The power of place: Boston edition

I’ve lived in Boston for 6 months now. I’m still in the phase where I sometimes say to myself, “I live here” as I walk down the street. It’s not that I ever idealized Boston, or that I dreamed of moving here someday. In fact, I often was annoyed at the constant exclamations by friends who lived here to “COME VISIT!” and “MOVE TO BOSTON!” (You know who you are.) Could this city really be that great?

The answer, I’m coming to believe, is yes. I’m still very new, and I still have a lot to learn. Winter, for example, barely existed this year — we had about 4 inches total of snow for the entire season. But I find myself thinking daily how lucky I am to live here, and how excited I am to explore this city, state, and region.

Moving to Boston and starting a job where I travel quite frequently has put the power of place at the front of my mind. How much does it matter that I live in Boston, Massachusetts, instead of Appleton, Wisconsin, or Buffalo, New York? How much does place impact my happiness? Are the cultures of cities really that different? And if so, how do we decide where we belong?

I have said for years that I’m a big city person, which is why I went to college in Washington DC, adore cities like Beijing and London, and now find myself in the biggest city in New England. But at what point, if any, is the allure of giant metropolises just a phase? Will there be a time when I would actually enjoy living in a smaller, quieter setting?

I ended up in Boston partly by chance — it’s where the job was! So I think that makes this a good setting for me to answer some of these questions. I never thought I would belong here. Stereotypes told me that Bostonians are cold and rude, and being a Midwesterner I would be very unhappy (I have found the opposite to be true). Time will tell if the culture of the city matches my personality through and through, or if living here is just a temporary “good time.”

But for now, I’m here. I don’t have to make any decisions about place for a while, so I’m just going to soak it all in. I’m learning how to pronounce town names like Gloucester, Worcester, Peabody, and Leominster. I’m memorizing the differences among Green Lines B, C, D, and E. I’m mapping the neighborhoods of Boston/Cambridge/Somerville/Brookline and beyond by what kinds of international restaurants they specialize in, what group of college kids live nearby, and the level of frustration the residents feel about their commute. I’m coming to realize that Copley Square, Kenmore Square, Davis Square, Harvard Square, and the probably hundreds of other “squares” in New England are not really squares at all. I’m learning that Massachusetts is a state with a strong connection to history, an impressive commitment to education and community, and a population made up of people from every corner of the globe. No wonder people are proud to live here.

Just a short walk away from my apartment. Boston knows how to charm!


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