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Discussion: Moving to Boston area

in: Orienteering; General

Aug 18, 2017 8:18 PM # 
We are going to be moving to the Boston area for a year in November! My husband will be working in Cambridge, I will be on maternity leave for the first 6 months and working in Cambridge for the second 6 months. I'm looking for recommendations of areas that are good to live for an outdoors-loving family... we have a 4 month old and 2 year old so want a family friendly place that's good for running and not too horrible a commute to work. Not asking much ;-) Any suggestions?!!

Also any suggestions for 'must do' things while we're there? Thanks!
Aug 18, 2017 10:43 PM # 
I'm guessing that you mean the Boston and Cambridge that are in America. In my youth, I enjoyed trips to the sugar shacks where sugar maple sap is boiled down to maple syrup, I don't remember the exact month. The Maine coast is nice; lobster shacks, Acadia National Park, canoeing inland. The Museum of Science was particularly good, having been to several in a few countries.
Aug 18, 2017 10:44 PM # 
Also Cape Cod is worth a weekend or two. And of course the orienteering can be fun ;-).
Aug 18, 2017 11:46 PM # 
Arlington and Belmont are family friendly. Both have bus/train routes to Cambridge (where in Cambridge will you be working?). There are good bits of woods and trails that you can get to and connect. Somerville and Cambridge can be family friendly but not good for woods and harder to get out of. The Middlesex Fells is the largest area of woods with trails around, and is bordered by Winchester, Stoneham and Medford. I think Medford has bus routes to Cambridge. Not sure about Winchester or Stoneham transportation links, though there is a train from Winchester into Boston North Station which is close to some parts of Cambridge. We are slightly biased to this side of town, as we live in Arlington, so I am sure others will chime in about other areas.

These are all assuming public transport to get to work. You can head further out west of town, but then you start to be looking at driving in to work as the public transportation links are less available. They also tend to get pricier. The woods are much better outside Rt 128 (lincoln and Concord have great woods/trails and a train line into Boston) but there will be limited rental property.

Feel free to email us with more specific questions about areas if you have them

Andy Hall (ex LEI and LUOC) and Kristin (Federer) Hall (ex LEI,LUOC and US team)
kristinandy95 at gmail dot com
Aug 20, 2017 7:41 PM # 
Thanks Andy and Jim! And yes Boston, MA :-D

Alex will be working at Novartis. I will be on sabbatical so trying to set something up with MIT...

It will definitely be public transport/bike/run/walk to work so good transport links are pretty important.

We've looked (online) at places Medford/Melrose way and Arlington and also south of the river. Woods are definitely important. I want nice places to train :-) It's really hard to tell what an area is like when your sitting on your sofa the other side of the Atlantic!!
Aug 20, 2017 9:00 PM # 
Exciting that you're coming to Boston! Right now, this is a good place to go for orienteering, as there are more training opportunities than elsewhere, but the best terrain requires a car. Actually, you probably want a car for the year anyway, just to be able to take the family places on weekends.

CSU is the club based around Cambridge, and we're pretty small these days but host informal trainings through the fall/winter and then an 8-week park orienteering race series in the spring, in parks around Boston. Generally parks that are accessible via transit, though I'm sure you'll find the transit system lacking compared to just about anywhere else in the world. CSU is actually a club consisting of three sections: orienteering, running, and cross country skiing, and the running section meets regularly. You don't need to do anything special, just show up, and you'll be welcomed. We run at the Harvard track every Tuesday, and switch to an indoor session through the winter.

NEOC takes care of most of the weekend events, further into suburbia. And you can venture further afield on weekends for nicer or more interesting terrain - in general, western Connecticut has the beautiful fast open forest, New Hampshire has detailed rocky stuff, and eastern Massachusetts is all thick and often thorny. Great trail running all through the northeast, though.

While here, definitely take advantage of some of the more popular hikes in the White Mountains in New Hampshire - lots of above-treeline ridges, views, and the Adirondack Mountain Club huts, which are a fun experience. Also, Acadia National Park, up in Maine, is totally worth the trip - mountains and rocky coast and really interesting ecology.

And, if you have ever skied, you should absolutely get up to the World Master Ski Orienteering Champs, in Vermont!! March 5-10 2018.

As for living places, going north-south can be obnoxious, and it's often easier to go east-west. Consider bicycling, but remember that Boston drivers are rude, aggressive, and don't always follow rules. You get used to it and adapt eventually. Traffic is nearly always bad, especially at rush hour - something to consider if buses are part of your commute. should have more info on bus routes. South of the river, you can find more trees and greenspace in Jamaica Plain, Brookline, and Newton, but the public transit options there are less reliable. Brighton/Allston is generally filled with students, and if you head east into Roslindale/Boston you can find some rougher neighborhoods.

Feel free to PM me with questions. Happy to grow the Boston orienteering scene!
Aug 21, 2017 12:05 AM # 
Traffic and driving: no worse than the M1 from my recollection, though that's well out of date.
Aug 21, 2017 7:08 AM # 
Based on a sampling frequency of 2-3 visits per year I'd say that the traffic in the Boston area has worsened considerably in the 15 years since I last lived there. I would definitely listen to locals like Alex about commute options before picking a place to live. What Google Maps will tell you is a 30 minute drive from the burbs could end up being 90 minutes during the morning commute.
Aug 21, 2017 12:19 PM # 
Boston traffic is way way worse than anything I've experienced in the U.K. Granted I also haven't been there for 7 years really either.
Aug 21, 2017 11:51 PM # 
Well, you know we can always go for a run in the Blue Hills, it will be so good to see you again!
Although other places are good, Dedham is a decent commuter rail commute, but I will admit biking into town is less than perfect from here.
Again, hope to see you around!
Aug 22, 2017 1:59 PM # 
If you're only going to be here for a year, I'd say you're making a mistake if you don't live right in the center of Boston and enjoy everything the city has to offer...every night of the week! And lots of greenspace along the Charles and elsewhere within stroller distance.

Yes large, roomy rentals are expensive. But for only a year lease, perhaps you could occupy an affordable 1 bedroom apartment located in the middle of everything, and spend most of your waking hours exploring the city? And not dealing with the horrendous traffic...and also saving by not owning a car to the tune of $8000-$10 000 for the year you are here.

I used to live in the Back Bay area only a block away from Storrow Dr and the Charles River. I belonged to a Charles River boat club and loved rowing at dawn before work. But of course there are many other communities along the Charles where you could live...even Cambridge itself! Rowing is a popular sport in Boston; for instance, coach's daughter is one of the best rowers (and orienteers) in the US. Living near the river would give you an opportunity to enjoy this sport too! Good luck!
Aug 22, 2017 5:04 PM # 
Haha! Affordable 1 bedroom apartment in the middle of the city? You are kidding right? How does a family of four occupy a 1 bedroom?
Aug 22, 2017 6:59 PM # 
Haha yes I think that would be a recipe for no sleep for a year! It is tempting to live closer in though for a nicer commute. I rowed whilst I was at uni in Cambridge uk and would love to get back on the water but with two little ones finding time to run is hard enough.
I'm looking forward to running in the blue hills again! I emailed you a while back Coach but not sure if you got it as you were in Europe at the time.
Thanks for all the info alex. We'd looked at Jamaica plains briefly but I can't remember why we discounted it. I'll take another look. The ski o sounds fun!! We do ski but have never done ski o before. A new challenge :-)
Aug 22, 2017 7:37 PM # 
JP is definitely still undergoing gentrification and the change between great neighbourhood and one you wouldn't want the kids outside in after dark is really rapid - definitely a good idea to check out a place ahead of time there. Having said that, you get more for your money and the ponds and greenways are very handy for running. Rob and I strongly considered it but finally discounted it because his commute would have been nightmarish - not a problem you two will have!
Aug 22, 2017 9:18 PM # 
We lived just off Porter Square in Cambridge, on the Red Line, about 10 years ago when we were in grad school (with a newborn - 2 year old). Both schools were a few T stops away and most of what we needed we could buy at shops near Porter Square, so we kept a car really only to go orienteering. It's a great place for that! acjospe covered most of it, but also worth looking into what Up North Orienteering (UNO) in New Hampshire and Western Connecticut Orienteering Club (WCOC) are up to.

Finding quality housing can be tough, I suggest giving yourselves plenty of time. We had the impression that a lot of the landlords took advantage of tenants desperate to minimize commutes (or on typical student budgets), and didn't do a good job of keeping their places maintained. We looked for 2 weeks and found only one place that was in good shape, owned by a professor headed out on sabbatical. It was the most expensive place we have lived (even more than Washington, DC), but worth it to be so close.
Aug 22, 2017 11:34 PM # 
No sleep in a 1 BR? It's City living! One bed (Full? Queen?) and two cribs, one possibly in a spare closet. Yet you'd presumably have a nice living room and eat-in kitchen, where you could possibly set up a convertible home office that becomes a dining space in the evening.

When it comes to real estate, you either emphasize location, price, or amenities. But for only a year, maybe you should remember the Three Most Important Real Estate Rules (1. Location! 2. Location! 3. Location!) applicable to a couple of cultured but frugal Brits?

As a big-city landlord myself, I'd recommend looking for the worst rental, not the best. And be prepared to put in a bit of up-front cash and sweat, cleaning, painting...and perhaps even buying your landlord a new $500 stove, or promising on-going building maintenance in exchange for a nicer, larger, cheaper rental.

Boston is full of mom-and-pop landlords...most very decent, honest people. And many getting along in years, looking for dependable help with their building....and not necessarily for more rents. You're coming from a culture that is highly respected by most Americans. Don't undersell have something to offer too. As cmpbllv says, it may take some looking, but don't forget, America is The Land of Opportunity! Good luck.
Aug 23, 2017 12:21 AM # 
Hi, Rachael - welcome to Boston! I lived there for several years before recently moving to Toronto. I used to work in Kendall Square at the Broad Institute, and I lived in an apartment in the Porter Square and Union Square areas of Somerville. I'd echo much of what has been said - ahall, acjospe, coach, Becks, and Cristina all have good advice.

For outdoor spaces - trail runs and training maps, I strongly recommend the Middlesex Fells in Medford. The Skyline trail (white blazes) is one of my favorite trails; at 12 km with ~300m of climb, it's perfect for good training and catharsis. There are also numerous stroller-friendly trails.

This google map has NEOC venues. North of the river, Middlesex Fells, Breakheart Reservation, Lynn Woods, and Prospect Hill all have pretty good maps, good terrain, and are large enough for diversity. The Blue Hills is also a great place, though it's harder to get to from Cambridge. Within ~90 minutes driving of the city, the best maps are Pawtuckaway in New Hampshire (<3), Baldwin Hill in Ashburnham, High Rock in Foxborough, and Mt. Tom and Earl's Trails in Northampton. There is a national event at Mt. Tom in April 2018.

I found biking into Cambridge from Somerville to be the best way to travel and mitigate the traffic, though as acjospe said, biking in Boston can be challenging. Google maps (among other places) has maps of some of the better bike routes. I personally only used it infrequently, but you might also consider neighborhoods along the commuter rail, as they might make living near good outdoor terrains (e.g. W. Medford) more feasible.

Finally, I lived several years without a car and with a car. Boston (and the US) has an hourly car share called Zipcar, and renting can be feasible. I suspect with 2 kids, it would be much more realistic to own a car. Almost all neighborhoods in Boston have good burrito options, though Cambridge especially so.

In any case, good luck! The Blue Hills Traverse, an annual mass-start 13 km orienteering race, is likely on Sunday November 19.

Maps near Cambridge (ask acjospe or some other Boston folks if you want actual maps):
Middlesex Fells, Medford - it's not quite as green as this might suggest, and very runnable in mid-Fall to mid-Spring
Breakheart, Saugus
Lynn Woods, Lynn - technical and dense vegetation, especially in the summer
Prospect Hill, Waltham, good hill, ideal for 4-6 km of orienteering
Pawtuckaway, and west side - sex terrain in southern New Hampshire. Contour only. Majestic.
Aug 23, 2017 1:46 AM # 
Pawtuckaway, and west side - sex terrain in southern New Hampshire

Just what DO you crazy americans get up to at your O meets?
Aug 23, 2017 2:55 AM # 
Wow Clark. You do not inhabit the current Boston rental market do you? Why on earth would you buy your landlord a stove or paint the apartment when you've just paid their realtor fees (an entire months rent, around $2500-$3000 for a one bedroom downtown), a deposit and first months rent. By cashier check, of course.

We looked around so many places, and as cmpbllv said, many of them are extremely expensive at the same time as being barely liveable.
Aug 23, 2017 2:56 AM # 
Also Rach, strongly echo Ian in that you can get away without a car if you live close to zipcars. It really is a great system and I've been a member since I moved out here.
Aug 23, 2017 9:32 AM # 
Well Becks, and rachael, we're all orienteers here...right? We're people used to getting off the well-trod path, and finding our own way, navigating unfamiliar territory, with the objective of attaining the goal faster than others who do not Think.

Yes, the easy, well-trod way to look for an apartment is to have a rental agent drive you around to his pricy listings. He inserts himself between you and the building's owner...and then you pay him a pretty penny for his 2-3 hours work. And never get to know or deal with the owner directly.

But I'm encouraging you to strike out on your own, locate a couple of the thousands of mom-and-pop landlords in Boston who are old, tired of property management, and own a neglected building exactly on the block where you'd like to live. Make contact with them.

Sure like any orienteering run, you might encounter difficult going, confusing terrain, uncrossable ravines requiring a reroute...and may even feel lost for a period. But I promise you that there are hundreds of landlords out there, looking for tenants exactly like you, with whom they could establish a friendly working relationship. And feel confident that you'll not only care for their unit, but IMPROVE it, help them with other chores around the building too, and maybe even find and supervise contractors doing needed repairs. And manage the whole property for them, while they relax in Miami Beach this winter!

Who knows, with two kids, you might find you enjoy stay-at-home, small-time property management, extend your stay, and buy a building yourself! After all, that's the way most of us got into this business in the first place! Good luck.
Aug 23, 2017 11:52 AM # 
So in her year here she should spend her time increasing the value of someone else's property because they couldn't be bothered to upkeep it but can still charge a fortune because we're in a crazy property market? Also, realtors don't drive you around - you do all the work finding a property and then they charge you anyway to draw up the lease. Less than five percent of available rentals in Boston have no realtor fees, regardless of whether you found them through craiglist, online agencies or by walking down the street. The market is so fast that those without fees are not around for long.

Also, extending her stay to manage a property is you know, not allowed by immigration. Perhaps you could drop out of this thread and let people with actual useful advice help Rachael out?
Aug 23, 2017 1:11 PM # 
Doing work upgrading the property, either explicitly or implicitly in return for a lower rent, could be in violation of their visa status. Even doing it without compensation could violate their visa status because that's work that others would do for compensation.
Aug 23, 2017 1:36 PM # 
Quite right! You guys stay on the well-worn trails with the map hikers and White course walkers! I wouldn't want you to venture into those big, dark woods, and risk twisting an ankle....or seeing a snake!
Aug 23, 2017 2:13 PM # 
Stop being so damn patronizing.
Aug 23, 2017 5:49 PM # 
OMG, Ian. I know Pawtuckaway is evil. I don't even tempt fate by running there in the dark. But a contour-only map of Pawtuckaway? Heinous.
Aug 23, 2017 7:38 PM # 
How about a boulder only map? ;-)
Aug 23, 2017 8:09 PM # 
I got off the well trodden path by getting out of greater Boston as soon as I could manage it, and eventually bought a more affordable house 50 miles away. Not practical for the circumstances of others, of course, but for those of us who hate cities...
Aug 25, 2017 1:17 PM # 
A contour only map of Pawtuckaway would probably make it easier...............
Sorry Rachael, your thread has been hopelessly hijacked.
Aug 26, 2017 1:36 AM # 
A contour only Pawtuckaway is like bread without yeast. Fine once a year, but hardly majestic.

Regarding other issues in this thread--personalities that formerly made me nuts now leave me unaffected. Low doses and sufficient distance make many things tolerable.
Aug 26, 2017 10:18 AM # 
Isn't 'bread without yeast' a Matzo wafer? My neighbor makes truly 'majestic' Matzo balls all the time. :-)

As one of the few city-dwellers on a/p, my initial comment on this thread was merely to suggest that this arriving UK couple consider city, rather than suburban living. Certainly didn't expect to get into a heated argument about it.

My apologies to coach, j-man, and any other readers who think this suggestion, and those that followed, were a hijack, out of place, or inappropriate. And to those here from the UK, I plead my ignorance of your class system. Despite the current administration in Washington, I think most Americans feel completely free of any class restraints...thankfully. But I think that might explain why you found some of my suggestions so insulting.
Aug 26, 2017 7:02 PM # 
Wow. Just wow.

This discussion thread is closed.