Downtown View: What Do Young Bostonians Want?

April 28, 2014
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There is a lot of action on the young person’s front. City fathers and mothers are trying to attract people age 20 to 34. Mayor Menino created an initiative called ONEin3 to engage that age group and help Boston serve their needs. He championed the Seaport District’s micro-apartments to house the young employees of the city’s start-ups and tech firms. Mayor Walsh is looking into extending bar and restaurant closing times in the “city that always sleeps,” a Boston Globe description from several years ago. The MBTA is testing late night service on selected T routes.

But I wanted to hear from young people, so I went to the source. Chloe Ryan, age 26, was the first person I spoke to. A Charlestown resident, Chloe is the manager of the ONEin3 program, so she gave me some background.

She pointed out that Boston has the highest proportion of 20 – 34 year olds as any American city, making up 35% of Boston’s population and 48% of its work force. She says companies choose Boston partly because of its  young, educated talent pool. Ambitious young people like being here with other ambitious young people. There is a lot to do in Boston—cultural activities, the music scene, sports, boating and lively restaurants. “There’s always something going on,” she said.

Housing costs are a challenge. Nevertheless, 30 percent of her age group own their own homes.

Despite its comparatively small size, Boston arguably has more global reach and diversity than almost all other American cities except for New York, L.A., and Chicago, she points out.

Chloe believes her contemporaries plan to stay for a long time. “I haven’t heard too many people itching to move to the suburbs,” she said.

Rebecca Lesser, age 25, didn’t want to move to the suburbs even though the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, where she is a graduate student, is in Newton. Rebecca chose the South End because it seemed the most urban part of Boston when she moved from New York in the summer of 2012. She passed on the Seaport District because she wanted a neighborhood with more activity.

Parking was better in the South End than in other downtown neighborhoods. Rebecca didn’t want a car, but she needs it for her commute. That was her pet peeve—Boston’s transit system. “It’s hard to get around on public transportation,” she said. “It’s not fast or convenient, and it doesn’t go everywhere. You have to go all the way to Park Street to transfer.”

But Boston has redeeming qualities, she said. There is a lot for young working people to do—biking, walking, kayaking, lots of events. “In New York, you can’t get into a free event because it’s too crowded,” she said. “In Boston everything is more feasible.”

Rebecca and her friends have enjoyed the trivia and board game nights many bars hold. She’s happy the T runs later, but unhappy the city closes so early.

Mike Pesa-Fallon 33, is a real estate lawyer at the older end of the young working person cohort. He was born in Boston, grew up in New Hampshire, went away for school and a stint in Americorps and a New York law firm.

But with six generations of Bostonians in his family, he decided to carry on the tradition. He lives in a one-bedroom apartment, not a micro-apartment, in the Seaport District because he likes the short commute to his office.

He disagrees with Rebecca about the Seaport District’s energy, but that may be because he is close to Liberty Wharf, the Harpoon Brewery and the concert pavilion, not to mention the harbor itself. He is excited about the future of his neighborhood—his law practice gives him insider knowledge as to what’s coming in new construction and businesses.

He’s high on Boston. The restaurants are less expensive than in New York, but the people are as interesting. He likes the mix of culture, green spaces, and the walkability of Boston. “It’s nice to be in a smaller city,” he said. “It’s easier to get around.”

But he means by walking. He too is frustrated with the MBTA. He complains he can’t get to Allston-Brighton easily on the T. He still has to have a car.

He has tried the late night T service, but complains that Boston venues shut down too early. Near his downtown office, the happy hour scene is vibrant. Then it goes dark.

Mike wants to put down roots. He’s looking for a place to buy. He wants to be near green space, and he wants to be able to walk to cafes and bars. While he’d like to stay in Boston, he’s unhappy with the school system, so he’s considering other places.

Mike is a good example of the problem with young people. Are they only temporary residents?

“The Seaport is young and people move on,” he acknowledged. “It’s difficult. Staying will be hard.”