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Has your town been gentrified?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis June 23, 2011 09:06 AM

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My brother Ben and I grew up in the suburbs here in the 1970s, long before Greater Boston became an international magnet for the upwardly mobile.

While I returned to the area after graduate school to work in newspapers, Ben left for college and never looked back, pursuing a medical career that took him to Nashville, Baltimore and Chicago.

So when we all gathered at my house in Natick earlier this week for a rare family get-together, I was particularly intrigued at Ben's shock at some of the dramatic changes he noticed in towns he last knew as a teenager.

Ben barely recognized Franklin, which, back in the 1970s was as blue collar a town as they come, with a respectable but hardly hip downtown.

That's all changed, of course. Real estate values have soared over the past few decades in Franklin as the homes have gotten bigger and its once dull downtown has filled up with restaurants and other amenities.

And Franklin is hardly alone, with a number of other towns within the 495 and 128 beltways having undergone equally dramatic demographic changes.

Needham is another one that comes to mind. Once a solidly middle income town, with its share of slab ranches and other modest homes built for returning GIs after World War II, it now has far more in common with Wellesley than with Framingham.

For that matter, Natick, my hometown now, is undergoing some dramatic changes of its own.

And those are three just many potential examples out there - I am sure there are others you are thinking of right now as you read this.

Generalizations are tricky, but back in the 1970s, Greater Boston looked like any other aging industrial area facing a slow but seemingly irreversible demise.

Sure, we know now, with hindsight, that the seeds of the computer revolution had already been sown back then, but the resurgence of Boston and its suburbs really only became clear in the 1980s as high-tech replaced manufacturing as the region's growth engine.

The battle over Whole Foods in Jamaica Plain may grab the headlines - after all it fits easily with all our stereotypes about what gentrification supposedly involves.

Yet it's pretty clear this is just the tip of the iceberg of a larger demographic shift that has been at work now for decades across the Boston area.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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

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