Tag Archives: Roger W. Smith re Boston and environs as compared to NYC

re Boston and environs as compared to NYC


I just completed a trip to Massachusetts, including the city of Boston and the Greater Boston area.

While stuck in traffic several times (too many), both in Boston proper and on the surrounding highways, I started to muse, first, about why the traffic is so bad, and, secondly, about my old stomping grounds — namely, Massachusetts, where I grew up — vis-à-vis New York City.



Boston and, notably, Massachusetts towns, are charming, quaint and pristine. Clean. Well kept. Picturesque.

New England has a beauty that, in my opinion, is hard to match.

But, I feel that my adopted region, the New York City metropolitan region, grubby as it is, is superior.



My trip got me thinking about Boston and Greater Boston traffic. Believe it or not, it’s WORSE than New York City.

And, about the reasons this is so.

I think a major reason is that Boston is mostly a car city and the surrounding towns are totally based on automobile transportation. It’s a car culture; people don’t walk. Unlike New York City. But Boston has a good public transportation system, one might say. The T branches out to and reaches the exurbs. It’s well run and commodious.

True, it would seem, but the New York City public transit system handles much more people every day, a much larger segment of the population. A significant percentage of persons in the Tri State area (New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut) rely on public transportation instead of cars.

And, in Boston, one sees a lot less cabs and far fewer buses than in New York City.

Bottom line, public transportation is much less of a factor, plays an almost insignificant role, comparatively speaking, in the overall Boston and Greater Boston areas. New York lives, breathes, and dies by its public transit system. There is no alternative for many city dwellers.



Boston shuts down at the end of the business day. There is no one on the sidewalks at night, except for a few popular night spots, and hardly anyone after they close. New York never shuts down.

Boston proper and the surrounding towns have a lot less small stores. You will see a sub shop and perhaps one deli (except they don’t seem to call them delis) in the center of town. But, there are zillions of delis in New York city — they’re everywhere. In Boston proper, it’s hard to find one.

In Boston, it’s very noticeable, and highly significant, how little pedestrian traffic there is compared to New York. Perhaps that’s why there are less small stores to accommodate a passerby who might want to buy a Coke or bottled water. True, the central city sections such as Copley Square are crowded with pedestrians during the business day. But it’s much different later.

After normal business hours, beginning with the early evening, there is very little pedestrian traffic in Boston. Many downtown blocks seem virtually deserted. The city shuts down after the business day ends.

So different from New York. Stroll through Manhattan or the outer boroughs at almost any hour of the day, including the wee small hours, and you will find that very few streets are deserted. There is, naturally, less pedestrian traffic at 2 a.m. But, it is an appealing and actually comforting fact that there is almost always someone on the street. In the case of Manhattan, most neighborhoods never shut down.

One thing I have always liked about New York City, particularly Manhattan, is: walk through any part of the city, including central commercial and business areas, and you will see residential buildings. Some neighborhoods are primarily commercial, others are primarily residential. But, residential buildings are everywhere. All sections and zones are inhabited, which means there are always PEOPLE around regardless of time of day.



Boston’s “culture” can’t hold a candle to New York’s. There is a plethora of cultural activities in New York year round, as everyone knows. I have never been a theatergoer, but, while Boston and Cambridge might have a theater or two, New York has scores of them showing plays and musicals all the time.

The amount of music one can find being performed in New York City on practically every day of the week year round is astonishing. Besides Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, there is a mind boggling assortment of musical performances and venues to choose from. Plus, there are innumerable amateur musical performances (including a wealth of music performed in churches) and recitals by student ensembles and so forth. The same is true of other cultural events, and also lectures.

If one goes to a museum or the public library, one can pick up a brochure listing events for a given period. One finds that museums offer many concerts and so do the libraries, believe it or not. Plus, lectures on everything from art to classical music, and, in the case of the library, literary and other cultural topics. (See example below.)

And, of course, New York is the film capital of — if not the world — indisputably the USA.



Massachusetts has Cape Cod. I don’t think the Hamptons on Long Island can come close.

But, while visiting, I got lost on back roads on the Cape and drove around for a half an hour or so trying to find my way back to a major route. During this time, I had the opportunity to observe the Cape as a year round resident might experience it. It’s still a nice place with good restaurants, a great, breezy climate, beautiful beaches and spots, and so forth. But, it has in many places become indistinguishable from your standard suburbs. Nothing special. Streets which are often cul-de-sacs. Nice but typical houses. Boring in a way that only the suburbs can be. The typical suburban pattern of streets that lead nowhere.



New England does have nature; it is preserved remarkably well. Beautiful old trees seemingly everywhere, arching alongside and over thoroughfares. They and their abundance are splendorous. Stately old trees notable for their grandeur, the proper names of which I do not know (elms?) but wish I did. There’s nothing like it in New York City or surrounding areas. New York City trees tend to look like they’re sick a good part of the time. In the fall, the leaves shrivel up and fall off; there is no glorious foliage.



I have a sneaking suspicion, but cannot prove it and do not know it to be fact, that Boston might be more segregated than New York City. Patterns of de facto segregation in terms of housing still persist in New York City’s outer boroughs and can still be seen, to a lesser extent, in Manhattan as well. But, I believe that New York has always been more liberal with regard to race than Boston.


— Roger W. Smith

   June 2017




I was at the Morgan Library last weekend on Saturday, June 10 to view two excellent exhibits on Thoreau and Henry James.

I picked up a free booklet: “The Morgan / Calendar of Events / Spring & Summer 2017.”

As an example of the cultural richness found in NYC, here’s a sampling of what’s offered (besides the museum’s exhibitions).

three concerts of lieder and chamber music of Schubert, designed to elucidate certain
aspects of the works as well as entertain; pre-concert lecture/discussions

poetry reading by Eileen Myles with reception

novelist Jay McInerney and Italian artist Francesco Clemente discussing films that have influenced their works

symposium of art historians discussing Old Master drawings and prints

lecture on Henry James’s taste in painting

lecture on the so called “Indian drawings” of Rembrandt

lecture by two noted biographers of Henry James and his sister on James’s relationship to the visual arts

lecture on Thoreau by Laura Dassow Walls, author of a forthcoming biography of Thoreau

screening of three acclaimed films based on Henry James novels

screening of a new (2017) documentary film about Emily Dickinson

screening of a new (2017) documentary film about Thoreau, with a post-screening discussion with the director/producer