Boston neighborhoods’ borders ill-defined
Jul 2011 19

Which Boston neighborhood do you live in? Are you sure?

The Boston Globe unravels the mystery of Boston’s neighborhoods’ borders in an article today.

It’s a common debate/discussion in the local real estate community. Real estate agents are accused of, at times expanding the borders (to give more appeal to listings) and shrinking them (to exclude things such as crime and blight). For instance, the South End’s borders are fluid and ill-defined. To agents, it’s often Massachusetts Ave used as the border to the west, except when they have listings on the other side and want to get buyers interested.

The historic record is little help since, as the Globe points out, much of Boston is made of landfill. You can look at old maps, but look to far back and all you’ll see is marshland. Many neighborhoods didn’t even exist before 1850.

Is Kenmore Square in Back Bay or The Fenway, or is it its own neighborhood? What about St. Botolph Street? Is it Back Bay or South End?

Another agent friend of mine had a client who called him up after closing on a condo purchase on Mass Ave. He had just received his first mail at his new address, and the label said, “Mass Ave, Roxbury, Massachusetts”. He freaked out, “I don’t live in Roxbury, do I??”

One answer was, “Yes.” Another was, “No.” The third was, “Why does it matter?”

But, of course, to some it does. A lot. Buying a home means you’re investing not just in a property but in a neighborhood, in the city. A lot of money is riding on your choice, both when you buy and when you sell. Perception is not the same as reality.

For me, I’ve used “South End” and “Roxbury” at different times for the area between Mass Ave and Melnea Cass Blvd. Roxbury doesn’t always work because I think of that as Dudley Square and points around there. I went to Northeastern University in the 1980′s and we always considered the school to be in the Fenway. Since then, they’ve invested millions in development that’s turned the campus around from Huntington to Tremont and Columbus, and now it’s as much a part of Roxbury as the other neighborhoods.

So, I don’t know.

Image above from the Boston Public Library‘s flickr photo stream.

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