Archive for the 'Living Here' Category

Medford Trees Succumb to Hurricane Irene

This Maple Tree Took Out an SUV as Its Last Act - Hurricane Irene, Medford MA

Maple Tree Takes Out an SUV as Its Last Act - Hurricane Irene, Medford MA

Medford Trees Take A Hit from Hurricane Irene.  My dad and I were checking out this downed tree on West Street in Medford when the policeman told us that “you can’t count the number of trees down in Medford”.  We decided to go for a drive around West Medford to see the damage.  Check out the Hurricane Irene in Medford slide show below.

The damage caused by Hurricane Irene in Medford certainly could have been much worse. But it was terrible to see so many trees and large branches come down.  The winds weren’t as bad as anticipated and from what we observed, in almost every case, the trees that came down were compromised in some way – most with root systems that had been cut for sidewalks, landscaping, or who knows what.

One sad exception was the largest tree we saw – a beautiful tree on Laurel Street that fell across the street towards Hasting Park in West Medford.  It had a huge root system that had ripped from the ground.  My father guessed that the slightly higher elevation here meant that the wind gusts were just that much stronger.

We were lucky I guess.  A more powerful storm than Hurricane Irene would have wreaked havoc in Medford.  My dad remembers the trees coming down in the Hurricane of ’38 in Cambridge.  Just minutes after he and his friends went inside, the supermarket sign nearby came flying off, nearly hitting a policeman standing on the corner.  Trees went down all over his Cambridgeport neighborhood.

The first house I ever owned had a Hurricane of ’38 story too.  I bought a small book in an antique store called “It Happened Here” about the hurricane in Keene, NH.  I was flipping through the pages and there was my house.  A tree had crushed the second floor taking out the chimney.  The house across the street was pictured too – it had been split in half.  Huge numbers of enormous trees came down all over Keene and New England.  The lady I bought my house from, Kay Adams, recalled huddling in the pantry with her parents as the hurricane roared.  I thought of her more than once today as Irene’s winds whistled for hours.

It pains me to think that an unusual event like today’s storm gives fodder to the tree-haters among us.   Many seem to see a damaged vehicle as a bigger deal than the loss of a tree.  I’m not suggesting, of course, that unhealthy trees shouldn’t be addressed. But it strikes me that a car or SUV is inherently a lot more dangerous than any tree.  We all need to do everything we can to preserve the trees we have and to replenish our all too spotty city tree canopy – if not for us to enjoy – for our neighbors years from now.

Here are more photos of the hurricane damage in Medford MA:

Hurricane Irene Medford MA

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Mass Ave Into Arlington

Mass Ave into Arlington

What's Up With Traffic as Mass Ave Goes Into Arlington?

Somethings wrong on Mass Ave going into Arlington…

I’ve done my best to keep Centers and Squares rant-free  – not always easy for a natural born ranter.  But today I’m going to indulge myself.

In the 90s I  lived in New Hampshire for a few years and with my city-bred impatience was often aggravated by New Hampsherites’ odd behavior in lines (aka queues).  Inefficiency was the norm – lines that didn’t move, lines formed for no good reason, etc.

I’d tap my toe impatiently as the line at the post office failed to move despite the 6′ space that had opened up between waiting customers.  I’d bang the steering wheel as cars waited behind a stopped car  in traffic despite the wide expanse of pavement on the right that allowed for plenty of room to drive around.  “This would never happen in Massachusetts!” I’d exclaim.

Except, now it is.  Inefficiency rules.  At least on Mass Ave at the Cambridge / Arlington line.

I’ve driven through the intersection of Mass Ave and Route 16 countless times.  Never had a problem.  But now the intersection has become the source of intense aggravation.

Mass Ave approaching Route 16 has three lanes – the left lane to turn to go to Route 2, the middle lane to go straight into Arlington on Mass Ave, and the right lane to go straight onto the two-lanes of Mass Ave in Arlington or to turn right to go onto Route 16.

Something’s fallen apart.

Drivers line up in the middle lane despite the empty right lane.  Traffic backs up further and further as we get closer to rush hour.  Always the right lane remains empty or close to.  Fewer and fewer cars manage to make it through the light cycle.

I’ve steamed.  I’ve honked.  I’ve even tweeted for cripes sake.  I rant out loud “Two lanes!  Not one – but two!”  But the dozen cars in front of me don’t budge.

Today I left a message for a traffic engineer at the Cambridge Traffic and Parking.  My suggestions so far – maybe repainting or adding another set of the white lines on the pavement that show the 3rd lane as a straight / turn right lane may help.  Even better – one of those neon yellow signs that show the lane configurations should be installed.

Something’s gotta give.  Don’t make me get out there with my flag to direct traffic.

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Moving Season

Despite the "Don't Block Intersection" sign, these poor guys were stuck with their truck for 15 minutes in Teele Square Somerville

Despite the "Don't Block Intersection" sign, these poor guys were stuck with their truck for 15 minutes in Teele Square Somerville

Moving season in Cambridge and Somerville has begun.  Moving trucks and cars loaded with possessions could be seen all over town this past weekend, the first in August.  More and more people will be arriving as the moving season comes to a head on September 1st.

You had to feel bad for the poor drivers of this mammoth moving truck.  I was stuck in Teele Square for almost 15 minutes as, inch by inch, they tried to maneuver onto a narrow, car-lined street.  Imagine what all these poor truck drivers think as they pull off highways and discover that their destinations are close to impossible to reach.  And the reward for finally getting your truck in place is several hours of lifting and toting. Tip your movers well!

If you’re moving into Cambridge or Somerville you’ll want to get space reserved for your truck or van. It’s money well spent.  The Somerville moving truck permit application can be found at the Traffic & Parking page – click on Permits then Moving Van – Container – Pod.  Cambridge moving van permit applications can be found online on the Traffic, Parking & Transportation page.

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Cambridge and Somerville Most Walkable Cities in Massachusetts

Cambridge and Somerville - Most Walkable MA Cities

Cambridge and Somerville - Most Walkable MA Cities

Cambridge and Somerville Most Walkable Cities in Massachusetts  The popular site Walkscore just came out with its 2011 50 Most Walkable Cities.  Boston was #3 in the country with a Walkscore of 79.2, behind only top ranked New York City (Walkscore of 85.3) and San Francisco (84.9) .

Dig a little deeper, however, and you realize that the Most Walkable Cities list only included big cities – it’s a ranking of the walkability of the 50 largest cities in the US. 

When you look at the Walkscore rankings for Massachusetts you discover that Cambridge is the most walkable city in Massachusetts, followed by Somerville.  Using Walkscore’s methodology (Walkscore has a complicated algorithm meant to measure how easy it is to live without a car.  For the city-wide rankings the scores are weighted for population density throughout the city.) Cambridge and Somerville handily outrank Boston in terms of walkability.  Here’s the ranking of the top five cities in Massachusetts:

  • Cambridge 89
  • Somerville 84
  • Brookline 83
  • Boston 79
  • Everett 77

And here are the 2011 Walkscore rankings for some other towns in Centers and Squares territory:

  • Arlington 67
  • Belmont 63
  • Medford 64
  • Watertown 74 (ranked 6th in Massachusetts)

You have to take Walkscore rankings with a grain of salt – sometimes the amenities included in a location’s ranking are a little funky.  Also, for these aggregate scores realize that some parts of these cities are much more walkable, while other neighborhoods are more removed from shops, schools, etc.

No question though – many real estate buyers are looking for properties in close proximity to shops, restaurants, public transportation, pubs, etc. In a time of high gas prices and traffic congestion the option of living car free is very appealing.  It’s not surprising that Cambridge, Somerville and Brookline continue to be popular with home buyers.

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Bowl and Board Building – RIP

The Former Bowl and Board Building Is No More

The Former Bowl and Board Building Is No More

I did a double-take this evening when I drove through the intersection of Putnam and Mass Ave.

The building that formerly housed Bowl and Board before it’s short lived Davis Square incarnation has been taken down.  There’s a big empty hole, surrounded by temporary fencing, at the corner of Mass Ave and Trowbridge Street.

Bowl and Board opened in Cambridge in the 1960s.  A favorite of many, it was a great place to shop for necessities – and indulgences – for your new apartment or condo.  The store moved from 1063 Massachusetts Ave in Cambridge to Davis Square in late 2008 but sadly this store, and the several others owned by the family, were liquidated at the end of 2009.  NPR did a series documenting the stores’ travails as the recession deepened.

It’s been sad and a bit bewildering to see the storefront – in its prime location, just blocks from the heart of Harvard Square – remain empty for so long.

Turns out that the building was bought from the former landlords (for $3,500,000) and is going to be the site of a new five-story building. There will be ground floor retail space, four floors of condos, and a garage underneath.

I hate to see another vintage one-story commercial building disappear.  Will we finally protect them when only a handful survive?  The Cambridge Historical Commission did a study of the building as part of the demolition application.  It has a wonderful vintage photo of the building at 1063-1077 Mass Ave. 

The retail building at 1075 Massachusetts Avenue was built in 1925. Messinger’s Pharmacy had the space at the corner of Trowbridge until Bowl and Board moved in in 1967.  Forty years is long enough that the building will forever be known as the “Bowl and Board building” to plenty of Cantabridgians.

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Big Bird In Belmont

This is my second wild turkey sighting in Belmont.  We spotted this big bird on Belmont Hill this afternoon.

Wild turkey in a Belmont MA yard

Wild turkey in a Belmont MA yard

What a beautiful bird he is!

When he spreads his feathers (is there a term for this display?) he’s absolutely enormous.

One Big Belmont Turkey

One Big Belmont Turkey

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Trees and Real Estate Values

New Leaves on Trees in the City

New Leaves on Trees in the City

This is one of my favorite times of year – the time of new leaves, as green comes back to the city.  But after last year’s drought I’ve been watching the new leaves especially carefully.  2010 was a tough, tough year for city trees – in fact for all trees.  A number of trees around the city appear to be dying.  On a drive through Lexington yesterday we spotted many, many trees that were close to leafless – we speculated that, if not the drought, it might be the effects of gypsy moths.  It’s so bad out there that watching for dead and dying trees is our new driving game – the 2011 equivalent of auto bingo.

City trees are particularly vulnerable and we should all be concerned.  We don’t have enough trees in the city and the loss of any tree can leave a huge hole in the landscape.  Urban trees have a tough time of it in any year – winter salt, encroaching asphalt, utility company limb cutting, too much dog urine and too little rain – it’s amazing that  city trees flourish.   Add tree-begrudging homeowners who don’t want to be bothered with tree limbs and droppings and it becomes all too easy to lose the leafy backdrop that enhances your house and street.

City trees add enormously to quality of life and to the beauty of city streets and yards.  A city street devoid of trees is usually a stark and dreary sight. A  tree-less street is also an uninviting prospect for potential home buyers.  My own Cambridge street, described in the Historical Commission’s 1977 architectural survey as a “warm and inviting secluded core with bowered trees,” is now almost devoid of trees.  A buyer, looking at a condo on my street recently, sniffed “but this street has no trees”.  I don’t know of any study that shows that properties sell for higher prices on tree-lined streets, but experiences like this and its counterpart – buyers delighted by leafy streets –  convince me that real estate values are boosted by nearby trees.

We all need to pay attention to the trees that line our streets and sidewalks.  We have too little say over the trees that shade our houses but sit on our neighbors’ properties (I’m in favor of giving trees protection via a permitting process prior to removal -why should I have input as an abutter concerned over my neighbor’s renovation or building plans but no say over the tree that’s a vital part of the neighborhood landscape? Topic for another day!) but we can work to ensure that the city trees on our streets continue to flourish despite the odds.

What can you do to help?  Cambridge has a new booklet “Working Together: A Healthy Urban Forest Needs Help From All of Us” that can be picked up at City Hall.  The Urban Foresty page on the city’s website has lots of info about city initiatives and how you can get involved.   Cambridge and Somerville have installed Treegator bags on newly planted street trees. Info on watering the Treegator bag near you and other volunteer efforts is also on the Cambridge website

City trees enhance real estate values and make the city a much more pleasant and attractive place to live.  So grab a bucket and water the trees near you.   And if you’re walking your dog – please – curb the dog elsewhere.

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Wild Turkey in Inman Square

Wild Turkey in Inman Square

Wild Turkey in Inman Square

A week or so ago I was driving through Littleton and was startled by a huge wild turkey that flew right in front of me – inches from my windshield.  He was gorgeous – like the Bell’s Seasoning turkey come to life.

In retrospect it’s not that astonishing to see a wild turkey in the outer ‘burbs.  But I’m always delighted at another wildlife sighting – I’ve seen a deer in Cambridge, a stuck ‘possum in Somerville and another wild turkey in Belmont, just to name a few of my encounters.

I was taken aback this evening though to discover a wild turkey right in the middle of Inman Square.   As I drove down Hampshire Street I saw something large (and by large I mean humongous!) and brown land on the sidewalk and pulled over.

The big bird at right sauntered off the sidewalk into this yard tucked behind some buildings.   He was searching for dinner on the lawn.

I gotta say – seeing these beautiful birds up close makes me rethink the Thanksgiving menu.

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