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BOS vs. NYC

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Get over that New York thing, and appreciate what we have

By Ellen Steinbaum, Globe Correspondent, 1/18/2004

When I moved here from New York in 1990, I couldn't believe my good fortune. What a gem of a city. OK, I noticed a few quirks, primarily traffic-related. "Merge" and "Don't block the box" are unknown concepts here, along with any notion that pedestrians might take some responsibility for their own safety. But the most baffling thing about this wonderful city is how eager it is to feel inferior. Even to Providence, for heaven's sake. But mostly to New York.

From dueling sports teams to the summer's upcoming dueling political conventions, Boston's gaze seems to leap from navel to Empire State Building in a single bound. Maybe it's understandable in a city where we live so intimately with an unrivaled past: It used to be all about us.

"Boston has probably never gotten over the southward shift in the country's center of gravity," says George Packer, a writer who moved to New York after 16 years in Cambridge. Packer is now a staff writer for The New Yorker, a fact which, as he notes, probably says it all.

Being a writing New Yorker, he finds, has a very different pace. Here he wrote four books, including the novel ''Central Square."

In New York, by contrast, he has written countless magazine articles, including a recent exhaustive and thought-provoking piece on the American troops in Iraq. But no books. Boston, he notes, is a city for reflection; New York, for immediacy.

When I spoke with Packer, he reminded me that the author William Dean Howells wrote about just that in his 1890 novel, ''A Hazard of New Fortunes." In words that sound right today, two of Howells's characters have this exchange:

"There's only one city that belongs to the whole country, and that's New York."

''Yes, I know, and Boston belongs to the Bostonians . . ."

Packer, whose nonfiction books are solidly grounded in history, points to the turning point. The end of the 19th century was a symbolic moment when Boston's position began to ebb and New York's economic growth and openness to immigration began to move it into predominance.

''It's been a long century," Packer says. It was a century that saw Boston settling ever more comfortably into its armchair of academic preeminence, old neighborhood loyalties, and storied past. Sometimes it seems the city turns outward, wistfully, only when it notices what fun New York is having.

"Boston never expects to replace New York," says Packer, "but it wants to be a contender."

Contenders, though, need to be lean and fast. Boston, for better or worse, moves a little more slowly. While New York razes its history to make room for the newest new thing, Boston is paced for long-haul contemplation, rehabbing its Victorian buildings to house Lucky Brand and Starbucks with wireless Internet access. But Boston also tends to prize doing things the way they've always been done, if for that reason alone.

As Packer puts it, "There are ways in which Boston is good for the soul, and ways in which it stifles the soul."

Boston has been a balm for this writer's soul, offering me gifts New York never would have given. I am profoundly grateful.

As a writer, I've found Boston simultaneously large and intimate, its palpable literary tradition both intimidating and encouraging. There is much to be said for the smaller pond. Oh Boston, you're my home.

City Type features the city'swriters exploring their world.If you have suggestions,contact Ellen Steinbaum at:[email protected] You can read past City Type columns at www.ellensteinbaum.com.

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Typical stuff from the Globe these days now that the paper is essentially written by New Yorkers... <_<

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I think this is such an old idea kicked around mostly by some new yorkers. They often are the ones who feel a need for superiority. In Boston it is so rare for me to meet someone who prefers NY. In NY it's the opposite. Exactly what I would expect. Now Providence, that's a different story!

There are people who have been to Boston once and don't want to come back. I find that amazing. I could spend a whole day just walking around town and want to do it again the next day. To each his own.

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As a Bostonian who lived in New York, my observation is that the rivalry would come up mostly by New Yorkers. A New Yorker would find out I was from Boston and the Boston bashing would begin. In Boston, I always viewed it as a sports rivalry, and as I'm not into sports, I didn't pay it any mind. But New Yorkers would go on and on about it. I had chosen to move to New York, I was willing to admit to Boston's faults, and New York obviously had things that prompted me to move there. Long after I was ready to put the topic aside however, the New Yorker would still be going on about it. It was quite strange.

New Yorkers would comment on how the rivalry was one sided, Boston had an inferiority complex, and New York basically paid Boston no mind. I would then need to comment that it was the New Yorker who brought it up to begin with and it was the New Yorker that wouldn't shut up about it, and how that seemed not so one sided to me. Then after Bloomberg was elected, it was fun to point out that New York's mayor was a Bostonian (well close, they don't know any better), that usually shut people up.

As for Providence, we all know that Bostonians are Massholes, and we drive way worse then you all could ever hope to. :P

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Hey!, some of the nicest people I know are Mass-holes!! :D

The sports rivalry is really only baseball but it sure is a good one. There are actually alot of NY Giants fans in NE from the days before there were the NFL Patriots.

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I sort of consider the Nets of Being NYC. I think Celtic and Nets is just as big as Soxs vs Yanks. I cant stand those Nets

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Other than population, is there any reason why New York's MTA is so much more prolific as compared with the T?

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Sorry for being off topic, but congrats on making UrbanPlanet's 10,000th topic!

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I grew up in NY and rode the subway there all the time. Size of the city is also one reason for a more extensive system. But also, a major difference in why NY has such an extensive, prolific system of subways is because there were two privately-owned transit companies competing to build subway lines, especially in Manhattan and Brooklyn - the Interboro Rapid Transit (IRT) and Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT) companies. They competed for transit contracts in the beginning of the 20th century and then aggressively extended their lines.

In the 1930's, the city-owned Independent (IND) Subway lines were built. The IND was established by then-NYC Mayor John Hylan who was a trolley motorman for the BMT and had been fired from the company. When Hylan became Mayor, he was determined to put the IRT and BMT out of business and have the city take over both companies' systems. That happened in 1940 and by then there were Lexington and 7th Avenues (IRT), Broadway and Nassau Streets (BMT) and 6th and 8th Avenues (IND). Also, NY had a sizable amount of elevated train lines. Some of these were incorporated into the subways. The Bronx section of the defunct New York, Westchester and Boston railroad as well as part of the LIRR's Rockaway line were later incorporated into the subway as well.

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Thanks Mike! That's very interesting...

In a way, too bad Boston did not have that happen, but of course Boston has preserved more of its historical buildings by not accelerating the development process with no reservations.

I'm hoping the T expands more though...

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Thanks Mike!  That's very interesting...

In a way, too bad Boston did not have that happen, but of course Boston has preserved more of its historical buildings by not accelerating the development process with no reservations.

I'm hoping the T expands more though...

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

There are lots of opportunities for the T to do just that. If they (and the Commonwealth) get their priorities right, they can expand the system. The Lynn (Blue) and Somerville/Medford (Green) extentions would be a step in the right direction. So would running self propelled diesel railcars on the Fairmount commuter rail line at much more frequent intervals and adding new stops to the line.

In a way, that would be similar to the what the NYC Transit Authority did with the A train in 1956. In 1956, the NYC (who directly ran the subways and buses at the time) purchased the Queens portion of the LIRR's Rockaway Line and converted it for rapid transit use (the LIRR was privately-owned back then and was bankrupt). The route was then connected to the Fulton Street elevated route and the A train was extended onto it in 1956.

The only difference here is that existing Fairmount Line is already owned by the T and has commuter rail service on it. Not a whole lot, if you ask me. Fairmount CR trains run only from 6 AM to 10 PM Monday thru Friday. Service is every 30 minutes during rush hours and every hour outside of rush. That makes the Fairmount line almost useless for people who live along the route in Dorchester, Mattapan and Hyde Park. They instead use buses to get to the Red or Orange lines in order to get downtown. Of course, that can take a long time, especially if the buses are crowded and the road traffic is bad. A direct route downtown from Hyde Park, Mattapan and Dorchester would be faster. But it just has to run more frequently and every day of the week and be readily accessible to the people who need it. The Fairmount Line, in its current state, is not. But it can be.

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In a way, that would be similar to the what the NYC Transit Authority did with the A train in 1956. In 1956, the NYC (who directly ran the subways and buses at the time) purchased the Queens portion of the LIRR's Rockaway Line and converted it for rapid transit use (the LIRR was privately-owned back then and was bankrupt). The route was then connected to the Fulton Street elevated route and the A train was extended onto it in 1956.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

You read a book or something?

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You read a book or something?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Yes. "Under the Sidewalks of New York" by Brian Cudahy. Excellent resource of information about the NYC subway. Also check out nycsubway.org. They have a wealth of information about all things related to the subway (as well as Boston and other city rail systems around the world)/

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