Mike the Mad Biologist

Dennis Lehane on Living in Boston

By way of Tim Smith, we come across this description of living in Boston by novelist Dennis Lehane:

…More than one friend had suggested we move to the suburbs — homes were cheaper, schools were safer, property taxes and car insurance premiums were lower.

[We] grew up together in the city, though. We took to picket fences and split-level ranches like we took to shag carpeting and Ultimate Fighting. Which is to say, not so much. … I prefer subways — you pop down the hole on one side of the city, pop back up on the other side, and you never have to hit your horn, not once. I don’t like mowing lawns or trimming hedges or raking the mowed lawns or the hedge trimmings. I don’t like going to malls or eating in chain restaurants. In fact, the appeal of the suburban idea — both in a general and particular sense — escapes me.

I like the sound of jackhammers, the bleat of sirens in the night, twenty-four hour diners, graffiti, coffee served in cardboard cups, steam exhaled through manhole covers, cobblestone, tabloid newspapers, the Citgo sign, someone yelling “Tax-i” on a cold night, corner boys, sidewalk art, Irish pubs, and guys named Sal.

Not much of which I can find in the suburbs, at least not to the degree I’ve grown accustomed to…

TimSmith adds:

None of the things Lehane recounts are of any real importance and certainly not things you’ll hear described in the real estate pages trying to bring people into Boston, but I have to say, I’m right with him…

The character is unlike anything else. I love that about Boston. I love that our streets reserve the right to stop being themselves then pick up again three blocks over. I love that our pubs have more history than most city halls’. I love that we have two JJ Foley’s and zero Walmarts. I love that Fenway has only a handful of seats that face the action, but is still the best place in the world to watch a baseball game. I love that wherever you are in the city, you can probably walk home if you really had to. I love that even though we may have the worst architecture, there is no beating the 360 skyline view from the Mass Ave Bridge on a cold winter night. I love all of the different neighborhoods and blocks and corners. I love how different they can be from the ones across town, but still have that same character. This character, this appeal of the urban idea, is what has kept me here.

This isn’t to rag on the suburbs–they have their appeal too. But too often, cities are depicted as either dystopias or as urban playgrounds. They’re a lot more than that.

Personally, I love never having to drive anywhere. All I need are shoes and, perhaps, an umbrella.

Comments

  1. #1 Garrett
    January 16, 2011

    I live on columbus, close to mass ave, pretty quite here. City is where the action is. Suburbia? No thanks. Maybe when I have a family and want to sign my kids up for little league.

  2. #2 Physicalist
    January 16, 2011

    I agree right up to the point where it involves walking across the Prado in the snow to do baby laundry, and a five-story walk-up with a baby stroller. Then it’s off to the suburbs with me.

  3. #3 Eric Lund
    January 16, 2011

    As somebody who grew up in American suburbia and later sampled both urban and small town living, I still find it mind-boggling that people who have a viable alternative choose to live in suburbia (while granting that for too many Americans there is no viable alternative). The suburbs have the worst of both worlds: you have to put up with the same traffic congestion urban drivers do and often deal with the same kinds of crowding issues that urban dwellers do*, without the benefits of having stuff you can walk to. I currently live in a small town; there may not be that much here, but what there is, I can walk to, including basic shopping and a few restaurants (which except for Domino’s Pizza are either non-chain or part of a small chain not found outside the area).

    *Yes, suburbia can get quite crowded. Drive along Route 128, or the Beltway, or Atlanta’s 285, or Seattle’s 405 (and there are many other examples), and you will see areas with mid- to high-rise office and apartment buildings, surrounded by houses on small lots, with poor to nonexistent walkability and inadequate to nonexistent public transportation.

  4. #4 Tony P
    January 16, 2011

    I have the same feelings about the city I live in, Providence, RI. You can walk pretty much anywhere. We may not have a stadium, but you can walk to the train station and hop on the MBTA to Boston and see museums, stadiums, etc.

    Providence has lots of non-chain restaurants and bars. That’s part of its allure.

    The suburbs are all chains. Every last bit.

    For living I prefer a New England CITY as opposed to the SUBURBS. The burbs give me the screaming heebie jeebies.

  5. #5 Autistic Lurker
    January 16, 2011

    I must say our city is particular. I’M 13 minutes from downtown with great brewpubs and yet, when my girlfriends pick me up, we have a 15 minutes drive to a horse ranch where we do horse riding on the trails. Love it…

    A.L.

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