Housing hunt: Exploring Boston's neighborhoods

by Erica Mixon / Beacon Correspondent • March 26, 2014

It’s rare to hear a student say they enjoy apartment hunting. Dealing with ever-increasing rent and exploring the questionable domains of some messy occupants tend to add to the frustration. With basic knowledge of Boston’s neighborhoods and surrounding towns, however, it’s easier to navigate through the process, and to find a fit that meshes with your top priorities, and most importantly, your budget.

Cambridge

Average rent (1 bedroom) $2,300

Like Allston, Cambridge is a cultural hub. Peppered with music venues, bars, breweries, and restaurants, Cambridge has a nightlife that caters to young people.

Hayley Rosenthal, a senior writing, literature, and publishing major, said she often takes advantage of this culture, naming Bukowski Tavern and Puritan & Company as her favorite places to eat and drink.

“Central Square is fun and has a lot of hidden gems, like bars you wouldn’t think are cool until you actually go in them,” Rosenthal said. “If you like the underground new music scene, Cambridge is the place to be.”

Music venues in Cambridge range from The Middle East in Central Square, which functions as a Lebanese restaurant, nightclub, and well-known concert venue, to The Sinclair in Harvard Square, a two-tiered space with bars on both levels.

For Rosenthal, however, Cambridge isn’t worth the 30-50 minute commute to classes from her apartment outside of Kendall Square, which includes a bus ride and a T ride.

“I spend the majority of time commuting downtown, but I know that it’s where I live in Cambridge. I happen to live far from everything,” said Rosenthal.

Cambridge is approximately seven square miles, resulting in a wide variety of travel times. Although Rosenthal’s commute can be up to 50 minutes, someone living near the T station in Central may get to the Emerson campus in just 10 to 15 minutes.

According to Rosenthal, living off of the Red Line makes the trip to campus only slightly easier.

“It’s faster, more predictable [than the Green Line], and tells you when the train is coming,” she said.

Beacon Hill

Average rent (1 bedroom) $2,744

Cobblestone streets and historic buildings make up Beacon Hill’s old-town charm. The 15-minute walk to campus may elicit some huffing and puffing, but Beacon Hill’s proximity to campus makes it a viable option for Emerson students.

“I don’t have to get a gym membership,” Isabella Pierangelo, a junior marketing communication major, said of her hilly commute.

According to Pierangelo, Beacon Hill is considerably less commercialized than other areas of Boston, with small businesses like boutiques, antique stores, and family-owned restaurants in lieu of chain establishments.

The corporations that do emerge in Beacon Hill, however, have positive reputations. Pierangelo says the Starbucks in the middle of Cambridge Street has the friendliest and happiest staff in Boston.

One of the noteworthy aspects of Beacon Hill is its aesthetic appeal, but this charm may come at a price. Pierangelo said her apartment has a variety of common problems for an old building, like slanted floors, leaky ceilings, and mice.

This, however, is a symptom of Beacon Hill’s rich history. Pierangelo said the community has positive quirks, too: small, hidden parks are tucked between buildings, and Bobby the Pig, a semi-famous pet pig of a Boston resident with his own Instagram account, often traipses the cobblestone sidewalks.

“There’s always something new to be discovered in Beacon Hill,” said Pierangelo.

Allston

Average rent (1 bedroom) $1,499

Before moving to Allston, junior Yamuna Hopwood said she experienced it primarily as a place to party on the weekends.

“I thought it was a slum,” Hopwood, a marketing communication major, said. “But once I started going there during the daytime, Allston transformed into a really cool little community.”

Steeped in a variety of cultures, Allston is home to cafés, thrift stores, hookah lounges, music venues, and bars. Hopwood named In House Café as her favorite place in Boston, where she often writes.

“Whenever I look especially tired or frazzled, the owner will give me a free coffee,” said Hopwood.

Out of Boston’s neighborhoods, Allston has the highest percentage of young adults, with 65 percent of residents in the 20-34 age range, according to Boston Redevelopment Authority. 

“It’s a very young community, which has its good and bad [sides],” Hopwood said. “If you want to go out, there’s always something going on. It’s a lot more lively at night than the Emerson area, where everything tends to close a lot earlier.”

With that active nightlife, however, can bring some seediness. Hopwood said that she sees more homeless people in her neighborhood than around the Emerson campus, and it’s common to hear drunken partygoers shouting as they stumble out of Allston bars, clubs, and house parties.

“This morning when I was walking, a guy running down the street shouted, ‘Sometimes your father isn’t really your father,’” said Hopwood. “That kind of stuff happens every day.”

Another drawback of Allston is the run-down quality of some apartments. According to Hopwood, many students board in multi-family homes built in the early 1900s, with infrastructure adjusted awkwardly to modern needs. Hopwood’s four-bedroom apartment has a total of two functional electrical outlets.  

“[Allston] is a good area that hasn’t been kept up at all, but it’s definitely getting better,” Hopwood said.

Jamaica Plain

Average rent (1 bedroom) $1,846

Located off of the Orange Line, Jamaica Plain is a historic neighborhood with a diverse cultural community—over a quarter of its population is Hispanic, according to Boston Redevelopment Authority. Characterized by colorful triple-decker homes, the neighborhood’s cultural mecca is reflected particularly in the restaurants and stores on Centre Street, which range from late-night Chinese restaurants like Food Wall, to Cuban fare at El Oriental de Cuba.

“It’s lively,” Ashu Rai, a junior visual and media arts major, said of his neighborhood. “Especially along Centre Street, there are quite a few things to do.”

Besides a variety of ethnic restaurants, Jamaica Plain is also known for its large, historic parks, including Jamaica Pond, Arnold Arboretum, and Franklin Park.

“Jamaica Pond is a really nice place to go for a run,” Rai said, adding that even the walk from his apartment on Mozart Street to the Stony Brook T station is scenic, with a lot of greenery.

According to Rai, the commute from his apartment to the Emerson campus is about 25 minutes on the Orange Line.

“The Orange Line is awesome and gets me to school quickly,” Rai said. “I’m hoping to live in JP next year because I really like it.”

Brookline

Average rent (1 bedroom) $1,803

Also known as an area for families, Brookline borders six of Boston’s neighborhoods, including Jamaica Plain and Allston. Brookline has a distinctly suburban atmosphere with tree-lined streets and multi-million dollar, single-family homes — as well as a reputation for being expensive. The Boston Globe reported that the average price for a single-family Brookline home in 2013 was over $1.2 million. 

Matt Buckley, a junior writing, literature, and publishing major living on Verndale Street, said his favorite thing about the area is the quietness. The family-orientated nature of Brookline can sometimes have its drawbacks for students, though.

“During my first night in Brookline, we received a noise complaint from our neighbors while having a couple of friends over,” Buckley said. “I suppose it was their way of welcoming us to the neighborhood.”

Brookline offers a variety of areas to explore, including Brookline Village and Coolidge Corner, known for excellent shopping, food, and nightlife. According to Buckley, the Coolidge Corner Theatre is a fun place to go on the weekends, where they often show indie films and old classics.

South End

Average rent (1 bedroom) $2,340

Known for its charming brownstone apartments, fine dining, and rich culture, the South End is a historical neighborhood, home to young professionals and families. Located south of Back Bay, the area is most easily accessible by bus.

“The Silver Line bus is daunting at first, but easy to figure out,” said Rachel Birkenthal, a junior marketing communication major who lives in the South End. From Birkenthal’s apartment on West Concord Street, it’s about a 20-minute walk to Emerson’s campus, or a 15-minute bus ride.

The South End has a thriving theatre scene, with Boston Center for the Arts based out of Tremont Street, a variety of cafés and restaurants, and 30 parks, according to The City of Boston’s official website.

Birkenthal said while it’s difficult to find a Dunkin’ Donuts or a Starbucks in the South End, independently run businesses like Flour Bakery and The South End Buttery are plentiful, where owners know their regular customers by name.

The South End has a reputation as a cultural hub, but also as a quiet and safe family neighborhood.

“I don’t think there’s a bad part of South End,” Birkenthal said. “I always feel safe.”