21 Aug 2014
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A City for All Ages

List-Mania: Recent rankings score Boston high for young and old alike, making it a fine place to live for a long time.

A City for All Ages

The flow of frozen-yogurt seekers kept the door of the Allston shop in near-constant motion. With the skies already dark, for our little kids spooning into their scoops, it was late. But not for the customers coming in: With school yet to start, the relaxed, homework-free summer faces and bodies around us were uniformly young, as befits a neighborhood of students.

We were with friends who were visiting Boston to tour colleges with their high schooler and two younger children. As the other mom at our table turned slightly to see the crowd, a bit of a shudder passed through her. “I can’t be around so many people this age,” she said, smiling and shaking her head. She was thinking of all the parenting she’d done, and all that was left to do.

I haven’t lived in the same building with undergrads in years, so rarely are we exposed to the extreme downside of our college town. (Loud late-night parties, anyone?) Allston-Brighton itself is 29 percent 20- to- 24-year-olds. But my friend’s reaction reminded me of how much we embrace Boston’s mix of generations. 

A fan of lists would have to agree. This week, a new survey ranked Boston fifth-best among the 20 largest metropolitan areas for Generation Y (ages 19 to 29 for the survey).  PayScale, a compensation data firm, and Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research company, asked workers about salary, raises, and commuting. According to their study, 25 percent of Boston’s work force is Gen Y – having lots of Gen Y people around raised the city’s score (Seattle topped their list).

Boston is apparently wonderful for the elderly, too. In late July, the Milken Institute’s study called “Best Cities for Successful Aging” ranked Boston fourth overall (among the 100 largest metros) for seniors, and first for those 80 years and older. Small cities are ranked on a separate list. Public data were used to rank 78 factors. While Boston scored poorly for cost of housing and of assisted living, it’s first for number of doctors and second for number of fitness centers, for example.

And we are No. 1 as far as Parenting magazine is concerned: Boston topped their 2012 Best Cities for Families list, using data from multiple sources in the categories of education, health, safety, economy, and culture.

Sometimes rankings can be little more than a tool for a real estate broker, or quick validation if we are fortunate enough to be able to choose where we live. But Boston’s recent high scores take into account the wants and needs of a wide range of demographic groups. On these three lists, only Boston ranks in the top four on all three. (And to be clear, “Boston” often means the 4.5 million of us in the area and all our combined stats, not just those in Mayor Tom Menino’s domain.) 

Boston’s legitimate problems may persist and new ones will sprout. But being No. 1 (or close to it) can be a little booster shot for what ails us. One recent night, we happily got off the Mass Pike after a trip to our city’s giant neighbor to the south. (The driving traffic alone there entails both nerves of elasticized, quick-to-react steel and copious amounts of patience. You know what I’m talking about. Ten lanes into two – but on a certain night just one – lane, into the Holland Tunnel. Later, speeding at close range, heading out of the city. Not unlike Massachusetts. Just worse. ) 

Anyway, our late (again) homecoming meal – perfect fish tacos in the Fenway on the Red Sox’s night off ­– took place at picnic tables al fresco. We were eating and seemed to have beaten the rush, which turned out to be really just one large group of friends. They sat at a neighboring table, 15 people crammed tight, one of whom had to make an impromptu seat of the fence, as she balanced in the space between wood and iron. There were more men than women, and they all looked very uncoupled.

My first visits to this restaurant were before we had kids, when the group I was watching would have been about the same age as our 16-year-old visitor who was pondering where to apply to school. I imagined several of these twentysomethings, many years hence, still in Boston, enjoying the same haunts, but no longer going out on a whim with 14 other classmates or colleagues. Some will have families too; enjoying a different stage in life. They’ll push strollers on their walk to dinner, instead of being unencumbered, catering to the needs of parent and child. Making dinner conversation with small children, who’ll grow older and get even more interesting.

Perhaps one day they'll check out colleges in a different town, for offspring who want to venture farther from the nest. But for themselves – looking forward to sticking around.

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