Beantown’s cool outlier, green living on the grid in Burlington, and a small-town vibe in the Big Apple.
Beantown’s Cool Outlier
Jamaica Plain/ Boston, MA
Jamaica plain is a weird place, but it’s a good weird: an eclectic, humming neighborhood where its triple-decker-house-lined streets out-grit any Southie block, yet the Queen Annes near the Jamaica Pond reflect the neighborhood’s country past; Dominican kids run in the streets alongside yuppies returning from work; and even two decades after its rebirth it’s still viewed by some as undesirable, the last four stops on the still-dangerous Orange Line.
The reality is that J.P. was one of the first Boston neighborhoods to gentrify, nearly 20 years ago, but, because of its inability to coalesce into a Good Will Hunting stereotype, it remains disguised as a fringe ‘hood. This may have something to do with its reputation for big-city crime statistics, but it also owes a lot to a community that fiercely fights off chain-store development. (A proposed Kmart got beat back a decade ago.)
So while it may not be the obvious choice, it is the locals’ choice. In 1988, Jim Koch chose Germania Street for his new Samuel Adams brewery, and Doyle’s, a pub and restaurant of legendary repute, has been right on Washington Street since 1882. A huge mural on its far wall depicts every famous Bostonian who has raised a pint there, including a young Ted Kennedy. You can actually walk between Doyle’s and the Sam Adams brewery along the Southwest Corridor, with its biking and running trails that roughly follow the Orange Line, the skyline always visible just above the trees. The trail is one of the city’s best-kept secrets and a beautiful walk in the summer. Whenever traffic is bad — and in Boston, the traffic’s always bad — it’s the most relaxing way to get to work.
In a city built on history, Jamaica Plain holds tradition dear but refuse to conform. If that just so happens to keep the Hollywood location scouts away, it just means the neighborhood has at least another 10 good years left.
Median Home Price: $422,600
Cost of Living Compared to Rest of U.S.: 58% higher
Sunny Days Per Year: 201
Green Living on the Grid
Five Sisters/ Burlington, VT
The advantage to living in Five Sisters is that you’re near the action of this four-college town without being in it. 8 am: Wake up with a sweaty yoga class at Bikram Yoga Burlington on Pine, then pick up a coffee and local listings rag Seven Days at Speeder and Earl’s. 10 am: Head to the farmers market in City Hall Park, passing quaint bungalows, Cape Cods, and a smattering of Sears kit houses with welcoming front porches and backyards big enough for a vegetable garden. 12 pm: Spot young execs playing Frisbee with woodworkers as you cruise the lakefront on your way to rent a kayak or sailboat at the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center. 2 pm: Grab your bike, meet friends at UVM, and pedal south for a 60-mile round-trip over Ap Gap, one of the Northeast’s most challenging mountain passes. 7 pm: End up back in town for organic pizza at Bite Me on St. Paul.
Median Home Price: $217,300
Cost of Living Compared to Rest of U.S. 9% higher
Sunny Days Per Year: 159
Small-Town Vibe in the Big Apple
Cobble Hill/ Brooklyn, NY
When my girlfriend and I walk to the vegetable stand a few blocks from our apartment in Cobble Hill, we invariably bump into a person or couple we know. We enjoy this. Not the encounter, but the fact that it’s limited to one.
I’ve often heard residents in this part of Brooklyn compare it to small-town living, and I suppose that’s because the area — a pretty grid of tree-lined residential streets containing three commercial avenues packed with restaurants (trendy, but also an Atomic Wings) and shops (boutiques, but also a Target nearby) — offers the kind of neighborhood flavor that’s often absent in urban America.
But the small-town analogy totally misses the real gift of living here. In a small town everyone knows your business, there are two or three restaurants, and the guy at the hardware store knows whether your walls are plaster or drywall. Anonymity is a fantasy. The joy of Cobble Hill, and nearby Carroll Gardens, is that almost anywhere else this collective area would be a city unto itself — not a big city, but a city nevertheless.
So while I recognize many of the faces I pass, I haven’t met them, and I certainly don’t have to stop and make small talk with them when I really just want to get home to watch the Mets lose. Tony over at Tony’s Hardware has no idea what my walls are made of, and even though I have been getting advice on malbecs and aglianicos from Judy at the wine store practically every single night for five years, I have no idea if she recognizes me. I love that.
Median Home Price: $652,700
Cost of Living Compared to Rest of U.S.: 56% higher
Sunny Days Per Year: 232
Four More Neighborhoods
The Atlas District and the surrounding H Street corridor in Northeast DC is one of the city’s oldest commercial districts, but the 1968 riots left it in ruins. Today affordable housing, a farmers market, and a slew of hip drinking haunts are drawing comparisons to the Northwest’s U Street of five years ago.
Northern Liberties is all but devoid of the beer-brewing, textile, and ceramic industries that once thrived here, but in their place is a lively center for local artists and musicians. Minutes from downtown, plenty of gastropubs, art galleries, and music venues nestle between traditional row houses and historic properties.
Without the tourist traffic (or kitsch) of Old Port, and away from the mansions of the West End, Munjoy Hill stands out in Maine’s biggest city. Resting on its perch overlooking the city and Casco Bay, it’s one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the state. It’s also gone from blue-collar to green scene with an explosion of locally owned restaurants and shops.
Northside, five minutes from downtown Cincinnati, brings a small-town look and mentality into the city, with its old-fashioned houses, farmers markets, independent shops, and strong community activism. It further sets itself apart with two hilltop nature preserves.
*All statistics according to Bestplaces.net
This article originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Men’s Journal.