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Old 09-23-2013, 01:17 PM
25 posts, read 32,104 times
Reputation: 152


I don't know how useful this will be, since a lot of what I say echoes common claims about Boston. And I was there only four days! Also, I loved the place so much that I'm probably idealizing it somewhat. Further, I don't know anything about the city's politics, debates, Big Problems, etc., other than I've heard people complain that it's hell to drive in. But I did walk around it for about 35 miles, took mass transit to a number of places, went to Fenway, etc., and I've been to a lot of cities. So here goes.

This is BY FAR the most balanced, quality-of-life city I've ever been to. It's like the American Toronto, but much better. Burlington, Vermont's, big brother. What a City Ought to Be. You'll love it IF you like its features, because what characterizes it is its:
  • uniqueness
  • varied and often (thank God) very traditional/"old" architecture
  • a place premised on walking, biking, and public transit more than on the car
  • a place that's very historic AND, even rarer, has a great appreciation for its history. You can rest pretty well assured that what you're valuing as irreplaceable is valued by most others that way, too.
  • a place that has, relatively speaking, a minimum of grotesquely barren, concrete-and-glass nightmare buildings (most of them clustered in the downtown, about more of which in a bit)
  • a place that is not just the best of the old and new, in terms of tradition and tolerance, but realizes the traditional American principle of welcoming people to America and into the civic spirit better than any city I've experienced
  • a tremendous cultural variety--from beloved sports teams to "exotic" food to many different types and levels of educational institutions and college-oriented events to kids playing whiffleball in the park to opera, etc. If someone is bored (or ignorant) in Boston, the problem is entirely with him/her. I've never seen a city that rivals this variety, and that easily includes NYC, because of
  • Boston's very human scale. It stretches but doesn't much sprawl, and is more horizontal than vertical, so you're rarely dehumanized by being stuck among vertical pillboxes. You can walk/get to anything anywhere relatively quickly if you're NOT driving, because of
  • its stand-out mass transit system and its relatively safety in terms of crime vs. walking
  • four seasons, with beautiful summer weather balanced/paid for by longish winters
  • variable weather within a season. It's on the coast, it's up North, it's affected by Canadian and Great Lakes systems (to an extent), has mountains to its west, etc. So the weather can vary a lot. For me, that's a big plus; but if you want monotony/consistency in your weather, Boston could drive you nuts. It can rain, be sunny, get windy, get warm, rain again, three times in one day.
  • quaintness, stateliness, and vibrancy in near-perfect simultaneity or alternation. You can sit in the shade of a church from 1710, see people have pretty decent manners, and eat sushi that you didn't know existed, and do it all over again (with equally fine food from some other part of the world) a hundred thousand times over, somewhere else in the city--in walking/mass transit distance.
  • proximity to mountains, wilderness, Maine, Canada, airports, cruise lines, everything that coastal living offers, other worthwhile cities (Montreal, Burlington VT, NYC, etc.)
  • fine Amtrak service on the Boston-to-Virginia-Beach line. Unlike other Amtrak lines, this one is almost always on-time, and a pleasure to take. It stops at many other small and big cities, so it's an interesting as well as well immensely practical way to go (if you can bear how sad cities such as Bridgeport, Trenton, etc., are).
  • variety of/within the city itself. It really is like a bunch of different towns or small cities with a unifying sense of nearness and appreciation. Brookline is very distinct from Cambridge, Cambridge very distinct from Dorchester, etc., and each has its merits. It's the least homogenous city I've been to, but also shares a common ethos more than any other city I've been to.
  • and everywhere you go, there are great food choices.
Several things stood out especially.
The deep appreciation Bostonians have for their city. I thought this might indicate some flip-side arrogance or vanity, but saw/sensed very little of that. Instead, Bostonians plain love their city, don't take it for granted, and treat it and each other (much more than I had assumed) with respect. This is indicated in the relative lack of litter, the relatively little honk-heavy driving, and the reliably decent manners people had. It's not a city of hugs, and it has a lot of the don't-make-eye-contact-with-a-stranger self-preservation thing. But it's not a hostile, arrogant, or overly suspicious city. Instead, people are generally helpful, or leave you alone benignly, respecting your privacy.

Fenway. Okay, I'm a baseball fanatic, and I've wanted to go there since I was about nine. (Nearly five decades later, I made it.) So this may be very much idealized. But actually, I was a bit concerned that it was an over-hyped, even twee-ish place, that the Red Sox fan-feel would be more contrived and self-conscious than genuine. But that's NOT the case. First, Fenway is indeed unique in not only the ways people have often identified, but in a very elusive way. Whether it's because it's so snug, so funky in its angles, so small, or because its seat-aisles are so few and narrow, its seats themselves so narrow and closely packed, its foul territory so minute, or because of the visual closeness that's created by The Green Monstah--everything is against a backdrop, and thus intensified--what results is an incredible sense of closeness to the field, the action, the players, and your fellow fans. It's like squeezing into Grandma's kitchen porch, or bending your whiffleball game into your oddly-shaped backyard. From as far behind homeplate as possible, the 420 sign in deepest center field looks like you could hit it on the fly with a good throw, much less a line drive. I've been to eight major league stadiums before, two of them "classics," but Fenway is startlingly different. It's so intimate and immediately familiar that, once you're there, it seems like you may not be, because how could you be newly arrived in a place where you've always been? I know that's ontologically wrong, but that's what Fenway feels like. It seems to know you that well when you walk into it.

That may be too mystical, but here's something literally concrete: I guess because they rehabbed the stadium extensively, but it seems in astounding shape for so old a ballpark. The concrete is almost crack-free, the steel beams and truss systems are almost flaking-paint-, much less rust-, free; the added seating, etc., have been well done, etc. It feels, of course, beautifully ancient; thank God, it's not been over-modernized. But it's also been beautifully maintained or fixed. Having often gone to my cherished Tiger Stadium, it was sad and wrong to see how that magnificent stadium was neglected as the team owners lobbied for a replacement, and then let it rot under the fans' feet while the new stadium was being built. I'm glad that at least Fenway (and, presumably, Wrigley) hasn't been treated so sinfully. This is a place appreciated as it it deserves, in every way--and each of those ways is heartfelt.

I also love the fact that Bostonians haven't let the Boston around Fenway be ruined by making those blocks big parking lots. That's a great set of priorities--and very workable in this city, where, again, you can safely walk to & from the game, or take the fine mass transit. It's such a neighborhood park, and such a handsome stadium in its very real neighborhood, that leaving it all as-is is the right way to celebrate what Fenway is and means. There's a highschool across the street! When's the last time you saw a highschool across the street from an MLB stadium? Fenway is a dream because it's so real.

Lastly, Fenway fans' conduct. This stunned me. From 1:30 pm until the game ended around 10:30, I walked all around and then into that park from. I wasin the Monster Bar (a fantastic place, by the way, and the food was good, too!) for several, hours while they were setting up for batting practice. And I wandered around during the game as much as I could. Yet I didn't hear ONE f-bomb or "s**t"! Toronto's fans tend to be very well-behaved, too, but this amazed me. No bad words, in a close, important game (the Sox clinched the AL East that night), in America, in BOSTON, in FENWAY?? Some of that may have been in deference to the kids around. But anyone can get carried away by the action and forget the kids. Yet no cursing? (I heard infinitely more f-bombs on, like, the Harvard, like, campus, by the way--with plenty of kids around there, too.) No one I saw or heard was caustic to the Blue Jays' fans, people made way for the elderly and grinned at the kids dropping french fries in the aisle, etc. I've never seen such a collective geniality in ANY major-league-level sporting event, anywhere. I've been to church-league softball games that got pissier.

Which may help explain why I saw so few cops at Fenway, and in Boston generally. At first, the city seem very under-policed to me. But then I realized that it seems civil enough to not need the army of cops that NYC or even my little college town has.

Okay, now to my very few complaints/negatives. And they're MUCH eclipsed by everything that's so great and right about Fenway and Boston.


  • The pounding music between innings, when a new batter comes to the plate, etc. I know that almost everything these days panders to evaporated attention-spans and a jaded citizenry's "need" for over-the-top stimulations. But this is baseball, and Fenway, and the fans are more than smart enough to be awake 'cause they're focusing on the game. The blaring music is bush league, interrupts people's conversations about the games, and intrudes mere noise into the great, natural rhythms of baseball sounds.
  • The new scoreboards may be informative, but they're not needed, and way too big. They're extraneous, here maybe more than in most parks. It's a tribute to the Fenway fan to see how little people look at the scoreboard--and only to get a quick glimpse of a close play being replayed. Then they're back to the game. They're not scoreboard junkies who need to be told when and how to cheer. It's a done deal, of course, but those two massive scoreboards are a mistake and a waste.

  • Downtown's concrete-and-glass monstrosities. These loom so ugly partly because Boston is generally so beautiful, and because some of downtown's contrastingly stately old structures have been retained. But they're also so ugly because they're so ugly. The Fiduciary Trust Building, for example, looks like Saddam Hussein's funroom, threatening to topple on an crush you. A good deal of downtown looks like Dick Cheney lurking in the concrete without a face, the windows that can't open, the textureless insult to everything "Boston." I don't know if Boston was self-consciously trying to rival or trump mid-town Manhattan, or if ugly is ugly wherever ugly is, or Bostonians have to accept these corporate monsters to keep downtown economically vibrant. But almost every post-World War II building downtown is awful. I almost don't want to know what stately buildings were erased to construct such monuments to bad, missing, warped taste and thinking. That said, enough of downtown is handsomely preserved that Boston's downtown is one of America's better ones. But that's 'cause the old is so handsome far more than 'cause the new is anything close to tasteful/un-ugly.
  • The post-WWII apartment buildings. These too are alienatingly barren/plain ugly. But I guess that, too, couldn't be helped since such buildings helped keep people in Boston. Even so, I would think some basic zoning would be in place here. At least why not stipulate that new buildings have to accord with or reasonably converse with their neighborhood's buildings? A shrieking "post-modern concrete" wing (already falling apart, by the way) next to quiet Federalist grandeur ISN'T eclecticism, or a variety that compliments/complements the area or city. It's grossly out of place, an insult to what's near it, and looks as cheaply thought out and made as it is. Why graffiti the Mona Lisa?
  • Erratically provided/missing street signs. Sometimes one sign for one street would be there, but not the other. Sometimes signs for both streets were missing. I not a uniformity fan. I liked how varied the street sign means/types were. Some were arched across the street, some were on light posts, the signage itself varied, and one was even the old-fashioned concrete post type. But I do wish they were uniformly provided. I enjoyed and learned from getting lost. But it would have been nice to know where and why I was lost.
  • The young people. Okay, that's generational, and not Boston-specific. (As a college teacher for nearly 30 years, I'm probably rubbed raw by this, too.) But so many are so intent on being cool, even Boston-level cool, that they're the rudest demographic. There's nothing anyone can do about this, of course, or even probably could try to do about this. But a big part of Boston's great vitality--it is obviously, and rightly, a powerful mecca for talented young adults--can give a nasty edge to its charm. I don't think someone bellowing "F**k, duuude!" two feet from an elderly person and five feet from young children is anything but corrosive.

That said, Boston has far more great qualities, in far greater abundance, and far fewer flaws, than any city I've experienced. If I live long enough to retire, and/or win the lottery, I'm moving there ASAP. And I'm sure my kids would love it as much as I already do. It was SO refreshing to see kids feeling safe enough to skateboard, bike, walk, and enjoy their city as they ought to be able to.

Just what Boston needs, eh? Another resident unshy about his opinions!

Thanks, Bostonians, for being there and you.
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Old 09-23-2013, 02:39 PM
Location: New Hampshire
2,257 posts, read 6,758,146 times
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Thanks for that wonderful write-up, Belvedere. Really glad that you enjoyed your visit to the city, and you touched upon a lot of the things that I love about living in Boston (as well as some of my complaints).

Sadly, the City Hall Plaza construction in the '60s replaced the colonial-era streetscapes of Scollay Square:

I think Bostonians are unlikely to make a mistake of this magnitude (or the West End) again in the near future. There is a much stronger sense of historical preservation and smart urban planning these days. (If you're curious, there is a redesign in the works for the plaza, which at the very least will add more green space; although most Bostonians would probably rather knock down City Hall altogether - we may have to wait until I.M. Pei is dead before we can do that).
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Old 09-23-2013, 02:52 PM
25 posts, read 32,104 times
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Ouch! It's always jaw-droppingly painful and bizarre to see what was where a new monstrosity is now. On a smaller but denser scale, the downtown of Rome, NY, was just about hollowed out by "urban renewal," also in the '60s. It looks like a bomb of concrete fell on it. It's a nothing-nowhere city because what made it Rome was replaced with pure anonymity--none of which draws people to the downtown anyway. It's so much to Boston's credit and relief that it speaks up about "developers'" more-reckless plans, and allowed relatively little of the city to be beholden to the car. (The highways howling through neighborhoods are bad enough, and probably unavoidable.) The square acreage of urban spaces flattened into parking lots is by itself incredible. You could write an architectural encyclopedia by answering "What used to be in this wasted space?" from city to city. Here in our college town, the most stately church was razed in the 70s for--yep--a 7-11. And rather than sell historic, on-campus old houses that could be easily moved--to a strong market asking to buy and move them--the university still just knocks them down. And doesn't even sell or recycle mantles, marble, etc., in them.

Have you seen Toronto's old and new city halls? Richmond's, too. There, at least the old buildings were saved. But the urge to replace the stately old with the flamboyantly ugly new is a fit one for social psychologists.

I hope Boston will always be justly stubborn!

Take care.
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Old 09-23-2013, 04:29 PM
Location: Massachusetts
5,944 posts, read 6,740,447 times
Reputation: 4277
Originally Posted by 58Belvedere View Post
[*]Boston's very human scale. It stretches but doesn't much sprawl, and is more horizontal than vertical, so you're rarely dehumanized by being stuck among vertical pillboxes.
I keep reading developers are pushing through the building of many large skyscrapers along the water. As the point of the Central Artery project was to have an accessible waterfront and more open Boston, this achievement seems undone if these monstrosities end up being built.

Originally Posted by 58Belvedere View Post
[*]The post-WWII apartment buildings. These too are alienatingly barren/plain ugly.
Can't think what you are referring to? Charles River Place on the West End?
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Old 09-23-2013, 07:01 PM
Location: New London
1,671 posts, read 1,737,714 times
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Originally Posted by 495neighbor View Post
I keep reading developers are pushing through the building of many large skyscrapers along the water. As the point of the Central Artery project was to have an accessible waterfront and more open Boston, this achievement seems undone if these monstrosities end up being built.
I don't think that skyscrapers (condos/apartments I'm guessing) and an massive elevated highway would really have the same effects on the Boston waterfront....

Can't think what you are referring to? Charles River Place on the West End?[/quote]

How about the entire West End.


Anyway, to the OP, here's a nice little right-up about the whole "urban renewal" situation in Boston, and how an intimate, twisting streetscape (similar to the North End) was replaced with a highway, and ugly, massive, communist buildings surrounded by a fairly lifeless "parks" [I mean compared to the nearby Common, Esplanade, and Greenway, the West End parks are pretty dead]....

Medieval Boston (photos and commentary)

There's one before-and-after aerial view of the Faneuil Hall area that will bring tears to your eyes.
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Old 09-23-2013, 07:37 PM
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Thank you Belvedere for the nice review. Glad we were good to you. You are a stranger here but once
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Old 09-23-2013, 08:05 PM
Location: Boston, MA
1,684 posts, read 3,204,770 times
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Thanks for the great post and glad you like our city! It's been a long and hard road building up the City to where it is now. A lot of the positives you mentioned didn't happen overnight but came with sheer hard work of the inhabitants of the City and you're right Bostonians do have much to be proud of. Thanks again!
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Old 09-24-2013, 10:59 AM
4,080 posts, read 4,365,884 times
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Great review. Boston is my favorite city in the States. As someone else mentioned Boston city hall needs to be knocked the heck down. It's a horrible use of space & the building is a post-morden nightmare.

As for Fenway Park. The current mamagment team has spent over 40 million dollars fixing up the park. Hat's off to them
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Old 09-26-2013, 03:46 PM
Location: Quincy, Mass. (near Boston)
2,049 posts, read 3,460,267 times
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What a fabulous post. Exciting and interesting to read. It even brought a bit of a lump to my throat and a tear to my eyes...

And to think, I occasionally meet visitors or new residents who are "not impressed" with Boston and/or its people -- but that's somewhat rare. Most seem to like or love it. Just like you!

I met some people in my cab today from Toronto. They've been visiting for 20 years. They LOVE Boston, and raved about the food and the citizens. Yet, some posts here often complain about the food and the people. Hmmm...
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Old 09-27-2013, 06:17 AM
182 posts, read 231,085 times
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Originally Posted by bostonguy1960 View Post

I met some people in my cab today from Toronto. They've been visiting for 20 years. They LOVE Boston, and raved about the food and the citizens. Yet, some posts here often complain about the food and the people. Hmmm...
The one person I know from Toronto (who lives in Boston now) HATES Boston and goes back to Toronto every weekend because there is "nothing to do here."
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