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Boston: Better or More Boring Now?

Posted by Scott Van Voorhis July 22, 2014 08:33 AM

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Boston is a better city in many ways, but is it also more boring? Ever higher home and condo prices mean only an increasingly narrow demographic of well-off renters and buyers can afford to live in a growing number of neighborhoods.

It is a question readers are arguing about on the comment board of this blog. My post about how San Francisco's crazy prices could be a sign of things to come in Boston got the discussion rolling.

"Bleacher seats to a Sox game were $3 in 1971," wrote Tom Murphy. "It was pretty provincial then as well. We're a lot more cosmopolitan than we were, and that comes at a price, financial and otherwise."

Certainly a lot has changed in the Hub of the Universe over the past three decades.

The old Combat Zone, that collection of seedy strip clubs and porno shops, is long gone, replaced by the Ritz-Carlton condo towers, the Kensington, and other luxury high-rises, as well as some spiffed up old theaters.

The days when Downtown Crossing was Boston's main shopping thoroughfare are a distant memory now, with the Filene's building preserved, but the store gone. Filene's Basement is gone as well.

Here too, as in much of downtown Boston, the rough edges are getting polished over with new luxury condo and office towers.

The girder underpinning the old Central Artery were recycled years ago, replaced by a new underground highway system, with the Greenway above. (OK, I am probably nuts, but I sometimes miss the rusty old elevated highway - the views of the city and the skyline were gorgeous.)

You can even swim in the harbor now. You would have been nuts to take a dive back in the 80s, when it was one of the most turgid and contaminated waterways in the country.

Still, it also cost a lot less to live in Boston then, with real estate prices not yet having gone into overdrive. (Here's the old Central Artery, since replaced by the Greenway.)

Central Artery.jpg

If you couldn't afford the Back Bay, there was always the rest of the city, from the Fenway to South Boston to East Boston.

With Eastie hot now and Southie prices out of site, not so much anymore.

OK, back to that debate the other day on the comments board.

Apartments - yes, that's his handle - got the discussion going:

"Besides expensive, do you know what else the city has become? Boring. That would have been unimaginable thirty years ago."

Turns out, apartments was talking about sister city, San Francisco.

But a couple others turned the discussion around to Boston.

Icpshootyz believes Boston is both better and more interesting today.

"What is your definition of boring? The city has more events than ever. More entertainment options (albeit of the non-"adult" variety). Better restaurants. More food trucks and food festivals. Cleaner parks. Less crime. As someone who lives in the city I find it much less than boring. And I doubt the old days were more exciting by most people's definitions."

But Tom Murphy, cited earlier, is skeptical that it has all been pure, unalloyed progress.

"There isn't much vacant land and fewer vacant lots within reasonable commuting distance to Boston and Cambridge, period. Those that are cost a lot more than $300K. It is an order of magnitude more expensive here than it was when I was a kid in the 60's and 70's.

It was also a backwater then, too. Boring? That depends. Some of the things that were of interest to me then are not the same as those that interest me now, but that's generational. And those that still interest me cost a helluva lot more: bleacher seats to a Sox game were $3 in 1971. It was pretty provincial then as well: we're a lot more cosmopolitan than we were, and that comes at a price, financial and otherwise."

So whats your take? Is Boston better, more boring, or both?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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