Commentaries Health & Environment

Downtown View: Welcome, New Bostonians

There is still a lot of trash on the sidewalks from the move-ins, but soon those reliable trash collectors will do their job, some nice neighbor will do a little sweeping, a rain will arrive and wash away the sticky debris, and we’ll be back to normal.

But what is normal for permanent residents is new to the new arrivals, whether you are students, families or young single professionals sharing digs with people like them.

So here is a guide to behaving like a true Bostonian.

First, get used to walking in the street, especially if you live in the North End or on Beacon Hill. That’s after, of course, you get used to walking, which in most of the downtown is the fastest way to get anywhere. We walk in the street because the sidewalks are too narrow for one person with an umbrella or two people walking together, trying to carry on a conversation. Drivers usually expect people to be in the street, so usually they are cooperative.

But if you walk in the street, it is polite to scoot in between parked cars so that moving cars can get past. No one on our streets owns the road. We share and it works just fine.

But don’t try this on Commonwealth Avenue, the name of which brings up another topic—bikes.

Commonwealth Avenue has good bike lanes. Too bad they are not more used. They are next to the mall, not next to the parked cars. This good idea means that bike riders don’t have to look for drivers who can’t see them coming and open their doors just as the rider is about to pass.

This is a good time to remind you that if you ride your bike, and we are happy you are doing so, you are also sharing the road with cars and pedestrians. So don’t act like a jerk, thinking you are morally superior. Bike riders have been a belligerent bunch who don’t rate high on anybody’s list of favorites. We’re hoping that with many more people riding bikes, the bad behavior—zipping around cars, running red lights, and generally making a selfish nuisance of oneself—will be greatly diminished.

And bikes bring up cars. What to do with them is a problem in all big cities. If you’ve brought your car to downtown Boston, you will have endless frustration or endless expense. You must register your car at city hall in order to get a neighborhood resident sticker, but it won’t do you much good because there aren’t enough parking spaces for the cars already registered. Some say it is 4 cars to one space. Others say 7 cars to one space. I don’t think anyone really knows.

Since we don’t have congestion charging like London does, surburbanites think they drive their cars in any old time they want to and then they get mad because they’re stuck in traffic and can’t find a space to park. So not only do we have to contend with each other for space for our cars, we have to tolerate the outsiders too.

Just get rid of the car. Park it at a friend’s house in Newton. Sell it. Leave it with your parents. Join Zip-Car or rent a car when you need one. Use the subway, which is pretty good here. Unless you’ve got the money for a garage or a paid parking lot, you’ll be so much happier.

You also might like to learn a little bit about rats. We have the big, nasty kind that tear open trash bags and lurk around your front door. So don’t pay attention to the city rules that you can put your trash out at 5 p.m. the night before pickup. Put the trash out at 7 a.m. on the day of pickup. Just get up before then. You’ll have a lot fewer rats around your place if you do so.

Long-time residents will want me to address noise. This means that when you have a party, the police are likely to show up, because a neighbor has called them. Go ahead and have your parties, but don’t set fire to your roof, don’t let people near the edge of your roof, and keep your guests and the alcohol under control.

Finally, learn about recycling. Not all those moving in around now are young, but many are, and you are the generation that will suffer the most if we don’t recycle. So learn when recyclables get picked up in your neighborhood. Figure out how to store them in your abode. Put them out in those clear-ish plastic bags. Do it right so we’re not picking up after you.

If you follow these guidelines, you’ll be happy and welcome. Long-time residents want to live with young people. Otherwise we’d be off in some family-bound suburb or in an old folks home.

And while you’re new now, if you stick around, you’ll be a long-time resident too. Start practicing for the long haul, since you’re going to find that once you accept its quirks, downtown Boston is a great place to live.

Downtown View
is a regular column by Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times weekly newspaper in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007.
She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Her column appears in those newspapers as well as the Regional Review, which serves Boston’s North End. These weeklies are now owned by the Independent Newspaper Group. She is the author of “Blue Laws, Brahmins and Breakdown Lanes: An Alphabetic Guide to Boston and Bostonians” and the co-author of “The Lady Architects,” a book about three women who practiced architecture in New England and elsewhere in the early 20th century. She lives in downtown Boston and blogs at

2 Replies to “Downtown View: Welcome, New Bostonians

  1. Karen:
    Good article except this one sentence “Put the trash out at 7 a.m. on the day of pickup.” If you did this on my street you would miss the trash pickup at least 40% of the time. The truck can arrive anywhere between 6 AM and 10 AM. If you wait until 7 AM, you are out of luck until the next pickup day. I have neighbors who used to put it out at 7 but I thnk they got stuck with the trash a few times too many so they went back to putting it out at night. Until the city negotiates a new contract with the current or new waste management company to start after say 8 AM, I do not see it working. Until that time having code enforcement give out violations to people who put their trash out at 1PM the day before the trash is picked up or at 4 PM on Friday afternoon before these peope go away for the weekend might help.

  2. Definitely needs to be more trash code enforcement.

    I honestly feel like the North End is not seen as a high priority by the powers that be in city hall. There are never any BTD officers working on Sundays ticketing out of town parkers. There are never any consequences for people putting trash out 2 days early. There are slow response times to calls to the police (if they come at all). Very frustrating, but seems to be the par for the course.

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