What I hate about Boston

George_Apley

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I see the largest part of that as being the structure of every single town and burgh reinventing the wheel with its very own police/fire departments, school committees, etc. I was shocked when I moved to Maryland in 1988 and found the structure of County government and the huge efficiencies that follow vs. the incredible inefficiency of the Massachusetts way.

I know this is "pie in the sky" but, if the Commonwealth could somehow reorganize to County structures, like most other states, it would be on a higher economic plane than just about anyplace on earth.
A variety of Kings tried to do just that a couple times in the 17th and 18th centuries with... poor results lol. The annexation rebellion in the late-19th century showed that the impulse for local control perpetuated. In some ways, the highway revolts in the mid-20th century followed similar patterns. Municipalities and political activists in the region have learned how to leverage the system for social reforms (going back to the abolitionist days), while also using it for protectionism (of 'character', of the natural environment, and of their school systems). The sheer certainty of how beneficial and natural hyper-local governance is has deep roots, and the vested interests in New England are entrenched in that system. The legislature wouldn't dare lest it prompt a backlash. But you're right that it's the major impediment for trying to solve a lot of entrenched problems in the state/region.
 

dhawkins

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To my friends, I've compared Boston to bits of suburban Tokyo or secondary city in Japan. Pretty. Static. Staid.

Wish we had more of the features that made central Tokyo (inside the 23 wards) dynamic, cultural, and fun.
One of Boston's sister cities is Kyoto, Japan.
Wiki -Kyoto (京都, Kyōto) served as Japan's capital and the emperor's residence from 794 until 1868.It is one of the country's ten largest cities with a population of 1.5 million people and a modern face.. Over the centuries, Kyoto was destroyed by many wars and fires... has exceptional historic value... etc.
Sounds like they are describing Boston. Boston wants to be a link to the past.
 

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I hate to say it, but the Irish might've even made it worse compared to the WASPs that they inherited the city from. While it was certainly a more national or at least regional trend in the 60s, the city government that oversaw the destruction of the West End, New York Streets, and Lower Roxbury was Irish lead, iirc. In general, I think Irish immigrants tended to be anti-urban as the big cities in Ireland (like Dublin and Belfast) tended to be more British controlled compared to the rural and suburban areas which were more Irish.
From a purely historical perspective, I agree with this statement wholeheartedly and completely; when the Irish who were suffering miserably due to the Potato Blight of the Mid 19th Century came to Boston in search of a better life, the 19th Century Protestant ancestor carry-overs from the founding Puritan days did openly REVILE the mostly Irish Catholic immigrants, and of course, discriminated against them with an outrageous vengeance - IRISH NEED NOT APPLY became the Boston analogy to Post Civil War Jim Crow Laws of Southern Cities for freed Black people. Unfortunately, this same downtrodden group, once becoming a massive majority in Boston, turned things around for the worst and thus resorted to a great disdain for any group that was not Irish by birth, to lesser degree an antipathy towards later 19th Century immigrants from Italy, disdain for the Asians as well, but mostly expressing an EXTREME anti-Semitism (sorry Kennedy Family aficianados, but the founder of the clan, Joe Kennedy Sr. was a SEVERE JEW HATER!) and of course the severe and virulent racism and hatred towards Black people moving up North to escape those very same Jim Crow Laws and repression as mentioned above. Yes, the Boston Irish as a group has left an indelible stain upon Boston history; sorry but it is true! BUT IN DEFENSE of the IRISH, I WILL STATE CATEGORICALLY that to condemn all of them is tantamount to stating that all Jews are that, all Blacks are that, most Hispanics are drug dealing rapist filth as per the espousals by our "GREAT" racist Trump! NO, not true. Many Irish today are worldly, they are intellectuals, business owners and leaders, philanthropists, esteemed Medical doctors, lawyers, university PROFESSORS, scientists and are distancing themselves from their hyper-prejudiced immigrant forebearers, and the religious and racial haters of Irish descent, who unfortunately still hold sway in certain working class bastions of Irish Boston (of course neighborhoods full of stereotypical fodder of ONLY what Boston is (but is NOT) according to the clueless LA Film Industry). THINGS WILL CHANGE!!! Boston will change as will everything else! With the strongest apologies to the GREAT Mclaughlin Clan formerly of Mattapan and my best friend when I moved to Milton, MA, Kevin Fitzgerald. I for one am one of those people so reviled by Joe Kennedy Sr. I have had both negative and POSITIVE encounters with the Irish, as it will be for ALL people, all groups, all races, humans in general. For instance, I love and adore dogs, and yet some of them growl at me with blatant disdain open hostility towards me - trying to inject some humor here, but this is a truism; whether or not you stand on to two feet or four, some individuals will ALWAYS find a way to dislike you while other will greet you with wagging tails. COMPRENDE? Yes, this historical post of mine here does most certainly strongly relate to architecture, urban and regional planning in that building development, "ooh and ah" architecture, urban growth and urbanism has to find a way to flourish without ethnic and racial hatreds getting in the way. Utopia is still in the works for years and decades to come. We will hopefully get there someday, but not in my lifetime realistically speaking.
 

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Someone wrote in a response to my commentaries regarding the Puritans: the Puritans WERE NOT INTO THE ARTS, WERE NOT INTO POETRY in diametric opposition to your assertion that they were- OMG, so wrong!
While we’re at it, I’m going to disagree with this one too. I think Frost is the best example of a very puritanical New England poet, but Longfellow, Whittier, Dickinson serve just as well as counter examples.
 
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Charlie_mta

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While we’re at it, I’m going to disagree with this one too. I think Frost is the best example of a very puritanical New England poet, but Longfellow, Whittier, Dickinson serve just as well as counter examples.
I'm old enough to remember old New England (1950's/early 60's), when the brahmin blue bloods held primacy. Poetry and the arts were foremost back then in the Boston area and elsewhere in New England as well. Offbeat types, intellectuals, poets, and musicians wandered around Harvard Square every day back then. I'd see them as I walked through Harvard Square to/from high school. So, the initial Puritans in the latter 1600s may have been a bit staid, but subsequent generations were not..
 

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It is shocking, however, what a different place Boston/Cambridge is today vs even 25 years ago. It has completely bloomed into an international city. I moved away after college 30+ years ago, and am always amazed at how much Asian/Latin/Euro culture is now there. The plethora of foreign languages heard everywhere in Bsoton now has truly given the sleeping giant a dynamism that it never had. It's almost like that moment in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opens the door of her previously back and white movie bedroom and all the colors of the rainbow suddenly appear. That is what is so exciting. The brains of the city weren't getting the oxygen before. Add this oxygen and the results have been incredible and gaining momentum. Just look at what is happening in the Seaport, Cambridge, Somerville, Allston, etc - - the city is truly bursting at the seams in the New Economy.
Yes, shmessy, Boston/Cambridge/Somerville (I have deemed this tri-city name as BosCamSom) has undergone a radical transformation with respect to the urban environment and this trend will continue to morph the tri-city for years to come. I have been rather critical of this "Boscamsom" in some of my posts and perhaps I dwell on the negative aspects of what can become the new "Emerald City" (after all, Boston does have the Emerald Necklace), and on a more positive note, I for one do like the new diversity of which you speak, and as well all the new buildings, some of which will definitely become landmark, iconic structures such as the BU Computer Science Center currently under construction. FTR, a short while ago I met another architectural/engineering/construction professional from NYC, and he stated that he liked the One Dalton Tower (even he called it that "really tall building over there"), but, this guy from Manhattan was more impressed by the new shorter high rise buildings of Kendall Square and the Seaport as he opined that the architecture design trend in the Boston (Boscamsom) area was producing some rather eye-catching out of the box, innovative structures.

Shmessy, I too like this area as a Boston born (quite literally at the BI) and bred guy, but the area still needs to shed some lingering provincial/keep Boston small outlooks, it would be nice if the T could extend the hours of operation, and though it is stretching into the "Som" area of Boscamsom currently, it would be even better for more rail line service extensions even further throughout the region, and all of this of course to allow the flourishing of a Boscamsom nightlife (of course hampered severely as of now by this horrific pandemic). I am also a musician and I for one want to see live music venues reopen, to see the return of open-mike nights such that I can play out, the bars crowded again, a return even further back in time to the late 70s, 80s, and 90s when there actually was MORE very late nightlife activity in the area with more than a few restaurants open into the wee hours of the morning, and so forth. That better nightlife is what Boscamsom requires even more than the radical shift undergoing with respect to the urban and architectural landscape. As the Boston Rock group The Standells, a one-hit-wonder band stated in their iconic song "Dirty Water" (i.e., down by the River Charles), "frustrated women must be in by 12:00 O'clock" to reflect upon the lack of late-night activity as it was in 1966, well even as a really old guy born right before the Andrea Doria sank, (Google all my references in this post all you Millennials out there) I for one would love to see our Boscamsom, the new Emerald City of the East Coast, jack up the nightlife BIG TIME and then I can extend the curfew time mentioned in that song to "3:00 AM"!!
 

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The absolutely absurd monthly rent in Boston. I recently got an application approved for a studio apartment in DTLA, not some random area of the city, but in a high-rise building in DTLA with concierge for $1,495/mo. The studio is 555 sq ft. Granted rent is down 10-20% in LA due to the core being hollowed out by the pandemic but I was looking through Boston apartments thinking what I could afford here if I didn't move and $1500 a month gives you a dusty studio in apartment buildings that were probably built in the 1950s. Similar quality studios with what I apply for is going for $1800/month outside Back Bay and Downtown and an absurd $2300+/month in the Back Bay and Downtown area, during a pandemic. How anyone can live comfortably in this city, I will never know. If people who works for companies that are going full remote in Boston found out what they can afford outside of Boston, NYC, and SF, they'd leave these cities and never come back.
 
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meddlepal

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The absolutely absurd monthly rent in Boston. I recently got a application approved for a studio apartment in DTLA, not some random area of the city, but in a high-rise building DTLA with concierge for $1,495/mo. The studio is 555 sq ft. Granted rent is down 10-20% in LA due to the core being hollowed out by the pandemic but I was looking through Boston apartments thinking what I could afford here if I didn't move and $1500 a month gives you a dusty studio in apartment buildings that were probably built in the 1950s. Similar quality studios with what I apply is going for $1800/month outside Back Bay and Downtown and an absurd $2300+/month in the Back Bay and Downtown area, during a pandemic. How anyone can live comfortably in this city, I will never know. If people who works for companies that are going full remote in Boston found out what they can afford outside of Boston, NYC, and SF, they'd leave these cities and never come back.
Hard agree on a lot of this, especially the state of the housing stock. I've been considering a move west and while I wouldn't say Seattle is a "cheap city" the apartments:

1. Are mostly modern
2. Most offer parking for a reasonable fee
3. The lack of state income tax means that money can be redirected to pay for the rent (yea there's a higher sales tax but I'm not a big time consumer).

Similar feelings for places like Texas (Austin). Unless you have a good reason to be in Boston (or Cambridge/Brookline/Newton) it is getting really hard to justify the premium.
 

Arlington

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I see the largest part of that as being the structure of every single town and burgh reinventing the wheel with its very own police/fire departments, school committees, etc. I was shocked when I moved to Maryland in 1988 and found the structure of County government and the huge efficiencies that follow vs. the incredible inefficiency of the Massachusetts way.

I know this is "pie in the sky" but, if the Commonwealth could somehow reorganize to County structures, like most other states, it would be on a higher economic plane than just about anyplace on earth.
Born, raised and public-schooled in Maryland and agree that County-Level is strongly superior to both New England Towns and the Township mess in places like NJ & PA.

Do note that Maryland's 23 Counties (plus 24th = Baltimore City) are smaller physically than the old 14 "colony-sized" Mass Counties. and thereby solve a lot of the "subsidiarity" problems that you'd assert if you tried to make all of Mass' Middlesex a "Maryland Style" county.

In Maryland, Middlesex County would be split more like "North Middlesex" (County Seat Lowell) and "South Middlesex" (County Seat Cambridge), and might even be split in 3 (centered on Cambrige, Woburn, & Lowell, as a crazy swag)

Split in two, South Middlesex would have a million pop, be the state's biggest, and be roughly be equivalent to Montgomery County Maryland, which has 31 High Schools, and given that Middlesex MA has 68 Public High schools, I'd guess that each of North and South Middlesex would have about 30 high schools...some consolidation of facilities but not radically so.

But the real benefit of county-level govt is that all 30 schools would get the same per-pupil funding, and you wouldn't have the same crazy inequities of Melrose vs Malden (or whatever your favorite unequal pairing is). THen repeat this across police, fire, water.
 

shmessy

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Born, raised and public-schooled in Maryland and agree that County-Level is strongly superior to both New England Towns and the Township mess in places like NJ & PA.

Do note that Maryland's 23 Counties (plus 24th = Baltimore City) are smaller physically than the old 14 "colony-sized" Mass Counties. and thereby solve a lot of the "subsidiarity" problems that you'd assert if you tried to make all of Mass' Middlesex a "Maryland Style" county.

In Maryland, Middlesex County would be split more like "North Middlesex" (County Seat Lowell) and "South Middlesex" (County Seat Cambridge), and might even be split in 3 (centered on Cambrige, Woburn, & Lowell, as a crazy swag)

Split in two, South Middlesex would have a million pop, be the state's biggest, and be roughly be equivalent to Montgomery County Maryland, which has 31 High Schools, and given that Middlesex MA has 68 Public High schools, I'd guess that each of North and South Middlesex would have about 30 high schools...some consolidation of facilities but not radically so.

But the real benefit of county-level govt is that all 30 schools would get the same per-pupil funding, and you wouldn't have the same crazy inequities of Melrose vs Malden (or whatever your favorite unequal pairing is). THen repeat this across police, fire, water.

Interesting. You are I, evidently, are somewhat a mirror image. As I was born,raised and public-schooled in Massachusetts and now live in Maryland these past 30+ years.

I was shocked when I moved down here how much more efficient things are with governance, schooling, policing, and roadwork (minimum wage stop sign wavers instead of 150K cops getting overtime). Why Massachusetts needs to reinvent the wheel in each of its 351 municipalities is tragic comedy.

Impossible to quantify how much Massachusetts is wasting the incomparable education and talent of its populace in this horrifically bad governance structure.
 

KentXie

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Hard agree on a lot of this, especially the state of the housing stock. I've been considering a move west and while I wouldn't say Seattle is a "cheap city" the apartments:

1. Are mostly modern
2. Most offer parking for a reasonable fee
3. The lack of state income tax means that money can be redirected to pay for the rent (yea there's a higher sales tax but I'm not a big time consumer).

Similar feelings for places like Texas (Austin). Unless you have a good reason to be in Boston (or Cambridge/Brookline/Newton) it is getting really hard to justify the premium.
The state of the housing stock is my number 2 gripe in regards to renting in Boston, behind the high cost of rent. Actually they go hand in hand. High price point for low quality and landlords and property managers have 0 incentives to renovate these apartments because they know they would have no trouble finding someone willing to pay a high price for it.

I've only lived in two cities in my life so my experience is relatively limited but here in LA, property managers do not immediately rent out an apartment after the previous tenant leaves. They don't even allow people to view the apartment if the current tenant hasn't moved out yet. They put the apartment on market about a week after the tenant moves out, using that time to professionally clean the apartment, replace any broken appliances, and conduct maintenance. I always thought allowing prospective renters to view an occupied apartment is the dumbest thing ever and a huge security risk. Why is this even a practice?

And again, no broker fees, no last month. It's first month + security deposit, that's it. Unlike Boston, you don't have to fork up 4 months of rent upfront just to secure an apartment. I hear NYC has the same exact problem from my friend that moved there. At $2000/mo for rent, who the hell can afford writing a check for $8000 at once?

I know many Bostonians wants to keep the "character" of the neighborhood, but if Boston decided to demolish 5% per year of the tenements in, for example, Brighton/Allston, and replace them with new build mixed income apartments, I'm all for it. Save the character for the history books, the city and the residents need practicality here.
 
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Blackbird

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I've only lived in two cities in my life so my experience is relatively limited but here in LA, property managers do not immediately rent out an apartment after the previous tenant leaves.
I’ve lived in two cities in my life: Berlin and Boston. While Boston has such better historic preservation than Berlin, I’d give up almost anything to have the latter’s public transit, nightlife, restaurants, and cost of living.
 

Massachoicetts

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The three things that annoy me most about Boston
1. Nightlife/Liquor Laws/No Drink Specials- Its really pathetic. If I want to go out after work I shouldn't have to see if I have $100 to grab drinks because a beer wants to be $8 in Boston. Its so expensive. And restaurants are struggling, virtually no nightclubs or fun bars like other cities like NYC, Chicago, DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta. Toronto, Montreal, etc..
2. Quality Of Housing- Quite bad. Like really bad. 2000 in Boston gets you a two bedroom, but severely outdated low maintenance one. Also I can get a 200-300k condo in a decent transit oriented neighborhood outside NYC (JC, Other parts of NJ) but the closest thing in Boston would be a dump in Lawrence in a bad neighborhood? The housing stock is, and always has been quite terrible compared to everywhere else. Bostons density is disgustingly low outside the core 10-15 cities. This is why prices are high, and the crap stock available is absurd.
3. Pockets of Desolate-ness so close to Downtown/Tourist areas. ie, Govt Center, Dalton Street/Hynes area.. it kind of kills the flow and ambiance of Boston a lot.
 
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shawn

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To my friends, I've compared Boston to bits of suburban Tokyo or secondary city in Japan. Pretty. Static. Staid.

Wish we had more of the features that made central Tokyo (inside the 23 wards) dynamic, cultural, and fun.
I've lived inside the Yamanote for the last 20 years. Own a single-family house in Bunkyo-ku near Tokyo Dome City in Koishikawa.

Japanese (astonishingly lax) zoning is what ultimately makes Tokyo and every other Japanese city more dynamic than anywhere in the US outside NYC. All the small business owners who run specialty shops and restaurants/bars/cafes out of the first floors of their homes in otherwise-largely residential neighborhoods drive these dynamics. It's awesome. The transit density and scope of coverage also contribute significantly. I don't own a car. No need. How many white collar home owners in America do you think don't own cars? It's the norm inside the 23 Wards in Tokyo.

But I could do without the drunk 50 year old salarymen peeing in the bushes along Hakusan Dori, throwing up on the Kasuga Station platform, and leaving cigarette butts on the street intersection I own 1/4th of.

The every-day culture non-Japanese admire when visiting Japan is non-transferable. Boston - or any other American city - could never "import" about 2000 years of ingrained social and commercial etiquette. You're just never going to get an American Starbucks or McDonald's or 7-Eleven employee to genuinely care about good service in the way that Japanese service and hospitality workers do. You're never going to have a major American metropolis where it's genuinely safe for a drunk woman in her 20s to walk down any street alone at 3:00 AM.

BUT, your comparing Boston to suburban Japan isn't apt. The bedtowns here are mind-numbingly repetitive, with massive blocks of 2000-3000 unit "mansion" complexes, and fields of cookie-cutter Japanese versions of McMansions. West Coast America-style dense suburban housing, but in smaller buildings (about 1200 sq feet on average) on smaller lots built intentionally with a 30 year max shelf life. Housing in Japan is not like in America. Everyone buys new (it helps that most new construction deals don't require any down payments and a 30 year fixed-rate mortgage can be had at less than 1% annually, and you get a sweet "new construction" tax write-off). You cannot sell a house that's already been lived in. Well, you can, but the new owner will just level it and build from scratch. And you're not actually selling the house, you're selling the land. Used houses carry almost no resale value. Because of this, housing design and quality is an afterthought in most places. The suburbs especially. My wife is from suburban Tokyo, in Saitama (which is effectively Tokyo's New Hampshire in every way). It's depressing and it's soul-crushing. Quite literally a bedtown: a place where you sleep between the 12+ hours you spend grinding in an office and 2+ hours you spend on the train.

I'd take anywhere in Boston, and anywhere in many of Boston's inner-ring suburbs, over almost any Tokyo suburb.
 

shmessy

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I've lived inside the Yamanote for the last 20 years. Own a single-family house in Bunkyo-ku near Tokyo Dome City in Koishikawa.

Japanese (astonishingly lax) zoning is what ultimately makes Tokyo and every other Japanese city more dynamic than anywhere in the US outside NYC. All the small business owners who run specialty shops and restaurants/bars/cafes out of the first floors of their homes in otherwise-largely residential neighborhoods drive these dynamics. It's awesome. The transit density and scope of coverage also contribute significantly. I don't own a car. No need. How many white collar home owners in America do you think don't own cars? It's the norm inside the 23 Wards in Tokyo.

But I could do without the drunk 50 year old salarymen peeing in the bushes along Hakusan Dori, throwing up on the Kasuga Station platform, and leaving cigarette butts on the street intersection I own 1/4th of.

The every-day culture non-Japanese admire when visiting Japan is non-transferable. Boston - or any other American city - could never "import" about 2000 years of ingrained social and commercial etiquette. You're just never going to get an American Starbucks or McDonald's or 7-Eleven employee to genuinely care about good service in the way that Japanese service and hospitality workers do. You're never going to have a major American metropolis where it's genuinely safe for a drunk woman in her 20s to walk down any street alone at 3:00 AM.

BUT, your comparing Boston to suburban Japan isn't apt. The bedtowns here are mind-numbingly repetitive, with massive blocks of 2000-3000 unit "mansion" complexes, and fields of cookie-cutter Japanese versions of McMansions. West Coast America-style dense suburban housing, but in smaller buildings (about 1200 sq feet on average) on smaller lots built intentionally with a 30 year max shelf life. Housing in Japan is not like in America. Everyone buys new (it helps that most new construction deals don't require any down payments and a 30 year fixed-rate mortgage can be had at less than 1% annually, and you get a sweet "new construction" tax write-off). You cannot sell a house that's already been lived in. Well, you can, but the new owner will just level it and build from scratch. And you're not actually selling the house, you're selling the land. Used houses carry almost no resale value. Because of this, housing design and quality is an afterthought in most places. The suburbs especially. My wife is from suburban Tokyo, in Saitama (which is effectively Tokyo's New Hampshire in every way). It's depressing and it's soul-crushing. Quite literally a bedtown: a place where you sleep between the 12+ hours you spend grinding in an office and 2+ hours you spend on the train.

I'd take anywhere in Boston, and anywhere in many of Boston's inner-ring suburbs, over almost any Tokyo suburb.

Thank you for that post. As a frustrated pre-retiree who can't wait to travel this world more extensively, that was a gift to read.
 

shawn

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Thank you for that post. As a frustrated pre-retiree who can't wait to travel this world more extensively, that was a gift to read.
I can come down on the place hard, because I know it can do better socially, but Japan is a great place to visit. Just give yourself a lot of time. The 13/14 hour jet-lag from the East Coast is jarring.

But back to Boston and Tokyo. The thing I never appreciated about Boston, or New England in general, until I left is the region's deep sense of place. This will sound odd, given how much older Japan is, but Tokyo doesn't have a real sense of time and place in a Boston School/Ash Can School, Hassam/Hopper way. There are historical reasons for this: most of the city burned to the ground during Operation Meetinghouse in 1945. But most of the city was also historically made of timber, and would have eventually been replaced with the same mix of banal concrete-with-bathroom-tile residential towers and plastic-sided wood-framed housing we have today. Wood handles earthquakes well, so it makes sense, but it doesn't leave the same legacy of time and place that brick and stone do. Wood is also easy to tare down in tight urban lots, to make way for a new house when the land changes ownership. As a consequence, you have about 80% of the 50 or so million people in the greater Tokyo area living in buildings less than 40 years old, which were constructed with ease-of-replacement in mind. It's pretty ugly.

Boston's built form, at least for me, is so aesthetically pleasing. Living in Japan and spending combined years living short-term in Seoul, Singapore, and Hong Kong just reinforces this. I love the energy, drive, and excitement you get in the East Asian mega cities, but goddamn are they ugly on the whole.
 

Blackbird

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My wife is from suburban Tokyo, in Saitama (which is effectively Tokyo's New Hampshire in every way). It's depressing and it's soul-crushing. Quite literally a bedtown: a place where you sleep between the 12+ hours you spend grinding in an office and 2+ hours you spend on the train.

I'd take anywhere in Boston, and anywhere in many of Boston's inner-ring suburbs, over almost any Tokyo suburb.
Spent the last few minutes poking around Saitama on Google Maps. I can see what you mean about the relative lack of vibrancy, but I have to say that I like the way that houses in Japanese suburbs don't have yards and are tightly packed. Makes them appear pretty urban by New England standards.

Wood handles earthquakes well, so it makes sense, but it doesn't leave the same legacy of time and place that brick and stone do.
Most of New England's housing is wood, though..
 

#bancars

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I've lived inside the Yamanote for the last 20 years. Own a single-family house in Bunkyo-ku near Tokyo Dome City in Koishikawa.

Japanese (astonishingly lax) zoning is what ultimately makes Tokyo and every other Japanese city more dynamic than anywhere in the US outside NYC. All the small business owners who run specialty shops and restaurants/bars/cafes out of the first floors of their homes in otherwise-largely residential neighborhoods drive these dynamics. It's awesome. The transit density and scope of coverage also contribute significantly. I don't own a car. No need. How many white collar home owners in America do you think don't own cars? It's the norm inside the 23 Wards in Tokyo.

But I could do without the drunk 50 year old salarymen peeing in the bushes along Hakusan Dori, throwing up on the Kasuga Station platform, and leaving cigarette butts on the street intersection I own 1/4th of.

The every-day culture non-Japanese admire when visiting Japan is non-transferable. Boston - or any other American city - could never "import" about 2000 years of ingrained social and commercial etiquette. You're just never going to get an American Starbucks or McDonald's or 7-Eleven employee to genuinely care about good service in the way that Japanese service and hospitality workers do. You're never going to have a major American metropolis where it's genuinely safe for a drunk woman in her 20s to walk down any street alone at 3:00 AM.

BUT, your comparing Boston to suburban Japan isn't apt. The bedtowns here are mind-numbingly repetitive, with massive blocks of 2000-3000 unit "mansion" complexes, and fields of cookie-cutter Japanese versions of McMansions. West Coast America-style dense suburban housing, but in smaller buildings (about 1200 sq feet on average) on smaller lots built intentionally with a 30 year max shelf life. Housing in Japan is not like in America. Everyone buys new (it helps that most new construction deals don't require any down payments and a 30 year fixed-rate mortgage can be had at less than 1% annually, and you get a sweet "new construction" tax write-off). You cannot sell a house that's already been lived in. Well, you can, but the new owner will just level it and build from scratch. And you're not actually selling the house, you're selling the land. Used houses carry almost no resale value. Because of this, housing design and quality is an afterthought in most places. The suburbs especially. My wife is from suburban Tokyo, in Saitama (which is effectively Tokyo's New Hampshire in every way). It's depressing and it's soul-crushing. Quite literally a bedtown: a place where you sleep between the 12+ hours you spend grinding in an office and 2+ hours you spend on the train.

I'd take anywhere in Boston, and anywhere in many of Boston's inner-ring suburbs, over almost any Tokyo suburb.
Thanks for this. I visited Japan back in 2016 (direct flight on JAL from BOS to NRT) and absolutely could not get over how vibrant the streetscapes felt in much of Tokyo (though less so in some newer areas like Odaiba). How many small shops were tucked along every nook and cranny of every street and alley (would LOVE to see more small-scale and micro-retail in Boston). The comprehensive and ubiquitous high quality transit. I loved it.

Heck, even in the smaller cities we visited (Kyoto and Hiroshima), I felt the pedestrian experience (in terms of activity) was much more interesting than anywhere in Boston and anywhere in the US outside of NYC. I'm now obsessed with the Youtube channel Rambalac, which is just a dude who walks around various Japanese streetscapes, because one can get a vicarious experience of sorts!

But your post is a good reminder that for as much idolizing that US urbanists do of Japanese cities, the actually lived experience of many residents and workers can be difficult, especially with insane commutes.
 

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