What Defines Boston?

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A few months after I made the move to Boston, I called my brother to tell him that I found a permanent apartment out here. “It’s in Somerville!” I exclaimed.

“Not Boston?”

“Well, technically, no. I’m in Somerville. But it’s different out here…”

“Why would you move 1,000 miles across the country just to live in the suburbs?” he asked.

And I didn’t really know how to answer that. 

Somerville, in my mind, wasn’t really the suburbs. But then when I went to vote that November, I realized I was in a different county than Boston itself. Somerville is in Middlesex County. Boston is in Suffolk. My first thought was, “the T runs through two different counties?” It’s actually three, since Brookline and Quincy are in Norfolk County.

I learned that even though areas like Jamaica Plain and Roslindale were put on mailing addresses, these areas are within Boston’s city limits. A friend of mine explained it by saying that all of Boston was south of the Charles River. Charlestown, apparently, is the exception to that rule. (In Boston, every rule has an exception.)

Over the course of 382 years, the shape and size of a city are bound to change and grow. Boston keeps changing. Day by day.

Boston is so much more than the oddly shaped outline that defines its borders. People dozens of miles outside of Boston city limits say they’re from Boston. Heck, I’ve never actually lived in Boston proper and I say I’m from Boston.

So where are the boundaries?

To find the answer to this ever changing question, I began by asking some of my friends. I got multiple answers. I’ve heard every answer from “Suffolk County” to “Anywhere between Nashua and Providence.” Three states? Clearly this wasn’t going to get me the definitive answer I seek.

When my apartment search started, everyone had an opinion on where I should live. Mission Hill, Brookline, Cambridge; I was lost. I turned to Craigslist. Craigslist breaks down Boston by category. I clicked on ‘GBS’ [Greater Boston Suburbs] and it took me to ‘Boston, Cambridge and Brookline’ postings. That must be it. Is that what the Boston Metro Area is?

So why do my friends from Reading and Weymouth have stronger accents than people I know from Roxbury? My friends from the actual city of Boston explained to me that people who are from the ‘suburbs’ of Boston are the only ones with the Boston accent.

This only made things more confusing.

Finally, I went to an expert. Someone from Boston and who truly loves Boston. One of We Love Beantown’s co-founders, Dave Levy. Dave loves Boston. He loves Boston more than he loves bow ties (and Dave really loves him some bow ties). I followed up with the question I’ve been trying to define for almost three years. “So what is Boston?”

“Not sure which parts are Boston, but I can tell you that anything outside of 128 is Worcester,” Levy said.

And there was my answer. The Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Wikipedia, Craigslist tended to agree, but I needed to hear it from someone from Boston. Someone who loves Boston and knows that the definition of ‘What Is Boston’ can’t be pinpointed. Someone who drives 128 instead of 95. Someone who drinks Moxie and likes it.

We’re proud. We love Boston and want to share our pride with everyone. Being from Boston is so much more than living inside of a specific ZIP code. It’s an attitude. A love of the Bruins, candlepin bowling, lobster rolls and the Charles River. It’s pride in saying, “I’m from Boston.”