An Open Letter to Cambridge

Feb. 14 marked the 1-year anniversary since our offer on a house in Arlington was accepted. At the time I wrote this post, it was hard to leave Cambridge.

Dear Cambridge,

My husband and I have enjoyed living in your city for 10 years. My son took a little while (8 years) to come around, but he now likes it, too. My daughter was born here, so this is home to her.

We want to thank you for your efforts to keep us here when we thought we couldn’t afford it. The last few years, we’ve been looking for a bigger place. We thought a multi-family dwelling was the solution, but it turns out to have snags we hadn’t realized.

Last summer, we toyed with moving in or near Salem. We decided to give in one more year. To squeeze in a two-bedroom condo with a porch, but no property. (Why are there nearly no three-bedroom places in Cambridge? WHY?)

 Our needs have been modest: 300-400 more square feet, three bedrooms, 1 ½ baths, a little property and a driveway.

An extra bedroom? A full bath instead of a half? Garage? All of that would be beyond our wildest dreams in Cambridge.

Two weeks ago, we saw a house in our price range. On a main road and not beautiful from the outside, but still… Hopeful, we entered its halls to discover an inside dated from the middle of the last century. After we climbed the stairs, we were woeful when we eyed the ancient stove in the dining room. Set diagonally. The crumbling walls and ceilings all needed replacing. Our heart disintegrated like the plumbing within the walls.

We decided to look in Arlington (one town over) the next day.

There were actually HOUSES in our price range. Not just one, but also several. And these houses were by big parks and preserves. Some had four bedrooms. Some had big yards. Some were updated. Some were near town and transportation. One was in a ritzy part of town near golf courses.

It’s not Cambridge.

But we can see us making a life there.

With your big changes in the school system, this might be the right time to go.

We want to thank you for all that you stand for and all you try to do. Your museums are wonderful. Harvard and MIT are involved in our schools. School choice and good funding means stronger schools than in a typical city (though poverty poses many challenges, especially in the classroom). You have a liberal recycling program. I like that when I bring my compost to the recycling center, I can also swap books. You have good public transportation. (And you’re next door to Boston!) I can keep my kids entertained all summer between the libraries and summer park programs. Best of all, you don’t just accept different cultures, families, and religions, but embrace them. Sometimes you fall short of what you’re trying to achieve, but you try.

Famous authors and scientists walk around this town, along with people whose families have lived here for generations, along with immigrant families and students from all over the world.

While Arlington will offer some of this, it won’t offer all of it. But it will probably offer things I can’t imagine, and I will sing their praises once I know them.

Moving a few miles away won’t change who we are. We lived in Cambridge, which shared many of our values. But it doesn’t mean Arlington won’t. When I look at city data, it’s not all that different. Why does it feel a world away?

We’ll be here all the time, anyway. My kids will still keep their after school lessons and friends. My college is here. My husband still works here.

Besides, the coveted parking permit is still good for another year.


Theresa Milstein

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inthegloaming March 07, 2013 at 09:41 PM
Sharon, I can only compare with having lived in New York (Manhattan born and bred), but MA has been lovely on many fronts. Especially if you live in college towns, which are more liberal, less conservative/bigotted, etc. In general it passes more laws that I personally agree with than not. And we only go Republicant now and then, not as a rule. There are other states as lovely, geographically, but I wouldn't be able to live in a red state with those neighbors, I'd feel too isolated/shunned.
inthegloaming March 07, 2013 at 09:51 PM
Malcolm: I'm glad your neighbors are friendly. Mine are. . . superficially. Until you ask them to control their screeching kids careening around the street/running through our yard. Then it's "MY kid OWNS this block. You're Not The Boss of Me! Go move to Cambridge if you don't like it." :-/ Seems the Unfriendlys are disproportionately represented here on Patch comments.
inthegloaming March 07, 2013 at 09:57 PM
(sigh) The point of the article is to say Thank You to Cambridge for being right for her/her family. She appreciates the happy years there. And now that needs have changed, she's adapting and evolving -- what a concept! -- and finds Arlington will be her new place to be grateful for. AND since she'll always have Cambridge = wine/win! Gadz, WHY do you folks have to NITPICK every damn thing anyone writes? Are you all really that bored and that grumpy and that antagonistic to strangers? Theresa, you may want to rethink Arlington. It's a nice town, but these inhabitants often give it a bad name: Cranky, Grumpy, Dopey, Bigoted, Holier-Than-Thou, and Hey-You-Immigrants-Get-Off-MY-Town! Depressing. I'm outta here. (They keep offering to help me pack, but no one actually shows up. ;-P )
inthegloaming March 07, 2013 at 10:00 PM
Marc, Coco, and Rob have ironically (and hilariously) proven Theresa's point about the drawbacks of Arlington compared to Cambridge. It's people like this who stubbornly cling to outdated Them vs. Us antagonism that keep Arlington provincial. Maybe they like it that way, but adapt or evolve or Here's Your Darwin Award, dudes. (Oh, and unless you're a Native American Menotomy tribe direct descendent, you're an immigrant to Arlington too. You don't have dibs. Or a Great Wall.)
Mike March 07, 2013 at 10:51 PM
Lame. People move from one town or city to another everyday. They weigh prices, value, location, services, etc. and make their best choice. What's next? A new line of Hallmark Cards with "Goodbye City Hall" themes?
inthegloaming March 07, 2013 at 11:17 PM
Rob. She got it. She just wasn't taking the dumb bait from the troll.
Theresa Milstein March 07, 2013 at 11:20 PM
inthegloaming, thank you. Good luck with your move. I hope you find your dream space. I'm near Summer Street and worry about the congestion increasing with all the new building going on there.
Zoltan March 07, 2013 at 11:27 PM
Lighten up. Theresa's proud of her town. That's a damn rare thing these days.
Lynne March 09, 2013 at 03:16 AM
I don't agree with the seemingly accepted sentiment that people choose to buy in Arlington 'because' they can't afford cambridge. Not only is it offensive to suggest Arlg is a sorry 2nd cousin to where people really want to be, it's not true. The majority of folks who move to Arlg do so because of a life event, often marriage or birth of a child. The composition of the housing stock is very different, a high percentage of condos and smaller studios and 1 bedrooms. Cambridge and Somerville are more transitory, less personal, far fewer families with children and more singles. Many folks would not stay in Cambridge if values were comparable. Arlg is neighborhoods full of young families, longer time in residence - often lifelong, friendly neighbors, kids playing together, outdoor activities and enjoying the green spaces, combined with a sense of community that Cambridge cannot rival. When real estate values hit a rough patch, Arlg values continued holding steady. People are choosing to buy homes in Arlg, as a 1st choice, and willing to compete in a fierce market in order to live here, specifically for the quality of life.
Theresa Milstein March 09, 2013 at 12:53 PM
Lynne, I agree with you comment. I think what happened is that we liked where we lived and needed more space, so we found another place we liked to live. It's so much more community-oriented in Arlington. In Cambridge, I hardly knew my neighbors. In our new neighborhood, so many people are friendly and I don't have to worry about my kids walking around. And I like that it's not too far from Boston and in easy walking distance into town. It was hard to see people come and go so often in Cambridge. It's definitely more settled here. Even though my kids had good friends and I liked their school in Cambridge, they're very happy here and I wish we'd moved to Arlington years ago.
Jetson March 09, 2013 at 03:34 PM
Someone is impressed with herself.
inthegloaming March 09, 2013 at 07:12 PM
And someone is a petty, snarky sniper.
inthegloaming March 09, 2013 at 07:17 PM
Theresa, I'd advise you not to presume Arlington is totally safe. Read the police reports. There's a rash of home break-ins going on lately, kicking in FRONT doors, petty theft. Packages stolen off porches. (Mine included.) Often these thieves don't live in Arlington, but find us easy pickings because we think it's safe so we don't always lock doors, or cars, etc. Better overly cautious than sorry. Especially with kids.
Theresa Milstein March 09, 2013 at 08:20 PM
Inthegloaming, thanks for the advice. I saw that Patch report. The area I lived in Cambridge had a fair amount of crime, but I shouldn't assume there's nothing to worry about here.
Coco March 10, 2013 at 02:08 PM
Theresa, don't assume that, there are break-in's all over Arlington...the police log doesn't list all of them cuz they want the housing market to stay strong for people like you.
Theresa Milstein March 10, 2013 at 05:01 PM
Coco, thanks for the info. If they knew my old neighborhood, they wouldn't worry about telling me about the crime in Arlington.
Coco March 10, 2013 at 05:20 PM
Ok good because there a lot of drug related crime here in Arlington. Busineses and residents are robbed for drug money constantly. My business was robbed 3 times over the last couple of years. It's just junkies trying to find quick cash....
Theresa Milstein March 10, 2013 at 05:28 PM
Coco, that's awful. I'm really sorry. We had a meth lab discovered a few houses down from us several years ago and there were some other crimes in the area. We were lucky never to have anything happen to us.
Big Jim March 10, 2013 at 05:54 PM
Tim - I was hoping we would have an intelligent discussion instead of the predictable "if you don't like it here, leave". My point, which has been corroborated by other comments, is that the differences between Arlington and Cambridge are vast, on so many fronts. I live here because on balance, considering all these factors, Arlington is a *somewhat* better choice for me. It's still OK for me to want to have some of the things I like about Cambridge here in Arlington. Nothing is that simple, though.
Donnarose Russian March 10, 2013 at 06:19 PM
Arlington's my home, but Arlington and Cambridge are BOTH awesome towns, each in their own ways. Nice letter, Theresa, but if you're homesick for Cambridge now, just wait'll you seem to get ten times more than your rightful share of parking and traffic tickets in Arlington...
Theresa Milstein March 10, 2013 at 06:51 PM
Donnarose, that's bad news. Since I still go to Cambridge a few days a week, I'll accrue twice as many tickets.
inthegloaming March 10, 2013 at 09:56 PM
I didn't get that Theresa was "homesick" for Cambridge. She was saying farewell, thanks for all the fish, and musing on the differences between the two towns that make Arlington more of a fit for her/her family now.
inthegloaming March 10, 2013 at 09:58 PM
Big Jim: Tim's a troll. Half the time I don't think he means what he says, he just likes to stir the pot. He's either literally a 14 yr old, or he's just stuck there. He's always suggesting everyone he doesn't like "leave" -- but TIM, hey, I'm holding you to the offer for moving help when we do move. Should be in about a year! (But no doubt I'll still check out this Patch when I'm feeling "homesick" for Arlington. :-) )
inthegloaming March 10, 2013 at 10:01 PM
Coco, it probably would stay strong anyway. There's no place else to go if you want to be close to work, but not in the middle of the crunch. Even I can't afford Lexington (at least not the parts of it that I'd like to "upgrade" to: lots of amenities, stores, restaurants, BUT also lots of space between me and the neighbors. That would take more millions than I could dream of having. AND an electrified fence.)
Donald Mei March 18, 2013 at 04:52 AM
My wife and I recently moved to Arlington from a fairly rural part of SE CT. I'm not a big fan of the sprawling suburbs I wanted to either be in the sticks or in a community close to the city. Arlington was just what we were looking for. We love it here. Contrary to what some have said, there is diversity in Arlington. Just not the predictable color based diversity that Cambridge people like to see. On our street we have people from the mid west, vermont, cambridge, Turkey, Chechnya, Taiwan, Italy and Puerto Rico. We also have blue collar guys with the thickest southie accent you could imagine, living near people who are white collar executives. This is diversity. Not the neat, race based diversity that Cambridge people like. Which leads me to another point. Cambridge people don't really like diversity. At least they don't like diversity of opinion or political persuasion. To most Cambridge people diversity means a bunch of people of all different colors who all lean left politically. I am the son of an accountant, but I was raised with blue collar ideals. I consider the massive influx of Cambridge people to be a negative. I am in no way speaking specifically about the author. I don't know her. But there are some generalizations that can be made about Cambridge transplants to Arlington. 1) the think they are just a little bit better than the rest of us 2) they are liberal 3) they are educated 4) they wish they were still in Cambridge. Don
inthegloaming March 18, 2013 at 07:24 AM
Don Mei: You list "educated" like it's a bad thing. are you against it? Why? And to me, "liberal" isn't the pejorative you are using it as, but embodies positive traits, like "generous" and "live and let live" and "do into others as you would have them do unto you." I don't think you can accurately generalize that Cambridge ex-pats wish they still lived there. (I, for one, don't, and I know a few others who also prefer Arlington.) As for thinking we're "better than" Arlingtonians . . . well, I have to confess to that when I read the snarky, snipey, mean-spirited comments that show up here far too often.
Theresa Milstein March 18, 2013 at 10:18 AM
Donald Mei, you have a good point about political diversity. It certainly is less politically diverse here. I am an ex-Cambridge resident who is happier in Arlington than I was in Cambridge. I originally wrote this post before I moved, as a tribute to the place I lived for 10 years. It took a month or two before I wondered why I hadn't left Cambridge sooner. There are things I miss there. I was in walking distance to Fenway and the Garden. My kids had good friends in school. Inthegloaming makes a good point above. If I'd seen this thread before moving, I would've had a very negative impression of Arlington. I'm lucky to have such nice neighbors around me.
Donald Mei March 19, 2013 at 09:21 PM
I don't consider educated to be a bad thing. I'm merely listing it as a generally consistent set of characteristics ex-cambridge people have. A live and let live attitude is not part of the liberal or conservative agenda. Both groups are statists who wish to use government to force their ideology on others. Liberals value personal freedoms. Conservatives value economic freedom. My intention was not to be mean spirited, it was primarily to lay out the facts as I see them.
inthegloaming March 20, 2013 at 12:02 AM
Donald, I'll try (and likely fail) not to be annoyingly literal here. If liberals value personal freedoms, then how do they* "wish to use government to FORCE their ideology on others." That's an honest question. *(I find myself leaning liberal. Not that I don't value economic freedom. . . unless it goes as far as having the freedom to scam a large section of society without any means for justice (e.g., the bank mortgage foreclosure swops/bailout). That's not "freedom" that's a different kind of tyranny.)
Donald Mei March 22, 2013 at 12:58 PM
Inthegloaming - liberals primarily do it through taxation to support programs that they support. They do it through governmental regulation on businesses that limits economic innovation. Government does not create wealth, private industry does. The more money you have in Government's hands, the less is available for private investment. I dont' know if I'm allowed to put links here, but checkout lpmass.org . You might like it. People arrive at "libertarian enlightenment" from both the liberal and the conservative side. - Don


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