree with what everyone above has said, there's a chance you're getting in early on a neighborhood that's going to develop and change over the next few years. A lot of the developments that are going into Downtown Crossing are really, really nice, and it could easily start changing what the area is like.

But short term? Not so much. I'll echo what others have said - there are nicer areas around Boston to consider.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:14 AM on June 24, 2008

I never got the feeling that it was dangerous, but I wouldn't want to live there for the reasons listed above.
posted by danb at 9:21 AM on June 24, 2008

The more commercial streets that don't have bars/clubs pretty much empty out at night, and become somewhat sketchy if only for the lack of people around who might be interested in your welfare. That said, I wouldn't call it dangerous, even by Boston standards (which, depending on where you're coming from, may be very different than what you're used to). The real reason to avoid it is because it's not really a neighborhood; for example, note the lack of a grocery store anywhere nearby. It just doesn't have the amenities that should come with living in the city.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 9:26 AM on June 24, 2008

Gungho, I sometimes recall your comment in a previous AskMe question about shopping in Boston:
Do not go to downtown crossing. It is a mess, and other than Macy's is like the outdoor version of the bar in Star Wars.
posted by yz at 9:28 AM on June 24, 2008

I'm curious: I grew up in Boston and it's changed (gotten more expensive) hugely since I lived there. But I really can't figure out what SOWA is in that first posting--can someone enlighten me?
posted by supercoollady at 9:36 AM on June 24, 2008

Response by poster: "SOWA" is South of Washington Street. Referenced here (and various other hits here).
posted by Perplexity at 9:45 AM on June 24, 2008

I certainly wouldn't want to live there, but on the other hand, it's not exceptionally dangerous there either. It's right downtown, you can get just about anywhere in any direction by trains, and it's a hop, skip, and jump away from Chinatown.

The key is that you're going to be spending a lot of time either in your apartment, or going places, like other commenters mention, you'll have no neighborhood to speak of. Also, if you're renting and not buying, there is the chance that they'll ritz the neighborhood up, and you'll be priced out of your own apartment in 4 or so years.

Over all, take a look at what you want, and then when you're figuring out the prices of apartments, add in a couple hundred a month for various measures of inconvenience to the Downtown Crossing apartment.
posted by explosion at 9:52 AM on June 24, 2008

Another note about the Downtown Crossing area: There's at least a couple major construction projects going on for the next year. I have friends who work right next to the new Filenes building, and it's virtually impossible to work there with the noise some days.
posted by Plutor at 9:58 AM on June 24, 2008

This Globe article from a month ago is pretty positive, but it also was in the real estate section. There may be some other useful information in the discussions of that article and other Downtown Crossing articles from Universal Hub.
posted by nonane at 10:06 AM on June 24, 2008

While I agree with what everyone above has said, there's a chance you're getting in early on a neighborhood that's going to develop and change over the next few years. A lot of the developments that are going into Downtown Crossing are really, really nice, and it could easily start changing what the area is like.

More like putting lipstick on a pig, if you ask me. It's probably not as dangerous as it seems, but it's definitely one of the least appealing places in Boston proper as far as I am concerned.
posted by briank at 10:07 AM on June 24, 2008

For the right price, I think I would live there.

Amen. If the place is that great, I'd think about it. You'd be convenient to EVERYTHING in Boston Proper. It wouldn't be my first choice if I place an apartment anywhere on the map. But living in a grand place at DTX* might have been even nicer than living in a shitty shoebox in the South End, which I did for many years and thoroughly enjoyed.

But I really can't figure out what SOWA is in that first posting--can someone enlighten me?

It's a marketing term made up by real estate concerns and adopted by pretentious artists to describe the area south of Washington Street. Someone (might have been ericb) described it as an alternative to "right by the Pine Street Inn." Don't use it-- it reeks of marketing and the desperation that drives people to make homage to other cities' pretentious neighborhoods. "The South End" is just fine, and if you're worried about what people will think if you tell them you live south of the Cathedral then you shouldn't live there.

*"DTX" is a joke name made up by a former co-worker when I worked in the Financial District. She even had hand motions to go with it-- index finger to index finger, thumb to thumb to make a delta, "T" with the index fingers, followed by crossed index fingers for the "X". The gesture indicated that she was going shopping on her lunch break. That's a contraction I can appreciate.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:16 AM on June 24, 2008

To speak of crime, lots of petty theft in the stores, people being harassed for change not too much else. But it is a little gritty due to the proximity to the Common which is where many of the cities homeless spend a lot of their time.

I will also say that the lack of a real neighborhood is it's downfall. It would be great to live right downtown, but you don't really have much going on when you step outside. Not that Bostonians are known for being a welcoming neigborhood-ie type but there is something to be said for living in a place where the residential property outnumbers the commercial.

I am sure that a big change is in store for the area, but that is still a few years away as others have said.
posted by WickedPissah at 10:20 AM on June 24, 2008

Do you have a car? I can't imagine driving through Downtown Crossing on a regular basis, even with completely secure offstreet parking included.

Also, nthing the comment above about grocery stores. Super 88 is awesome but, at least at the Chinatown location, it's not a complete grocery store (I could probably do most of my shopping at the Brighton store).

If you can get your daily needs met (food, security, commutability), it's worth considering - but, if you have to leave Downtown Crossing for everything but sleep, I would find that untenable for long-term convenience.
posted by catlet at 10:24 AM on June 24, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the replies so far. Very helpful. The place we're looking at is on the 11th/top floor, which I think/hope would mitigate the noise issue. There are a ton of windows but they are thick/double-paned. We've noticed very little noise while visiting (but it's been after 5 so not during construction hours).

We do have a car now, and we'd garage it nearby (probably at the Ritz) for the first couple of months at least, but anticipate getting rid of it. $300/mo parking could pay for a lot of Zipcar / rentals.

We know about the lack of a real grocery store, as catlet wrote, Super 88 is awesome, plus the Lambert's Marketplace at Temple/Tremont actually carries a lot of stuff. And Peapod delivers there.

The red/green/orange line proximity is very appealing, and the commute to my (Copley Square) job would be very convenient, either on foot or on the Green Line.

The apartment itself is huge and fantastic... We haven't seen anything remotely as large/nice at or near our price point.

This thread has mostly been discouraging, but I'm glad that even the detractors seem to think it's relatively safe. I'm still a little worried about walking home late at night... Anyway thanks for all the input, hoping for more.
posted by Perplexity at 10:54 AM on June 24, 2008

I'm still a little worried about walking home late at night...

I don't think that's a big worry. The area is full of seedy people during the day, but because almost no one lives there, the seedy people have travelled to hang out there (why, I'm still not sure), and they're gone at night. All that's left generally are a very few non-threatening homeless and financial district workers stumbling home because they went out after work. If you go a few blocks south, you'll get the real dregs of Boston Proper who hang out in what's left of the Combat Zone, but the police presence is (or was as of 2005) remarkable. I don't think there's really any place in Boston Proper (except maybe the far south and west South End) where you should fear for your safety.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:19 AM on June 24, 2008

I've heard it's the leading area for pickpockets and the like. I assume that's why everyone is there and that it's just up the street from that worse area that Mayor Curley mentions. I've never felt very uncomfortable there, just cautious of everyone. It does strike me as weird though that they're trying to turn it into an upscale area. I figured the people moving into those places were doing Peapod for groceries, using in building underground garages, etc. So long as you've got a door on one of the side streets I'd just walk up to the common and avoid the crowds anyway.
posted by jwells at 11:53 AM on June 24, 2008

So I guess all us Mefiters are afraid to just come out and say it...Urban Youths (Youts) have inhabited the area, making it their hangout during the day. The hop skip and a jump to Chinatown mentioned earlier would place you square in the area they hang. The nearly abandoned fiasco once called Lafayette plaza, and the Washington Street area beyond Macy's.
posted by Gungho at 1:20 PM on June 24, 2008

I recall the recent Globe article to which nonane links above.

After the new Ritz Hotel & Ritz Towers were completed (in the old Combat Zone!!!), the area, just like the adjacent Chinatown, has seen -- and will see - a lot of residential and retail development.

Reported by the Globe in 2006:
"Directly across the street from the Paramount, Millennium Partners-Boston, the developer of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Towers Boston Common, submitted a plan in April to the Boston Redevelopment Authority for 225 loft-style condos with street-level retail on what is now a large parking lot. The apartments would be about 1,200 square feet and cost about $900,000 in today's market, though groundbreaking would not begin until next year -- assuming the city approves the plan....Meanwhile, Greaney's projects include seven recently finished condos above the GNC store at 43 Winter St., and another 32 condos he just started on at 26-30 West St., over the Blaine hair studio.

Three of the two-bedroom condos in the century-old mercantile building at 43 Winter St. -- the project is called Loft 43 -- have already sold; prices have ranged from $699,000 to $899,000. The West Street properties will hit the market in about 18 months, priced between $350,000 and $750,000 and ranging in size from 725 square feet to 1,500 square feet, according to Greaney.

Residential development is also extending beyond the Ladder District . Behind the Lafayette Garage, the Edison, at 42 Chauncy St., discreetly houses 40 condos. And closer to South Station, at 50 Summer St., plans may be in the works to add housing above the Walgreens, according to the BRA. The Abbey Group is also developing a tower with 150 condos on Province Street, where the Littlest Bar was. Construction is expected to be completed around 2008.

And the Filene's store and adjacent building on that block, which city and real estate officials said are in the process of being sold to a New York realty trust, may be redeveloped into a massive mixed-use project that could include luxury condominiums.

City Hall has been a big booster of all this development. The BRA has seven employees working on revitalizing Downtown Crossing, with plans to repair the cobblestones along Winter Street, add planters, make uniform all of the pushcarts, and ensure that vacant storefronts at least display art.

'There will be 1,300 new homes there in the next five years,' Mayor Thomas M. Menino said in an interview. 'We want a diversity of incomes in the area. We don't want just high-income people. $300,000 to $400,000 units are part of what we're doing. Of course, some think that's exorbitant.'"
There are already many fine restaurants there (e.g. Locke-Ober, Blu , Mantra -- and others planned -- in the (oh, and yet another "geographic" marketing term I despise) "Ladder District" which runs the length of Downtown Crossing and parallel to the Common.

The Ladder District, One Step at a Time
"Bostonians who aren't yet hip to the Ladder District (or its name) no doubt soon will be, as every day brings news of another redevelopment project.

The $625 million Franklin Street Plan promises to create a 24-hour neighborhood and the feel of an 'urban oasis park' as it sets about transforming the landmark Filene's (closed last year) and adjacent 1905 Filene's Basement buildings in a way that marries 'historic preservation with a 21st-century mixed-use design.'

Luxury condos, a celebrity-chef restaurant and a spa are coming to Province Street, and renovation of two historic theaters on Washington Street, the 1932 Paramount and the 1876 Modern, soon will be underway.

Completion of these ventures is a way off. Visit the Ladder District now, though, and you'll discover a neighborhood that's still trying to figure out how cool it wants to be. It's a dilemma any hipster might relate to: how to adopt an au courant pose without jettisoning one's essential identity.

The new name was the easy part, it turns out. Mixing all the ingredients -- the pushcart vendors and the sexy restaurants, the old-time jewelers and the reinvented department stores, the historic attractions and the nightclub playgrounds -- into a genuine, viable and beckoning concoction: There's the riddle.

Or is the Ladder District's contradictory personality its distinct attraction? That's for you to find out."
While I agree with what everyone above has said, there's a chance you're getting in early on a neighborhood that's going to develop and change over the next few years.

I have friends who live in the Ritz Towers and love it. They like that they can walk to the Common, to Charles Street, to Newbury and Boylston Streets and to Tremont, Shawmut and Washington Street in the South End.

They also hang out in the bars, restaurants and nightclubs; take in movies at the Boston Common Theater, see plays, musicals and concerts at all of the other theaters right there in the neighborhood. They walk to Borders for books and to Faneuil Hall to entertain their tourist-visiting friends and family.

Yeah -- you could be getting in early and getting a good deal.

Many of my friends look at Fort Point Channel and the new waterfront area and say "Damn it. Coulda, shoulda, woulda."
posted by ericb at 1:33 PM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm still a little worried about walking home late at night... Anyway thanks for all the input, hoping for more.

FWIW -- I have never felt uncomfortable walking there at night -- after visiting bars, restaurants, nightclubs and theaters.

If walking from Copley Square, avoid walking through the Public Garden and the Common late at night and head up Boylston Street, pass by the Four Seasons then the new Emerson College dorms. You can then turn left on Tremont Street and right onto Avery where the Ritz is. As you note, your close by there. I, personally, wouldn't worry -- even at 2:00 a.m. when the bars are letting out and there's plenty of foot-traffic about.
posted by ericb at 1:42 PM on June 24, 2008

Ritz Hotel & Ritz Towers were completed (in the old Combat Zone!!!)

Mustn't forget the The Sports Club/L.A. Boston (my health club) which is also on Avery.

Look, with all the 'big-bucks' development going on, you can feel confident that a renaissance is funded and underway.

I think when most people hear "Downtown Crossing" they think of the area limited to the pedestrain walk-way of chain stores, shops and take-out food stands. That is not all there is to the area.
posted by ericb at 1:52 PM on June 24, 2008

If you are renting (I assume this isn't a condo), there's not much appeal to "getting in on the ground floor of an up and coming neighborhood" since you'll probably just have a one year lease. If you are buying, then I think ericb's points are well taken. I can see your building from my office window and, although it overlooks a noisy, dirty, and smelly retail district on Winter Street, the new residential/retail development on the Filene's parcel across the street could help transform the neighborhood in a few years.
If you decide to go for it, just remember that as of today Downtown Crossing a largely wasted commercial area on the edge of the financial district that features a Macy's, a boarded-up Barnes & Noble, some record stores, and not much else. During the day it is frequented by office-workers and kids skipping school, and it is empty at night. There are a number of homeless shelters/clinics in the area (especially down the road around Kingston Street), which may account for some of the "seediness" noted above. Finally, during the summer months they try to give the portion of Summer Street just south of Washington Street a "street fair" feel, which means you get a lot of sausage vendors and kids drumming on overturned buckets. The noise affects workers in the office building overlooking the area, so it will probably affect you too.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 2:05 PM on June 24, 2008

You know, downtown Boston is pretty small to begin with - when you are at downtown crossing you can walk to the north end, to the hill, to the common, etc., etc., really quickly. It's not like downtown crossing is a crappy neighborhood in the middle of nowhere. Look at it for what it is - the really dense downtown core of an old city. Dense downtowns have the good and the bad. If you can overlook the nuisances of humanity, you have the chance to live right in the middle of one of the greatest old cities in the country. I'd go for it.
posted by gyusan at 2:06 PM on June 24, 2008

Regarding homeless people, urine smell, noise, etc. --

Boston is a city!

You'll find the same urban issues around the multi-million dollar loft developments on Harrison, Washington and Shawmut in the South End ("right by the Pine Street Inn"); in the alleys behind the storied homes and estates on Commonwealth Ave. and in the side streets of the charming Bay Village.

It's a city!

High-end luxury developments abutt public housing projects. Just take a look at the South End these days -- Atelier 505, D4 and Penny Savings Bank are blocks away from such housing (e.g. Villa Victoria).

If one can't fathom encountering others, some poor, some homeless, some loud and obnoxious, head for the homogeneity of the suburbs. And if moving to the city from there, realize that what works in the suburbs isn't always pertinent to the city.
posted by ericb at 2:10 PM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

...renovation of two historic theaters on Washington Street, the 1932 Paramount and the 1876 Modern, soon will be underway.

And just next door is the beautiful Boston Opera House -- recently renovated for $38 miilion.
posted by ericb at 2:19 PM on June 24, 2008

My description wouldn't be "unsafe" so much as "downright annoying." Slow walking people and drunk college students and people who are lost coming back from the North End.

The homeless people there are harmless, in my experience. I lived a bit down Tremont from Downtown Crossing and I never felt unsafe there, even at night (I'm a small girl). Pretty much everywhere downtown is going to be a little sketchy at night and some homeless guy is going to offer you some of his Scope while you're walking home late. Make sure you don't cut through the Gardens after dark (the Common is generally safe if you stay in the well-lit areas) and you'll really dodge a bullet.

If you do feel weirded out and you think someone's following you or something along those lines, Suffolk and Emerson both have dorms nearby and you can duck inside and chat with a security guy for a couple minutes. I've never had to do this.

As stated above, if the price is right, the place sounds really nice and you should go for it. You really can't beat the convenience. Your instincts are enough to keep you out of trouble.
posted by giraffe at 2:36 PM on June 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Regarding supermarkets -- you are near Whole Foods Market (181 Cambridge St.) -- 0.9 miles away and the Shaw's Market (53 Huntington Avenue) -- 1.5 miles away.

You can easily drive and park ('free one hour' at Whole Foods; street parking or hourly parking underground at the Pru Center). You could also cab it (since it's in Copley near your work).
posted by ericb at 3:26 PM on June 24, 2008

*street parking or hourly parking underground at the Pru Center* for the Shaw's Market.
posted by ericb at 9:24 PM on June 24, 2008

Downtown Crossing now is nothing on Downtown Crossing a little while ago... just five years ago I would get concerned walking down into the Combat Zone, and now that doesn't even exist anymore. While the neighborhood has a seedy feeling, it's a long way from being dangerous. I suppose there's probably still a few hookers hanging around.

I still wouldn't want to live there, but just because it's sort of unappealing. Ditto some comments above, though -- you can pretty much walk to everywhere.
posted by zvs at 7:15 AM on January 13, 2009

(Oh, I didn't realize how old this thread was...)
posted by zvs at 7:15 AM on January 13, 2009

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