Won#039;t you be our neighbor?

by Beacon Staff • February 4, 2009

bBeacon Hill/b

Since leaving the nest, I've tried to imitate the comforts of home. I filled my dorm with family photos and attempted, unsuccessfully, to imitate my mother's cooking in a Piano Row common room. During my search for an apartment, I looked for a place where I would feel as close to home as I could. When I entered my would-be apartment in Beacon Hill, a warm smell of living brushed my nose. Someone was cooking with a lot of spices (garlic!); laundry was spinning in the basement, adding a fabric softener smell, and the May breeze was bouncing off imperfections in the walls-cracks and knicks that now bring me close to home.

The Hill has its ups and downs. In me and my calves' opinion, there are more ups. When I tell people I live in Beacon Hill, I see dollar signs in their eyes. But an apartment in Beacon Hill, with thorough research and enough roommates, can cost the same as an apartment in Cambridge or Somerville. The space may be a little bit tighter, but living there pays me back in so many ways.

My apartment is a seven-minute walk from campus, so I can sleep in and not have to worry about the tempermental T. Although it takes a little longer to walk back home, the uphill hike is good for the glutes (yes, the butt muscles) and redeems my guilty couch potato ways. If you like having Animal House-like blowouts, this quiet community is not for you. However, if you want a place that is close to campus, that has a healthy dusting of convenience stores and laundromats and where the barista has your perfect cup waiting when you enter the coffee shop, Beacon Hill is the place for you. i-TC/i

bAllston/b

The day I moved into my duplex in Allston, I walked to one of two nearby furniture stores to begin furnishing my room. On the walk back, my whistling of "Zippe-dee-do-dah" was interrupted when I kicked an obviously used female diaphragm into a grimy gutter. I was able to get my furniture for a cut rate from an outlet catering specifically to students, but my shoe touched some classy lady's private garbage. This is Allston: cheap living options juxtaposed with dirt.

Before I moved to Allston from Emerson's campus, the only times I'd gone out that far on the B line (the Harvard Ave. stop, about 45 minutes from Emerson) were to party at a house no one cared about trashing. At an Allston bash, vomiting on the porch and accidentally spilling a keg's-worth of beer are perfectly acceptable behaviors. I didn't think it was a place real people actually lived.

But I do live here, mostly because rent is temptingly cheap for spacious living; I pay $560 for my room in a three-bedroom house, and the more people you add to a house, the cheaper-and bigger-it can be.

Because of the cheap rent, my neighbors are a Russian roulette of other college kids, drug dealers and low income families-none of whom have called the cops on our large parties, a huge relief for any frequent hostesses and hosts living in a giant house perfect for parties.

Along Harvard and Brighton avenues, there's a mix of artists and bros. Hipsters crowd the sidewalks outside Harper's Ferry to see shows by bands I've never heard of. They also stage fun, "anti-establishment" summer activities like the epic squirt gun battle in the middle of the largest intersection in Allston. The bros and their brochicks squeal and flirt outside bars like Kells and Wonder Bar while Pink's "Get This Party Started" thumps their cocktail glasses. I never know if someone's meaty arm or sharp high heel will nail me as I walk past to get home from the T.

The best part about Allston is its array of international food options including Italian, French, Asian-vegan and even Burmese (I don't recommend it). My roommate and I hit up the nearby Sunset Bar and Grill at least once a week for their sangria and sweet potato fries. Once our bellies are full, we can count on Silhouette's, a genuine dive bar that serves free popcorn and sinfully cheap pitchers. If paying by the drink isn't your style, there's Blanchard's, a Willy Wonka's factory of liquor options.

The next morning, you can even get cat-called by the scummy bums that wait outside said liquor store on your way to Bagel Rising, a good place for some vegan-optional breakfast. When living in Allston, you just gotta take the good with the drunk and the ugly. i-GD/i

bCoolidge Corner/b

For students who have spent their Emerson years immersed in the noise and commotion of downtown Boston, the idea of packing up and moving to the picket-fence suburbs seems little more than a whimsical, far-off dream, nestled in their consciousness alongside plans to plant a garden, purchase a minivan and raise two-and-a-half kids.

However, there's no need for off-campus Emersonians to resign themselves to living in squalor before they land a cushy job: All the comforts of suburbia can be found in Coolidge Corner on the C branch of the Green Line. Located in the heart of Brookline, the Coolidge Corner area is quaint enough to keep its resident young families and senior citizens content while offering a reasonable amount of hustle and bustle for the collegiate crowd. Quiet streets lined with Victorian houses are only 20 minutes from Emerson by T, and just several minutes' walk from such popular spots as Zaftig's Delicatessen, Upper Crust Pizzeria and the film-hipster mecca of the Coolidge Corner Theater. Given the amenities the area has to offer, prospective residents will be surprised at how affordable living there is when split between several housemates: Grandparent-worthy places go just over $600 a month, if you're lucky, to slightly under $800. Also, for aspiring gourmands living on a budget, Trader Joe's and Stop Shop offer inexpensive nourishment right around the corner.

Granted, some aspects of life in Coolidge Corner take getting used to. Many shops and eateries are closed Saturdays, in keeping with the religious schedule of Brookline's substantial Jewish population. Also, students looking to party risk offending potentially crotchety elderly neighbors (but fret not: Allston's messy parties are conveniently walkable). Not all the ingrained elements of this halcyon neighborhood are necessarily unfavorable, though: Emersonians can save money on alarm clocks by waking to the throaty idling of school buses picking up elementary schoolers down the block. i-SK/i

bCambridge/b

Many who dream of living in Cambridge immediately picture a certain scene from Good Will Hunting, wherein Matt Damon and Minnie Driver eat Mr. Bartley's cheeseburgers, fumble around a joke shop and scream cutely about being the victims of child abuse. But newsflash, fellas: Mr. Bartley's is too expensive now. Here's the reality.

Most houses where Emerson students live in Cambridge-yes, real, live houses with scary basements, vinyl siding and, surely, memories! Aw!-are around Central Square. These can be relatively affordable (a friend and her three roommates each pay about $600 per month for rent). This will place you minutes away from a nice night of bad local music at the Middle East Upstairs; a post-concert drunken romp at one of the area's many dangerous Indian food places; and a nice place to pass out (the underground, warm Central Square T stop-four stops from Emerson).

Harvard Square is probably a nice place to live, but no one there will ever know because most residents are wealthy enough to have you killed for asking. The rest are dying from their

apartment's "charm" (lead poisoning), or rarely leave because of its "quirk" (actually a halfway house). A Harvard Square basement apartment runs me $700 drier every month.

Speaking of the homeless, this is how you will start many sentences while living in Cambridge. For example: "Speaking of the homeless, I saw two of them fighting over a Wendy's barbecue sauce packet outside of my apartment this morning." The closer you live to the Central Square T, the more this will happen.

Many would ask, is Cambridge unsafe? The answer is no, ever since they got rid of that guy who was holding people at knifepoint on Mount Auburn Street a few months ago. And I'm sure no criminal will ever think to do that again, especially not one of the many hundred desperate homeless people in Cambridge, where, like most large cities, safety is of no concern, no no.

If you survive, Cambridge is also a wonderful place to disavow modernity. Jerry Bruckheimer films do not yet exist in its theatres, as the local Brattle Theatre instead opts to only show black-and-white films of Frenchmen slowly drinking from cups.

Big box retailers have also not yet surfaced, but burritos and falafel have, allowing for the unique experience of your complete dietetic transformation into a "Lebanexican" in just weeks. i-BC/i

bEast Boston/b

For most of Boston's college students, the Blue Line exists to get you to the airport and nowhere else. But people like me live there, not just airplanes.

Life in East Boston can be isolating. Few Emerson students have apartments here and, although the consistently punctual Blue Line helps deliver me to campus in 20-25 minutes, it's a 50 minute trip to Packard's Corner in Allston and a three-subway-line trek to Cambridge-journeys I have to stomach if I want to see my friends. They're loath to meet me in Eastie; besides the Italian and Latin American eateries, there are few options for entertainment.

Before I moved in, I was worried airplane noise would disturb my beauty rest. But planes fly in and out over the harbor, not the neighborhood, so noise is minimal. Still, the airport has an effect: it keeps the rent down.

Eastie is gloriously cheap. My two-bedroom apartment goes for $1,100 a month, and besides the 1970s paint job, it's quite nice. In East Boston, you're not paying to be in the middle of things, like in Back Bay, or to be hip, like in Cambridge.

That's not to say that Eastie has no charm. The neighborhood is predominantly Latino, and if the North End is Little Italy, East Boston is Little Mexico-minus Hanover Street's tourist-glazed glitz. There are dozens of small supermarkets selling groceries and authentic Latin American goods at a peso a dozen. They're all fun to explore.

If you don't mind living across the city from your friends, and if you're seeking austerity close to campus, the Blue Line could take you home, not just to the airport. i-CG/i

bMission Hill/b

The E branch of the Green Line is used by most Emerson students for excursions to the Museum of Fine Arts, where they can soak up culture. However, lurking two stops down the line is Mission Hill, a fascinating combination of the brocean of Northeastern students and former Roxbury residents who have made the move over the hill.

The allure of the neighborhood for Emersonians is that rent is lower than in other parts of the city. In my case, rent ran around $500-sans utilities-a month for my share of a three-bedroom apartment with a living room, dining room, kitchen and porch.

The drawback to my nicely priced palace where I spent my sophomore year was that it rested neatly atop the biggest hill known to mankind, anywhere, ever. Hauling books or groceries up the incline had me wondering daily: can I afford a Sherpa? Unfortunately, there is no listing in the Yellow Pages for such a service.

The collegiate schedule favors getting up late and getting home later. There were times when I cursed the half-hour schlep from Emerson, which led me to the neighborhood with the most aggravated assaults in the city. In the part of Roxbury that I called home, there were 450 assaults reported to the Boston Police Department from January to June. Granted, the area was surpassed in murders and rapes by Dorchester and Blue Hill Avenue, but in terms of personal safety, a gun is a gun, regardless of what happens after it is waved in your face. i-AW/i