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We asked, you answered: This is what it’s like to live in Boston

Renting Allston-Brighton Back Bay Boston Brookline Charlestown North End South End
Some residents had a long list of complaints. Others had a long list of loves. Scott Eisen/Bloomberg

Whether you’ve lived in Boston for decades or just made it your home in the past year, there’s a lot about the city to feel strongly about. 

We asked readers who recently moved to the city what their biggest struggles have been in the first year. In the past 18 months, new residents moved to the city when the pandemic influenced nearly every aspect of life. To get the perspectives of those who know Boston both during and prior to the new normal, we also asked longtime residents what it was about the city that they loved the most when they first moved here. 

Some new residents, like Chris W. of Brighton, had a long list of complaints about their new home, including the “cost of living, housing, heating, food, and transportation. Boston has the worst public transit system and the most expensive!”

Others lamented how the pandemic had negatively affected their acclimation. Jared from Saugus moved to Boston after living in New York for work. Since his return, he said, he’s noticed that things haven’t been the same. 

“When I had the chance to come back to the area, I jumped on it. But it wasn’t the same place I left years before,” he said. “It was extremely difficult to find a new place to live that didn’t cost a fortune. The pandemic changed the landscape of the restaurant and bar scene. I hope Boston can return to the former glory that it was.”

Longtime Boston residents, however, were more enthusiastic about the city — as it was when they moved in and as it is today. 

“The history, the culture, the food, and the fact that it was the exact opposite of the town where I grew up in Georgia,” said Jameson Moreau of Lynn. “Not provincial, nor uneducated, nor was it unwelcoming. That was in 1987 and I have loved it ever since while tolerating the T and the bitter winter winds, but it runs much deeper than I would have expected. It will always be my spiritual home, and [I] am proud to say that, yes, I am indeed a Bostonian.” 

What it’s like to get around

A common complaint from the new residents who responded to the survey was that it was difficult learning how to navigate the streets. With the area’s infamous rotaries and complicated intersections, readers said, even GPS was no match and Boston drivers only made it worse. 

“Navigating roads is hard via car. Google Maps is not skilled,” said Mike from Brookline. “Drivers turn left into oncoming traffic at green lights and people change lanes without looking or signaling. People also don’t merge when lanes are ending but instead just maintain speed and ride the lane line with no apparent awareness of the traffic around them. No one is willing to miss a turn. There are also a lot of weird intersections with tons of turns, one-way streets that go opposite directions from an intersection, streets that have one name this way and another name the other.”

Longtime Boston residents didn’t dispute those points but instead focused on the city’s walkability. 

“To be able to walk pretty much anywhere is great,” said Carole from Brookline, who’s lived here for more than 10 years. “It is a city, but it didn’t feel like one.”

Shea, a decadelong South Boston resident, also praised the city’s accessibility. “I loved that you could enjoy all the big city flavor without the crazy commutes or being constrained to a single neighborhood. It’s got the culture and life of a large city with the feel of a small town.”

When you’re not in a car, there’s more about the city you’re open to seeing, said Ray Stetkiewicz of Charlestown. “Fantastic explorability. So much to see, new and old, and you can and should just walk around to take it all in,” he said. “Boston is not really that big. Having always been a visitor before, living here lets you slow down and really appreciate what you would have just driven past before.”

Sarah of Brookline and several other readers also mentioned the T as a decent way to get around, faults and all. 

“There was so much to do and so many places to explore,” she said. “ I was also very excited about the availability of public transit to get around relatively easily.”

What it’s like to experience the culture and people

The last year has been a difficult one to move to a new place and meet new people. That’s a sentiment several readers expressed. For one reader, the biggest hurdle has been “rude people.” 

“It seems to us most Boston residents have a false sense of superiority,” the reader said. 

Longtime residents, however, don’t think the reputation is fully earned. Liz, who moved as a young woman to the North End more than a decade ago, said Bostonians were very welcoming. 

“Even though it is a city, it had a small-town feel in places due to the little older neighborhoods like the North End. People were really friendly, and I loved the college town vibe,” she said. “As a single female living alone, my neighbors looked out for me. My landlord said to me when I moved in, ‘If anybody gives you trouble, you tell ’em you know Frankie, and I’ll take care of it!’ Moving to Boston from a small town, I felt safe and never lonely there.”

Sydney, who has lived in Allston and Brookline, said the small neighborhoods drew her to the city. 

“The amount of community programming — it feels impossible to live in a ‘dull’ neighborhood,” she said. “There’s always something happening all across the city. Pretty fantastic!”

What readers love about Boston

Overall, longtime Bostonians had a lot to say about the city they love, praising the food, history, people, and even the weather.

For Jay in Quincy, the biggest draw was its lobster rolls: “I’m originally from Pittsburgh, PA, so basically the Midwest, and I immediately fell in love with lobster rolls. It might sound silly, but you don’t find them in PGH, and they bring about a certain sense of American summer nostalgia for me.”

Jane Piercy of Brookline also grew up in the Midwest and said she came to love Boston for its weather. “I grew up in the Midwest, where it is cloudy and extremely cold for most of the winter. After more than 30 years in Boston, I still appreciate all the sunny winter days and relatively warm winter days.”

Weather permitting, Boston is a great place to see the sites in your own backyard, said Amanda from the North End. “There’s an energy here that’s simultaneously very serious and very raucous and playful. People here work super hard to excel, but when a Bostonian lets their hair down, watch out! The culture and history are also intoxicating — taking the old light-rail trolleys, walking the Freedom Trail, the gorgeous old buildings — the ambiance can’t be beat. And the food — seafood, cannolis, beer, all of it is super tasty in Boston.”

Tim Kane lived in Boston for more than 40 years and still thinks fondly of the communities he was part of while residing in Back Bay and the South End. “I moved from the Back Bay (Exeter and Comm. Ave.) to the South End on the Bicentennial in 1976. The gay community of the South End was one of joy, creativity, resourcefulness, and a desire to create a destination. Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe was a metaphor for the neighborhood.” He named Greeks, Lebanese, Black, Asian, Hispanic, and homeless communities among those who “shared the streets and restaurants.”

“There were not the baby carriages you see today, trudging up the wicked steps to parlor level,” Kane said. “When I lived on the south side of Tremont, the chickens and roosters would jump from fire escape to fire escape, waking you in the morning. … Nothing can ever substitute for what Boston has been in my life.”

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