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Gentrification in the suburbs: Who's next?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 24, 2011 08:06 AM

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Arlington, Franklin, and to some extent Needham are all classic examples of blue collar towns that have gone uptown.

And let's not forget urban neighborhoods like Davis Square, the South End and now Jamaica Plain as well.

Time to get out our crystal balls and peer into the future here. If you are buyer looking to get in early on a town on the rise here in Greater Boston, where should you be house hunting right now?

Should you be hitting open houses in Watertown, which is basking in the heat of the Cambridge market, or Medford, which someday might get a green line stop or two?

I thought Sean-in-West-Roxbury set up the question nicely yesterday in his comment on my post on gentrification in Boston's suburbs.

I think the really interesting question is "What town will be the next Arlington?" That is, what town will see a fairly rapid transformation from a decidedly blue collar town into a desirable suburb within a short, 10 year period, and what are the factors that drive such a transformation. I think Arlington has the revitalization of Central and Kendall to thank for its success, but overall, the trend seems to apply to other areas as well. Clearly, that's not a likely repeatable event, so will it happen elsewhere? Will there be a sufficient amount of potential homeowners looking for more space, greenery and SFHs balanced against proximity that you'll see significant number of new residents who change the character of the town? And will they stay? (I think that's the knock on Roslindale and West Rox, because while the character of these areas has certainly changed a lot over the last 10 years, they have a hard time retaining growing families due to the vagaries of the school assignment system).

I don't know what towns this will be, but if I had to guess they'd have the following characteristics:

1) They have decent schools ... good enough so that people don't freak out about it and feel like with some effort and personal attention, they can be "just as good" as some of the towns with excelling systems baked in

2) they have access ... these days we're talking commuter rail ... 25 minutes to downtown Boston on a weekday by train or car

3) they have a variety of housing stock, from bungalows to high end colonials - allowing for entry-level pricing to get the ball rolling but in the context of bigger, nicer homes

4) they have personality ... these areas gain momentum when they get a certain vibe that connects with newcomers. Things like festivals, farmers markets, and a decent downtown are all part of this.

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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