You moved in a couple of weeks ago. Welcome. You’ll love it here. You can walk to everything—work, concerts, shopping, the dentist, the river, the harbor. It’s easy to meet new people because all the downtown neighborhoods have plenty of organizations that are sure to tap into some interest you have. Neighborhood associations attract the civic-minded. These associations often have special organizations for young people. Gardeners have garden clubs. Old folks have Beacon Hill Village, which is active in several downtown neighborhoods, not just Beacon Hill. Museums attract volunteers and board members who are interested in architecture or history. The restaurants, local bars and small businesses draw in regulars you’ll get to know. Dogs bring people together as do children. It’s a companionable life.
Boston’s downtown neighborhoods are no longer tribal. Even in the North End, which still revels in its past and entertains us with it, only a third of the residents identify as Italian (while still being able to enjoy the good restaurants.) It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, what sexual orientation you come with, or what nationality you are. You’ll be welcome in all the downtown neighborhoods.
Experience will introduce you to the downsides. You already know that downtown living spaces are typically small and expensive. If you rent in an older building, you are likely to have a neglectful landlord who lives somewhere else, so don’t expect much for your money. Having a car is a pain unless you have a parking space, and even then why would you want to drive around the city when there is no parking at your destination? Take a cab, the T or an Uber.
If you’re a parent, you may have noticed there are only a few public schools—Charlestown, the North End and Chinatown have them—but in the rest of the downtown—zilch. Even in neighborhoods with a public school, local children aren’t assured of getting into one they can walk to. Private nursery schools abound, but only a few private elementary schools exist, and they are expensive and competitive.
You’ll also find that some of your neighbors don’t get it. They are ignorant of a special condition we have here—we must share and be kind to one another. Hallways, side walls, shade, parking, streets, sidewalks, ceilings and floors—we share everything. We’re all in this together.
It is easy to find happiness here, though. Learn when to put out your trash and recyclables and do it properly. Always pick up after your dog, and don’t dispose of the bag on the sidewalk or in a tree pit. Take it home to your own trash. Your neighbors will admire you.
Join your neighborhood association. Patronize local retail shops and restaurants often enough so the proprietors and employees know you. Join an athletic club and gather some of its patrons to go running or walking together. Practice tolerance when your neighbor cooks bacon, and you smell it. Thank the neighbor who sweeps the sidewalk, and do it yourself sometimes. Keep your tree watered.
Enjoy especially those random moments city life fosters—when you realize a man from India and one from Rhode Island are getting married in the middle of your street. Or when you catch sight of a young woman with pink boots and a lime green jacket driving down the street on a pink and lime green motor scooter. Or saying hello to the guys who are always hanging out on the stoop of a building a block away. Or listening to the talented flutist whose songs come from a nearby open window. Or the fact that if you are lonely, you can go out and talk with a neighbor who sits in a chair on the sidewalk on most good days. I’ve had two neighbors who do that, and it is comforting to know their eyes are on the street.
Living successfully in a crowded city is a product of an existential attitude. It requires tolerance, a sense of irony, an enjoyment of the human condition and an appreciation of others’ moods and behavior. It is one of the most satisfying of human conditions.