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Old 09-24-2015, 01:11 PM
15 posts, read 21,785 times
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Hi there, I posted earlier about some town options but have narrowed down our list due to commuting concerns. My spouse and I moved from Toronto, but lived for 2 years in Cambridge, MA and fell in love with the area during our stay. We have also lived in a few different European cities (A few places in Ireland, London, England and Zurich, Switzerland).

We're hoping to settle down now in a region closer to family and buy a single family home with a bit more space as we consider starting our own family. The one thing we have always had and truly value is a "city center" of sorts - where it is easy to meet people, explore and be embedded in food and culture. While our budget, which tops out around 450k is going to push us out of the Boston proper and Cambridge itself, we originally fell in love with Salem and Beverly. Unfortunately, commuting concerns might make those towns not feasible. On to our next plan: we are considering the towns of Melrose, Wakefield, Reading, etc. Can you provide advice on the vibe of those places? Here's some criteria:

Thanks so much!

1. Walkable town center - vibrant, non-chain restaurants, mom and pop stores, organic food and farmer's market options, arts, museums, etc.

2. Train to Boston - We love the city of boston and we desire the ability to access urban culture easily. Preferably we would like to be able to walk/bike/bus to the train so we can take it in for a night of some good food, friends and a few drinks and then return home without having to worry about parking or who is D-Ding.

3. A range of socioeconomic statuses and welcoming to everyone - we would like to avoid the towns that are "only white" and that are intolerant to people who are "different."

4. Access to nature - while we are urban people, we both grew up in rural areas. We love being in nature and being active, so we want to be able to get up and go to the ocean, lakes, mountains or even just the local park to go walking, swimming, hiking, skiing, etc.

5. Family friendly - while we do not have a family yet, we intend to have a family in the future. A place where there are lots of young families and programs for young moms would be great. For schools, I do not desire to be in a town where academics and sports are highly competitive, but rather one where the education is good enough to prepare children for the future without completely compromising family time.

Sorry I know its a long list! All advice would be helpful!
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Old 09-24-2015, 02:25 PM
Location: North of Boston
3,068 posts, read 5,271,355 times
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Wakefield probably hits your requirements the closest. Your price limit of $450K isn't going to go very far in any of the 3 towns, however.
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Old 09-24-2015, 02:45 PM
15 posts, read 21,785 times
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Thanks. We understand that we will be looking at a smaller and older home that may need some updates.
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Old 09-24-2015, 05:06 PM
Location: Massachusetts
6,105 posts, read 7,258,192 times
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Each of these towns will have some but not all of what you want.

Melrose ticks your diversity requirement best. As it is right next door to Malden which is very diverse. Reading is the least diverse, with Wakefield in the middle of the pack.

Melrose has a different government than Reading and Wakefield. It is a city, with a mayor. The other two are towns. All three have independent businesses. A small area of Reading near the highway has big box stores like Market Basket and Home Depot. Reading doesn't have many places open at night and many of the businesses close for the day mid afternoon.

Melrose and Reading both have independent organic food stores. I hear good things about Wakefield's farmers market. They have it by "the lake" on Saturdays.

Be sure to check out Coffee Tea & Me (Melrose), D'Amici Bakery (Melrose and Reading), Portland Pie (Reading) great beer crust pizza, Swissbakers (Reading and/or some local farmer's markets).

Melrose city center has more energy than Reading and Wakefield town centers.

Better access and public transportation into Boston -- Melrose.

I know quite a few single professionals in their late 20s and 30s living in Melrose and Malden.

Local areas parks include Middlesex Fells (bordering Melrose) and Breakheart Reservation (bordering Wakefield). I walked in both this summer. Middlesex Fells has many challenging steep rocky trails. Breakheart Reservation is steep in spots but has tamer wider trails. Middlesex Fells trails are paved or narrow wilder rocky trails. If you are the type who walk for fitness and dog walking you will like these green spaces. But if you are the type of walker who is in it to commune with nature and look at pretty flowers and observe wildlife, I don't think you will enjoy these parks that much.

Reading of the three has the most small town, close to nature feel to me of the three. More gardens and trees and less dense than the other two.

Last edited by 495neighbor; 09-24-2015 at 06:21 PM..
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Old 09-24-2015, 06:14 PM
650 posts, read 476,938 times
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Wakefield has what seems like a decent, midcentury-ish downtown close to the commuter rail, but it never seems like there's a lot of foot traffic around there.
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Old 09-24-2015, 08:51 PM
Location: Mass
974 posts, read 1,369,954 times
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Friends live in Melrose and love it for its closeness, town center and proximity to Boston. IDK if ypur budget will get you near the downtown area, though. They bought a fixer-upper 8 years ago for high 300s.
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Old 09-25-2015, 06:14 AM
493 posts, read 402,253 times
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I would encourage you to hit a few open houses and check out the downtowns of each of these towns. Visit some shops and get a feel for the vibe yourself. I have been recommending some of these towns to posters on this forum and when they check it out, it is totally not what they are looking for. Keep in mind that you may not be in walking distance to the downtown area itself. The downtown areas in all of these towns are fairly small.
My brief summary of the towns:
Walkable town center - vibrant, non-chain restaurants, mom and pop stores, organic food and farmer's market options, arts, museums, etc. -All have walkable town centers. Melrose and Reading have more mom and pops and organic food options. Melrose and Wakefield have farmers markets (not too sure about Reading). None have museums or art galleries. Melrose would probably be the "artsiest" of the three with the Beebe Estate hosting art shows occasionally and a city orchestra. If you want real culture, you will have to go into the city.
Train to Boston - Melrose has the most transportation options with the orange line, buses, and three commuter rail stops. Wakefield has two commuter rail stops and a bus that goes to Oak Grove. Reading has one commuter rail stop and a bus that goes to Oak Grove.
A range of socioeconomic statuses and welcoming to everyone- Reading will be the least economically diverse, followed by Wakefield with Melrose having the most economic diversity. Based on my experiences with these towns/city, I would be very surprised if you found any of them to be unwelcoming.
Access to nature- Any town North of Boston will put you in short driving distance of nature galore. Wakefield has Breakheart and a small town forest. Reading has a town forest and Melrose has the Fells. IMO these are OK, but a short drive away will get you to the mountains of NH, the coast of Maine and beautiful spots in Mass like Plum Island, Cape Ann and Portsmouth.
Family friendly- All of these towns are family friendly. Reading has a great recreation program with a Town Faire in the fall and lots of events in the downtown. Wakefield has the lake, which serves as the epicenter of the town and many family events, and Melrose has many events downtown, including the Victorian Fair in the Fall.
Hope this is helpful and good luck!
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Old 09-25-2015, 07:03 AM
Location: MetroWest Boston
317 posts, read 298,043 times
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Our criteria was shockingly identical to yours when we moved back to the area about a year ago. Long story short, we found Natick to be the ideal match, and we haven't regretted our decision for a second.

Walkable town center - vibrant, non-chain restaurants, mom and pop stores, organic food and farmer's market options, arts, museums, etc. - Natick has a great and recently renovated town common, and especially during spring and summer, it's very active. Monday nights there is usually live music, Wednesdays a kid's theme band or event, several events throughout the year (Natick Days, Natick Art Fair, an event for nearly every holiday, etc.), and a year round farmer's market every Saturday (moved inside during the winter). There are a handful of nice independent restaurants, mom and pop shops, as well as Natick Center for Arts (TCAN, which hosts arts events and courses, intimate venue concerts, etc.), and a few art shops/drink paint type of places, etc). The downtown buildings recently received a facelift, and the whole area is great.

Train to Boston - Natick has two commuter rail stops, so chances are you will live close enough to walk or at least bike to one of them. It is commuter rail, so the schedule is less frequent and a ticket is a bit more than the T, but kids ride free, it runs on the weekend, and the Boston stops are key (Yawkey - front row service for Sox games which is the best, Back Bay, and South Station). If you do need more frequent service, you can drive ~ 20 min to a Newton green line stop, but this train ride actually takes the same or longer as riding commuter from Newton.

A range of socioeconomic statuses and welcoming to everyone- This was key for us, and we have certainly found it in Natick. It is a true mix of blue and white collar and diversity amongst its citizens. On my block we have a police liutenant, electrician, Boston attorney, software engineer, as well as a few retirees, and everyone is very friendly and gets along, and could care less about your background or occupation. If your're in, you're in. What this does for the town is offer a range of homes and neighborhoods, starting in the low 4's for a single family (cheaper for Condo), and runs the gamut of homes through the $1M+ range.

Access to nature- Many unfamiliar with Natick think of it as the Mall and all the stores on Rte 9. It certainly has that element, and I actually like having it there when I want it, but what you quickly realize is that you have access to that commercial center, but can avoid or easily get away from it when you want. The downtown area with the common as I mentioned above is quaint, and South Natick is even moreso. There are plenty outdoor spaces, including a state park built around one of the three big lakes in Natick, bike trails, and a large wildlife sanctuary offering miles of well-kept hiking trails. In addition, Natick is a great location for access to the rest of MA in addition to Boston, meaning within 30-90 minutes you have a lot of options, from outdoor hiking to beaches, etc.

Family friendly- We have a family, and this place has been great. Our older child moved after having a great base of friends, but was easlily welcomed into the Natick schools and quickly found a good group of friends. He said the bullying or general abrasiveness of kids he exerienced in our last place in the Midwest was virtually non-existent in Natick. We have been more than pleased with the school and teacher quality, as well as the quality of kid's sports and arts programs available through various organizations. In addition, as I mentioned above, the Common often runs family-oriented events. Go there on a Monday or Wednesday evening and the common is full of families on the lawn watching live music, having a pizza, etc.
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Old 09-25-2015, 07:26 AM
493 posts, read 402,253 times
Reputation: 654
Natick is a great suggestion, if you are OK looking West of the city. Natick has better commuting options to downtown Boston and Back Bay. After doing a quick Redfin search for SFH under 450K, I found 22 in Natick, 10 in Melrose, 9 in Reading and 11 in Wakefield, so Natick will give you more options as well.
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Old 09-25-2015, 01:32 PM
304 posts, read 657,605 times
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But isn't this the poster who is commuting to New Hampshire and Quincy? I don't think Natick would fit for that reason alone (although I agree it is a nice town).
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