Class-Divided Cities: Boston Edition
Author's Note: This is the 10th of a series of posts that explore the class divides across America's largest cities and metros. Using data from the American Community Survey, each post explores the geography of class within a large city and metro area. For a detailed description of methodology, see the first post in the series.
The map above charts the geography of class for the urban core of the Boston area, including Cambridge and Brookline as well as the city of Boston. The creative class lives in the areas that are shaded in purple, the red areas are primarily service class, and the blue are working class. Each colored space on the map is a Census tract, a small area within a city or county that can be even smaller than a neighborhood.
As the map shows, the city of Boston is quite polarized by class. The creative class (about 42.5 percent of the city's workforce) is clustered in and around downtown and in several other pockets across the city. The rest of the city is red.
The creative class's downtown cluster is mostly found in the central business district and the Financial District. This area is home to headquarters and offices of banks and insurance companies as well as major government offices. It is heavily concentrated in Beacon Hill and Back Bay, which have always been fairly upscale; they haven't revived so much as intensified. Both have an abundance of preserved historic homes, shops, and restaurants, are in close proximity to Boston's great public amenities, and are well served by transit. The creative class is also concentrated in the South End, heart of the city's gay community, which has been the site of more recent gentrification.
Along with a vast population of students (the ones who work make some of these tracts look redder than they really are), the creative class is also concentrated in the Fenway-Kenmore area, home to major cultural and education institutions. Some major health care centers of are nearby too.
Other neighborhoods with a significant creative class presence are the North End, Boston's Little Italy. Across the water to the north is Charlestown, traditionally a working class area, which now has a large population of professionals.
The area of creative class purple that hooks out from the main body of the city to the west is Brighton, which has a significant student and creative class presence. The area of service class red adjoining is Allston, a diverse area of immigrants and student neighborhood also home to Harvard Business School. Town-gown relations there have been especially fractious. Further to the south and east, Jamaica Plain has experienced its own gentrification story and has also attracted a large LGBT population.
Boston's creative class follows and is organized around its main transit lines, especially the MBTA's Red and Green lines. Cambridge, home to Harvard and MIT, is connected via the Red Line. Cambridge has been transformed from an industrial city with two college town islands to a largely creative class cluster, with 67.5 percent of its residents in the creative class. Cambridge has a number of creative class districts, including Harvard Square, Kendall Square around MIT and Davis and Porter squares. Cambridge is also home to numerous high-tech offices and labs, many in close proximity to MIT in Kendall Square. The expanding corporate footprint has provoked some pushback from locals.
Brookline is an affluent close-in suburb that abuts the city along the Green line. (I lived there in 1979-80, while I was a student at MIT.) As the Harvard sociologist, Robert Sampson, who lives in Brookline, points out, "Brookline is really a slice of Boston—it was artificially 'removed' long ago for political reasons. But much of Brookline is closer to downtown Boston than a large swath of Boston, accounting for its creative class appeal. I live about 200 yards from the city line and can walk to Fenway, the Museum, and even downtown in about 45 minutes." He adds that Brookline is not really a classic "suburb, either ecologically or in terms of its housing stock: it has a huge rental market and multi-unit structures are common in eastern half. For example, Brookline has Coolidge Corner and Longwood district (I live near where they meet), which are very professional with medical, students, and some subsidized housing — an interesting mix."
The development of both the city and metro, as well as their class divides, have been powerfully shaped by transit infrastructure, following a pattern identified a half century or ago by the historian Sam Bass Warner, in his classic book Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston 1870-1900. "With the exception of the expensive houses of the Back Bay," he wrote, Boston in 1900 "was an inner city of work and low-income housing, and an outer city of middle- and upper-income residences. The wide extent of settlement in the outer residential zone was made possible by the elaboration of the new street railway transportation system and a parallel extension of city services."
The Green Line runs up Commonwealth Avenue passing through Back Bay, Kenmore, Allston, Brighton, and Brookline and ultimately ends in the wealthy suburb of Newton. The Red Line runs along Massachusetts Avenue in Dorchester and the Financial District, crosses into Cambridge, where it runs past MIT and Harvard, and continues out through Somerville's Davis Square into the suburb of Arlington.
The much larger service class areas begin at the peripheries of the city's creative class districts. Most of them lie beyond the city's main rail transit lines and are serviced by bus and roads. Sampson notes that this "will likely change big time with a new rail line running from South Station down through Dorchester," which is backed by the city and will spur lots of development around its nodes.
South of Fenway–Kenmore is Mission Hill; to the east is the largely African American neighborhood of Roxbury. The massive Dudley Square Municipal Office Facility, an ambitious repurposing of the iconic Ferdinand's Blue Store building, is the first major construction project in this area since Thomas Menino was elected mayor 20 years ago.
North of Roxbury and near Logan Airport are South Boston and then, across the harbor, East Boston, which are both immigrant centers. South Boston or "Southie" has been undergoing a transition in recent years, as young professionals and creatives have begun to colonize the area. It is growing a start-up district near the water. Further south is Dorchester, Boston's largest neighborhood, which has a significant Asian population.
There are two notable features in the map. One is how physically small Boston's footprint is. Its neighborhoods are small too. In places like the South End and Jamaica Plain, gentrification hits a tipping point very quickly. The city has a tremendous shortage of affordable housing. The second is what's missing from it: there is a near complete absence of working-class blue. Boston, the veritable birthplace of America's industrial revolution, the hardscrabble working-class town where Whitey Bulger held sway for so long, hometown of the archetypal juvie-turned-rapper-turned-movie star Mark Wahlberg, is now completely post industrial. There is not a single Census tract in the city where the working class makes up as much as half of the residents.
• • • • •
The second map to the right (click for larger image) shows the class geography for the entire Boston metropolitan region, which extends to Plymouth to the south, Framingham and Concord to the west, and north into Rochester, New Hampshire. The metro is America's 10th largest, home to roughly 4.6 million people with economic output of roughly $326 billion [PDF].
It's not just the city of Boston that's post-industrial. Purple dominates the center of the metro, surrounded by red.
As in Boston, development in the metro follows transportation. Driven by sky-high housing prices in Boston and Cambridge, the surrounding communities of Somerville and Arlington have seen significant gentrification and revitalization. Somerville's Assembly Square project, a large-scale, mixed-use redevelopment project of 2,100 residential units, more than 2.5 million square feet of retail and office space, and a 200-room hotel next to a new Orange line station, is scheduled for completion next year.
To the west lies Belmont, an historically affluent suburb where Mitt Romney keeps his Massachusetts residence and which Charles Murray used as a proxy for an upper crust creative class location in his study Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Further west, the historic colonial towns of Lexington and Concord, as well as Newton, Wellesley, and Sudbury, are historically wealthy places filled with old mansions. The suburbs with greatest concentrations of the creative class are mostly to the north and the west. All of them have excellent school systems and easy access to the city via rail and highways. Boston's Route 128 corridor, dubbed "America's Technology Highway," the birthplace of companies such as Digital Equipment Corporation, Data General, Bose, and countless others, runs through Newton, Framingham, and Waltham.
There are considerable creative class concentrations in the affluent communities that line the north shore, like Manchester-by-the-Sea, Swampscott, and Marblehead.
The service class largely surrounds the metro's creative class clusters in the north; there are bigger swathes of it directly to the south. Along the North Shore right outside of the city, Everett, Lynn, and Beverly have large concentrations of service sector workers.
The next map is an interactive map of the metro's class geography: Click on any tract to see the percentages of each of the three major classes.
The creative class includes people who work in science and technology, business and management, arts, culture media and entertainment, and law and healthcare professions. All told its ranks make up 41.6 percent of the metro's workforce, substantially higher than the national average of 32.6 percent and the ninth highest share in the nation. These are high-skilled, high-paying positions which average $84,403 per year in wages and salaries, substantially above the national average of $70,890. The creative class makes up more than 50 percent of residents in roughly one in five of the metro's Census tracts.
|Top 10 Creative Class Locations in the Boston Metro|
|Neighborhood (Census Tract #)||Creative Class Share|
|MIT, Cambridge (3531.02)||91.0%|
|Newton, MA (3737)||83.8%|
|Harvard Square, Cambridge (3540)||82.6%|
|Central Square, Cambridge (3538)||82.1%|
|Back Bay, Boston (108.02)||81.7%|
|Fenway-Kenmore, Boston (104.08)||81.5%|
|Kendall Square, Cambridge (3542)||81.2%|
|Financial District, Boston (203.03)||80.9%|
|Newton, MA (3744)||80.2%|
|Newton, MA (3743)||79.8%|
The creative class makes up between 80 and 90 percent of residents in the metro's top 10 creative class tracts. Three of the top 10 tracts are in Boston proper. Four of the top 10 tracts are in Cambridge, around Harvard and MIT — reflecting the pattern of high creative class concentration around universities that we have seen in metros throughout this series. The remaining three are in suburban Newton, which sits on the Green line close to Boston College.
The service class entails low-wage, low-skill work in routine jobs such as food service and preparation, retail sales, and clerical and administrative positions. This is the largest class of workers in Boston, making up 43.4 percent of the region's work force, slightly less than the national average of 46.6 percent. Service workers in the metro average $33,738 in wages and salaries, better than the national average of $30,597 but just 40 percent of the average creative class salary in the region. The service class makes up more than half of all residents in roughly one in five of the metro's Census tracts.
|Top 10 Service Class Locations in Boston Metro|
|Neighborhood (Census Tract #)||Service Class Share|
|South Boston (607)||92.6%|
|Roxbury – Dudley Square, Boston (903)||84.4%|
|South Boston (611.01)||77.2%|
|Bridgewater, MA (5612)||75.8%|
|Fenway-Kenmore, Boston (103)||75.6%|
|Roxbury, Boston (804.01)||73.8%|
|East Boston (509.01)||73.8%|
|Roslindale, Boston (1401.06)||72.5%|
|East Boston (504)||71.7%|
|East Boston (506)||70.8%|
Nine of the tracts are in Boston, mainly in South and East Boston (near Logan airport) and Roxbury. Fenway makes the list because of Fenway Park and the high population of students that live in the area.
Members of the working class are employed in factory jobs as well as transportation, maintenance, transportation, and construction. The working class comprises just 14.9 percent of the region's workers, well below the national average of 20.5 percent — a surprising, if not shockingly low percentage for those who remember the Boston metro's blue collar past as a port and a center of textile and shoe manufacturing. The metro's blue-collar workers average $42,765 per year in wages and salaries, substantially better than the national average of $34,015 but just half of what the region's creative class workers make.
|Top 10 Working Class Locations in the Boston Metro|
|Neighborhood (Census Tract #)||Working Class Share|
|Chelsea, MA (1604)||45.1%|
|Lawrence, MA (2503)||45.1%|
|Lowell, MA (3112)||44.6%|
|Lawrence, MA (2513)||42.8%|
|Lawrence, MA (2504)||42.1%|
|Lawrence, MA (2505)||41.8%|
|Lowell, MA (3117)||40.4%|
|Lowell, MA (3111)||40.0%|
|Lawrence, MA (2507)||39.8%|
|Lawrence, MA (2511)||39.7%|
The chart above shows the top 10 working class tracts in the metro. None of them are in the city. The vast majority are in the traditional blue-collar cities of Lowell and Lawrence, the cradle of the American industrial revolution and the largest industrial center in America in the 1850s. Both cities are both part of the MassINC Gateway Cities initiative and have been the subjects of intensive place-making efforts; Lowell's downtown is currently undergoing an $800 million transformation. Chelsea, where roughly one in five people live below the poverty line, is just across the Mystic River from Charlestown.
My next post in this series will look at Detroit.
Prior posts in this series:
All maps by MPI's Zara Matheson.