Thinking about living in a city? Read this first!

Ever wish someone would give you a real account of a city before you move there. Having lived all over the US over the last 16 years, I know everyone SHOULD! People often only think about the positives when considering living in a city or obvious negatives, like safety or price… no one tells you how buying groceries every week is going to be a giant pain in your ass or how you’d rather stab yourself in the eye with a spoon than haul your laundry across town on public transit.

Before we get a lot of hate mail, we love living here, but this list is some of the things people don’t consider prior to converting to city life. 

livinginboston

We were swayed when we decided on Boston as the next place we call home. Dr Hops and I are both scientists, and between biotech, universities, pharma, and hospitals, there are lots of science opportunities here… Which is why we moved. We checked all the obvious things, like safety of the different neighborhoods, general price differences, average commute times [lies!] and settled on where we live now.

YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE 

Certain areas might as well be in Narnia. All the guides I read and the information my company gave me touted the unique vibe every area in this small city had. I doubted it because lets be honest, Boston’s not that big but this is TOTALLY TRUE. You know why? It’s almost impossible to get to some areas of the city depending on where you’re coming from (unless you want to spend 60+ minutes going 3-4 miles). A friend lives across the city and it takes her an HOUR to get to my house. Another friend lives in a different neighborhood and there is NO EASY WAY TO GET THERE.

That’s not true, you say! There are always buses. HA! Yes, there are buses as well as an underground and overground tram system here in Boston. The thing no one tells you is that none of the trains or buses are really on time. So if you have more than one connection you’re pretty much screwed and can EASILY add on 20 minutes to whatever lies Google has told you. To make it to the friend above’s house, we have two exchanges by bus and train and the waits associated with each gets us close enough to walk, or we have to go all the way to the common and get on a T that goes near her.

bostontraffic

You then say, “but once you’re on the train you’ll definitely get there.” …. Haha.. Sorry… Give me a minute… Ahh, that was great.. NOPE! The trains here can “become an express” .. while you’re on them. I have NEVER been on a train headed to North Station and actually made it there. I think this is more my personal bad luck with trains, than a definitive rule, but it’s still annoying. Every time the train “becomes an express” or goes out of service at Park St and I either have to wait for another train, or walk.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like living here. Boston’s awesome, but I wish someone would have told me some of these things so I could consider them when someone else is moving our crap (i.e. my company and not us and Brewdog on a weekend).

YOU MIGHT STARVE, SO THINK AHEAD

This is something you seriously need to consider. A coworker is moving because they have a market not that far from his house but it’s PAST his house so when he needs to pick up one or two things after a long day in lab he has to walk 10-15 min past his house, shop, wait in line forever, and walk 10-15 minutes home. This adds over an hour on to an already long day. You know how this ends? You NEVER end up doing it.

If you do actually make it to the store, you have to prioritize heavy items, because if you’re coming from work, you’re probably stuck carrying anything you purchase back to your apartment. This means more trips to the store, and if you didn’t consider the additional time as in the example above, it’s a few more hours a week than you would have budgeted for this simple task. Some people I know use a delivery service simply because of the amount of time this would take up. They have all the heavy items that aren’t dependent on freshness delivered and then buy fresh fruits and veggies themselves. Those items are light/ easy to carry, which makes the scenario above easier to deal with.

TIMING OF TRAINS & BUSES

Sometimes I have very early morning experiments, meaning I need to get to lab prior to 6AM or even 5AM in some cases. On these days I either bike (more about that later), or if it’s the later of the two times, I take the train.. or uber if it’s too early for the train but horrible weather.

MBTA
MBTA examples thanks to Wiki. Note one train is above ground and driving with traffic. 

Keep in mind if your schedule is variable, that public transit might not run as early as you need to get to work, or as frequently as you need to commute between two locations (like school and work). Also, note that local sports events and fundraisers can drastically change commuting times. For us it’s Red Sox games and the Boston Marathon. Most of my building takes a vacation day on Marathon Monday because it’s horrible getting to downtown. A friend tried it last year, not wanting to waste the vacation day, and it took her 3 hours to get home.

HOW DRIVING IS SOMETHING OUT OF A DYSTOPIAN NOVEL

Now I know what you’re thinking, “just drive to get groceries.” That is confounded by the most confusing intersections I’ve ever seen in a city, and a lack of parking. This past winter a labmate of my husband decided to drive to lab on the weekend for a quick experiment. Public transportation would have taken her about 40-45 minutes, but once she got there she realized there was no where to park. Anywhere. It was winter an the snow hadn’t been cleared, so the spots that would have normally been free are now full of snow. So she drove all the way across town and back to her apartment, parked her car, and took the T back to lab.

This isn’t that Boston specific, normally if you have a city that’s very pedestrian friendly, it’s a nightmare for drivers.

The additional fees for parking your car is also something we hadn’t really anticipated. Some places offer a free spot (I think this is a myth as no one I know has this, but everyone says they knew someone once that did), but for most places that offer a single spot per apartment, you pay an additional fee per month. In a city like Boston, that fee can be >$300/month.

I have off street parking, but if you rely on resident parking you have to keep up with the cleaning schedule for the neighborhood. I have a friend who has a lot of trouble with this and gets her car towed all the time because of parking on the wrong side of the road, or since she never uses her car through the week, she simply forgets which day they are supposed to come through to clean the street.

BIKING

winterbikingboston
Image from Fox 15 news via google search. 

Biking in most of Boston isn’t actually that bad. There are dedicated bike paths around the city, but the problem is most people use this as additional space while driving.The winter weather that takes up a large portion of the year also compounds this. The biggest challenge for me, so far, is crossing busy intersections with 5+ streets meeting. I typically walk my bike through the crosswalks around these areas because I’ve seen too many people get hit (no one knows who’s turn it is, or think they can take the “slight right” on red without looking).

DOG FRIENDLY

This means different things to different people, but for me, it’s having the services that a dog needs (vet, grooming, etc.) readily available in an area that has housing that allows pets. For the most part, Boston is very dog friendly. Your pet, if well behaved on a leash, and not peak hours, can ride the train and the bus with you. Most parks allow on-leash dogs, and they have a special program that makes many of the parks around the area “off leash dog parks” during certain hours of the day (if you pay a small fee).

The hardest part of “dog friendly” is getting Brewdog to appointments (in all weather). As I mentioned, public transit isn’t super reliable for getting to or from a location at a specified time, so I normally had a lot of buffer time. I can walk her to her appointment, but that limits the number of places she can go drastically. I could drive her, but most vet offices I’ve seen don’t have dedicated lots, so if her appointment is during peak hours in a neighborhood with “resident only” parking it makes it much more complicated. This was a major hassle when pet sitting a friend’s cat, who also had to go to the vet.

This isn’t that big of a deal in warmer months and was obviously something we considered prior to moving in our current apartment, but she needed to get in emergently this past winter and couldn’t walk that far in the bitter cold, so we had to carry her. We had assumed it wouldn’t be that hard to park in winter months, but mounds of snow all over the city definitely make commuting anywhere by car even harder than normal.

Because our commute can be variable, we end up having a walker come and take care of Brewdog in the middle of the day. It gets her a little more exercise and allows us not to worry if the T is running late (again). The only downfall is that it’s pretty expensive to keep up 5 walks a week and a last minute walk because of a delay at work or because of transit is even more expensive than the normal rate.

(I had a horrible experience with my first walking service in Boston, which I might blog about another day)

FINAL VIEW ON CITY LIVING

Overall, I’m very happy with our move. Boston has been great! I do wish I knew a few of the things above, or had thought them out a little better. We really do like it here though. There are always activities around the city, and pretty much everything outdoors is dog friendly. There is something for everyone, and the people here are very friendly. I’ve never felt unsafe walking alone or at night.

 

 

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