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Old 08-16-2008, 04:19 PM
23 posts, read 82,059 times
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Living in the heart of Boston is probably out for me, so I'm looking at nearby neighborhoods that are affordable to rent or buy, eclectic and ethnically diverse, generally safe, good overall scene in terms of local restaurants, shops, culture, community, etc... We're a young(ish) professional couple with an infant. I have a good feeling about JP, but can anyone tell me how Somerville compares? I haven't found much description about what sets it apart.
Also, with the criteria I mentioned above does Roslindale fit into the mix?

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Old 08-17-2008, 07:49 AM
Location: Cambridge, MA
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On the surface, there isn't much that differentiates Jamaica Plain and Somerville. Both were "discovered" during the '80s and have been gentrifying apace ever since. Both have eclectic resident populations and are not far from downtown. Each boast a wide-ranging selection of dwellings, from classic "three decka" to Victorian mansion. Here are where the distinctions lie:

Somerville is a city unto itself, while JP is of course a section of Boston. This means a government overseeing services for roughly 90,000 persons on the one hand and for over 600,000 on the other. The consequent bureaucracies are proportionate to the number of souls they serve. Somerville City Hall can be much more quickly and efficiently responsive to individuals' concerns, whereas in Boston it can take a united and noisy coalition of neighbors' yelling and screaming and calling the papers before junk cars are towed or sketchy doings around a certain house are watched or what have you.

Neither city's public schools are much better than mediocre, but at least in Beantown the elite "exam schools" await sixth or eighth graders who pass the admissions test. Latin Academy and O'Bryant have excellent college placement records, and Boston Latin is still thought of as one of the premier secondary schools in the entire country - "the gateway to Harvard." Somerville High certainly doesn't lack for successful alumni; I'm well acquainted with one of its products who went on to achieve degrees from Dartmouth and Northwestern and now is prospering with his own business. But BLS is a much safer bet, IF your child(ren) make it there.

Where safety is concerned, each locale has its good and bad points. Although the majority of public-housing tenants are "working poor" and upstanding, no one wants to live in or near a "project." They always have been and always will be spawning grounds for folks who've lost any hope they may have had and are prone to unsavory carrying-on. Most if not all of Somerville's "developments" are clustered around Mystic Ave on the far eastern flank of the city. Jamaica Plain's Bromley-Heath, resistant to all attempts at refurbishing and gang clearance, maintains a visible and unwanted presence between Hyde and Jackson Squares. The South St projects have served to keep the surrounding vicinity on the "downscale" side, though they are amazingly quiet at any hour. (I saw this firsthand on frequent visits to friends whose household for some time was directly opposite.) Most of the crime in JP is centered around the developments, and along the Washington St corridor east of the Orange Line - progressively worse the farther north from Forest Hills you go. A good-sized chunk of east Somerville is now plagued by immigrant and home-grown gangs, most noticeably along Broadway from the bottom of the hill all the way into Sullivan Square. The housing stock remains in good condition, though shabby on some blocks, and some longtime businesses such as Patsy's Pastry Shop (the place for cakes) and the Mt Vernon Restaurant are still drawing crowds. But abandon any notion of walking far or for very long thereabouts after dark. Once you go past Union Square, from there all the way out the communities are substantially more secure even as rent hikes do their destabilizing work. West Somerville, marked by Ball and Powderhouse and Davis and Teele Squares, is the sector which has been "cool" the longest and is therefore the most expensive. The main nuisance around there would be houses and apartments filled with Tufts students, since college kids will be college kids.

Roslindale ("JP South") is a viable alternative more for childless families. The neighborhood is in a state of flux, with several simultaneous demographic transitions occurring. First, there's the pricing-out of many people (Hispanic or White, mostly) from JP. Then, there's an ongoing and worsening crime problem in neighboring Mattapan and Hyde Park which has AA families scrambling to relocate to safer surroundings. Thirdly, the "rebranding" of "Rozzi Skway-yah" as "Roslindale Village" has attracted yuppie-associated businesses such as a fair-trade coffee shop and has put the place on the map for folks relocating from other parts of the country. So these are exciting times for Rozzi, not always in a good way. Urban pioneers and seekers of diversity would love it. As an environment for child-rearing, I'm not so fast to recommend it.

In the early phases of "discovery" are the West Medford and Medford Hillside communities which abut the Tufts campus. Each has held onto its middle- to slightly-upper-middle-class character over time. As is true with most of "Meffa," the neighborhoods are heavily (Medford Hillside) and largely (West Medford) Italian-American in makeup. What sets West Medford apart is that it's also housed a sizable and well-to-do, relatively speaking, AA population throughout its existence. Its being an "integrated" locale from day one has made it unique, except for Cambridge, outside the city limits for far too long. Boston Ave in Medford Hillside, and High St in West Medford, are the respective retail centers for the neighborhoods. There is where you'll find Mexican and Chinese take-out joints along with convenience stores, Italian bakeries, dry cleaners, liquor stores, etc. The commercial mix is such that while you may have to trek to a Shaw's or Market Basket for large-scale grocery shopping all the "incidentals" are a short walk from home. Medford's Achilles' heel is - do you see a recurring theme here - the public school system.

So, there you have it.
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Old 08-17-2008, 06:09 PM
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I have live in most of Boston. Southie, when young Dorchester when young.

Then Hyde Park which was great, when young-on the Milton line. J.P. was my favorite
then I did live in Roslindale, near West Roxbury. The line between J.P. Roslindale,
and West Roxbury is marginal. On Centre Street it runs to J.P. Roxbury, etc.,
I just do recall J.P. had my vote. However, Roslindale is not too far away. Find what works for you now. What GoyGuy does say is real.
You alway can rent and move. Way back in the early fiftys I did live in a project, after WW 2, and, I was 4. It was in South Boston, and took James Michael Curely to get us in. I even did get a famous silver dollar. He was off to a meeting and did stop to have my father come into the office.

Times were bad then after WW 2, and, God Bless him we got a home. Then the projects were just people out of the service, people with young children
firemen, and police with no money to buy then. Televison was just coming to be! And yes it was fun when I was 4.

Last edited by maggiekate; 08-17-2008 at 06:35 PM..
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Old 08-18-2008, 09:21 AM
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I lived near Porter Square on the Somerville / Cambridge border for 2+ years and have now lived in JP for 2 years. As others have mentioned, they are similar in many ways. To me the biggest differences are:

1. Much more sense of community in JP. There are a lot more active neighborhood groups and the areas seems much less transitional. By that I mean that peopled seem to stay in JP longer than they stay in Somerville and want to get to know their neighbors.

2. Probably related to #1, there are a ton of students in Somerville, and not just Tufts students. A lot of Harvard / MIT grad students live near Davis Square and take the red line to MIT. This means that if you go to a pub at 10:00PM in Somerville it is likely to be quite full and loud. JP pub / restaurant scene is much more low-key and relaxed. Example: The Burren is a great Irish Pub in Davis Square but becomes much too loud and packed for my liking. James Gate and the Brendan Behan, the JP equivants are better places to grab a pint and chat with friends. This extends to restaurants as well...in Somerville you're much more likely to find groups of 6-15 students eating, JP is more families and couples. Inman Squre or even Union Square in Somerville are probably more like JP and have better restaurants than Davis Squre IMO (but transpertation is more difficult from Inman / Union).

3. Trains. I'm not sure where you'll be working, but the Orange Line provides much quicker service to the Back Bay and Downtown Crossing. I also find it more reliable than the Red Line. On the other hand, the Red Line obviously provides quicker service to Cambridge and the trains are nicer and cleaner.

4. I think you'll find more parents with young children in JP, but I'm not sure. As goyguy said, the public schools in JP are no good and not much better in Somerville. There seem to be a lot of kids age 0-5, then most of them move further out to the burbs.

5. Parks / open space. JP has the Pond, SW Corridor, and the Arboretum, meaning you're never far from a great park. Somerville has VERY little green space.

Overall, I loved my time in Porter Square, but like JP more. If I were 25 and single, I would choose Somerville. If I were a little older and not single, I would choose JP.
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Old 08-20-2008, 04:43 AM
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Thanks for all the great responses. Spent some time in JP over the weekend and definitely liked what I saw. I'm going to check out Somerville too, but from everything I've read here, I'm leaning towards JP.
Thanks again!
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Old 08-23-2008, 03:12 PM
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Somerville is split up kinda. West Somerville/Davis square area is full of yuppies, Winter Hill has alot of blue collard irish people that have lived there for a long time, East Somerville has like 80% of the cities crime its full of immigrants (which is 100% ok for me) the mystic projects are also in east somerville near the medford line theres gangs in somerville and medford too.

JP or cambridge or west somerville would fit u best (yuppie)

theres been some beef between long time somerville residents and yuppies the yuppies come in and drive the housing costs up and have forced life long residents to move to the suburbs.
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