What makes a neighborhood block a great place to live? Well, most of the time, the block is full of neighbors who take care of their homes and who take an interest in their communities. Often, these blocks are densely populated, and it’s not by coincidence that many of them are located on one-way streets that don’t go anywhere – these aren’t roads that people use to cut through on their way to I-93.
All of Boston’s neighborhoods have blocks that fit these criteria. Here are brief summaries of five of the best blocks in Boston, plus another one that’s bound for greatness.
Green Street, Jamaica Plain – This is on the list because someday, Green Street and the surrounding blocks are bound to be one of the coolest neighborhoods in Boston. Right now, it’s a street full of empty or run-down buildings along with a couple of single-room occupancy hotels (remember those?). But, the location is prime for development – it’s near the Green Street Orange Line station, there is a new condo project called Bartlett Square across the street at one end (with a yoga studio on the first floor), and the Canto 6 Bakery and a neighborhood quickie-market at the other. And, it’s only a block toRuggiero’s Market and two blocks from Jamaica Plain’s always poppin’ Midway Cafe. (That the Boston Police Department’s District E13 headquarters is on the block helps, too.)
The Green Street neighborhood is far enough from Egleston Squarethat you don’t have to fight through traffic to get in and out of there but close enough so you can visit there on a weekend to do your shopping. (And, you’ll never have an unmet need for car repairs and tire replacements on Green Street – there are about ten chop shops within the same one-square mile.)
Warwick Street, Roxbury – Federick Douglass Square is what real estate agents call a “bookend neighborhood” – it’s at the edge of the South End. (Bay Village is the other bookend.) It’s not large enough to stand on its own but has defined borders and has housing stock of a unique style.
The streets in this neighborhood are filled with 125-year old three-story single-family homes in the Queen Anne style, which is probably surprising to many people who think they have to go to the South End to find them. Many of these homes were built for the “urban poor”, or as “social reformer” Robert Treat Paine, Jr. explained, “better homes for the masses of plain people.”
The block is populated by a small group of involved neighbors who tend gardens in their spare time, as well as students from nearbyNortheastern University and young professionals looking for affordable rents in a convenient neighborhood.
Charlesgate East, The Fenway – When outsiders think of “The Fenway”, they are thinking of Fenway Park, of course, but Bostonians know that it’s a neighborhood, first.
The Fenway is split in two. East Fenway is the area that encompasses Northeastern University, Museum of Fine Arts, and part of the Longwood Medical Area. West Fenway is where Fenway Park is located, along with several densely-populated streets (named after Scottish cities and towns) and Boylston Street – a mix of retail and restaurants and, now, large residential projects including 1330 Boylston and Trilogy. The Back Bay Fens lies between them.
On the East Fenway side, where the Fenway meets Back Bay, lies Charlesgate East. Originallya single long street, it was bisected by the Massachusetts Turnpike and Bowker Overpass back mid-20th century. There are several mid-rise condo buildings on the block closest to Berklee College of Music and Newbury Street.
Those who live in this neighborhood include artistic types, drawn by the Fenway’s long history of fostering the cultured class (Hello,Isabella Stuart Gardner!), along with musicians studying at Berklee, and young professionals working at the Boston Symphony Orchestraand Museum of Fine Arts.
Worthington Street, Mission Hill – Similar to Frederick Douglass Square, Worthington Street, and Wigglesworth Street which runs parallel, has a distinct housing style that sets it apart from the rest of the neighborhood. In this case, the housing stock is similar to what you’d find in the Back Bay, although of a lesser quality, probably, when it comes to building materials.
Most people overlook this area because it’s overrun with college students from Northeastern University and Wentworth Institute of Technology, but it’s worth checking out. The Green Line runs down Huntington Street, as does the #39 bus, and it’s within walking distance to the Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Longwood Medical Area. If you’re a medical student or resident, it’s a fun, hip place to live … and within walking distance to a Stop & Shop and multiple bars and restaurants.
Piedmont Street, Bay Village – Piedmont’s appeal is as much a result of its history as well as its attractiveness and convenience. It was at 17 Piedmont Street that the Cocoanut Grove nightclub was located and where, on November 28, 1942, a massive fire took the lives of 492 people, making it the second-worst single-building fire in American history.
On a much lighter note, 52 Piedmont Street was the home for 40+ years of the Napoleon Club, a gay nightclub famous for its piano bars, slightly more seedy “pick-up” and “hustler” bars, and its list of rumored guests including Liberace, Judy Garland, and the Kennedy brothers.
The block is favored by the GLBT community, several families drawn to the larger sizes of the homes on the street, and retirees relocating from the suburbs.
West Canton Street, South End – On the quintessential quaint street in the quintessential Boston neighborhood, West Canton Street is beautiful. It is lined with many Victorian, brick-bow front homes, many still occupied by single families. The block has always been appealing, even when the South End was suffering its ~100-years of neglect (1870-1970). That West Canton succeeded while other streets failed is in a large part due to the Hayes family, who have lived in the neighborhood – on the same block – for generations.
Bordered on one side by the Hayes Park and a Starbucks coffee shop on the other, it’s a beautiful block to explore – and to live. You’ll find yourself surrounded by happy people with interesting stories, by residents who have made the neighborhood the success story it is today.
What do you think makes these blocks such nice places to live? Is it the residents? The locations? The types of housing?
Is your block a nice place to live? Why do you like it?