Travel Log: Boston

Boston. Beantown. The birthplace of the American Revolution. Founded in 1630, Boston is one of the oldest cities in the US and the oldest city in Massachusetts. The area was originally inhabited by the Massachusetts tribe of Native Americans who were virtually wiped out by yellow fever and small pox brought by settlers soon after the arrival of Captain John Smith (Pocahontas anyone?). Puritans settled soon afterwards and became the Massachusetts Bay Company.

I’m not going to dig too much into the history, but let me hit the highlights: King Phillip’s War, Salem Witch Trials (in the area), the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere, and The Great Boston Fire. Boston was one of the first places that slaves landed in America and tensions rose rapidly between abolitionists, the Irish laborers, and freed slaves during the Civil War. Between 1880 and 1920, Boston’s population more than doubled from 362,000 to over 748,000 residents.

Home to many famous authors ranging from Julia Ward Howe, Isaac Asimov, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, Boston is the kind of place where you would write a novel or listen to poetry readings at a local craft cocktail bar. Because of its rich history it feels like intellectually stimulating conversations weave around every corner, sweater vests are the norm, and you can’t find a poor cup of coffee in all the city (not true because Dunkin’ Donuts are everywhere).

 

Due to all of this, this city fascinates me. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling this year for both work and pleasure, but similar to Philadelphia, Boston continues to stand out. I was there for a bit of a breather following my and my boyfriend’s birthday (we’re three days apart). Neither of us had ever been to the New England area so this was a perfect excuse to fly out. We only spent about two and a half days out there, but I wish it could’ve been a week. I fell in love with its brick buildings, tight, winding roads, and proximity to Cambridge. I admit that I’m totally projecting an idealistic image onto it, but there’s something about this city makes me not care (as much).

Okay, okay, I do care. Let me take off the rose-colored glasses for a second to mention that as with many big cities, Boston has a major inequality problem. In 2014, it topped the list of a Brookings study as the most unequal city in the U.S. Its high student population should be taken into account for its lowest 20 percent of income earners, but still, that’s huge. This divide falls along racial lines and this city is one of the most residentially segregated cities that scores incredibly low on social and economic mobility.

According to this Wired article:

“White families in Boston have a median net worth of more than $240,000 (likely based on home and business ownership), while African-American families have a median net worth of essentially nothing. More than 60 percent of all jobs in Boston are filled by (largely white) commuters, who are overrepresented in high-paying sectors like finance and technical services.”

But, things are currently looking up (hopefully). With initial funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Mayor’s Office is launching an Economic Mobility Lab with the goal “to embed in all city departments an ongoing commitment to data collection that will shed light on systemic racism as well as programs and policies that appear to mitigate its effects.That commitment will be designed to survive any change in mayoral leadership. Then the city can adopt policies and gather support for efforts to make the ladder of opportunity real in Boston.” This is huge because there appears to be nothing like this anywhere else in the country! That keeps me hopeful that real, substantial change can happen in this city that I’ve fallen in love with.

Instead of taking the touristy route, we wandered a lot. I’ve learned over the last two years with my boyfriend that we have very different exploring styles. I’m more of a wanderer while he’s a planner. The best time is spent somewhere in between. The two-and-a-half days in Boston were spent hopping from coffee shop to library to school building and back. We had some authentic lobster rolls in the Italian neighborhood, grabbed a couple books from the MIT bookstore, and got a chance to relax.

The Good

  • It’s Brick Heaven: Boston is filled with some of the most beautiful and classical architecture that I’ve ever seen. You can tell that this is such an old city because the vast majority of its buildings are built with brick and granite.
  • Its tourist traps are tinged in history. Because it’s such an old city, Boston’s touristy spots teach you a lot about American history.
  • Walkability: It’s incredibly flat, so walking 8 miles each day was no problem for us. Everything was fairly close together and there were always sites to see. Boston plans on becoming the most walkable city in the US by 2030. Currently, it sits at number three.
  • Boston Public Library: This library is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. One half is very old and feels like a place one would go to study the rich history of law. The other side is bright, colorful and interactive with a new anchor area on the first floor.
  • Distinct Neighborhoods: I love that each neighborhood has its own personality. LOVE!

The Bad

  • The Drivers are Awful: We didn’t do much riding in a car so I can’t comment on the congestion, but like most bigger cities, the drivers are awful!
  • Intellectual Hierarchy: This is such a double-edged sword. One one hand, I love the air of intellectualism, but on the other side, I can seen how this city could shut out those that are not on its presumed level. This is where the inequity piece comes in.
  • Cost of Living: Like most big cities, this is an expensive place to live. Most monthly rent for a standard 2 bedroom apartment is upwards of $2000.

Despite the negatives, I still deeply love this area. The history buff in me was jumping for joy as I wandered those streets filled with so much rich history. I’ll probably be back some time next year, so I can explore the area a little bit more.

Thanks for reading,

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