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Somerville sees growth in younger population, business economy

Published: Thursday, February 6, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 6, 2014 09:02

As the average age of Somerville residents declines and new restaurants flock to the city, the town once known as “Slum-erville” has transformed its reputation. 

“Somerville worries it’s growing too hip” read the headline of an Aug. 23, 2013 article published in The Boston Globe, detailing the changes in the neighborhood where many Tufts students eat, study and shop. So, how and why did this change occur?

Laura Webster, an employee at the new Union Square restaurant Area-Four said she has seen Somerville become increasingly urban in recent years.

“[Somerville] is becoming a lot more industrial, [and it is] moving in a great business direction,” Webster said. “We see quite a few of those ‘hipsters,’ but we see mostly students coming in.”

An Aug. 23, 2013 article by the local Somerville Patch entitled “Is There a Hipster Crisis in Somerville?” took its own dig at the situation. The article expressed concern that Somerville may be losing its “homegrown character and culture,” and that many long-standing residents may get priced out of the city. 

Greta Platt, who has worked at The Biscuit, a Somerville coffee and pastry shop, for the past 10 years, said she has noticed a change in the types of customers that visit the restaurant. 

“I definitely see a lot more younger people, and it’s nice to see them,” Platt said. “It’s a change, and it’s nice.”

Lauren Hopper, who has lived in Somerville since 2005, said Davis Square best illustrates the changes she’s noticed in the city.

“Definitely, I’ve noticed more ‘hipsters,’ but I also feel like maybe that’s just more of a noticeable change in the way young people dress,” she said.

Hopper noted that many residents she knows have grown up in the community. 

“I have some neighbors down the street from us — he’s 92 and he’s lived here since around 1950,” she said. “[Another] grew up in the house that she lives in.

 I think it’s really interesting that people stay in the same house and the same neighborhood.”

However, Hopper said she thought that much of the change in Somerville has come from a general rise in the cost of living in surrounding communities. 

“I think it’s kind of strange that people seem to be interested in the idea that Somerville is the new Cambridge,” she said. “I think everything is just getting so expensive for everybody ... There are these schools [in Somerville] and people want to stay on this side of the river.”

Despite the concern for the loss of Somerville’s local character, the community has gained attention as an expanding hub for popular, new restaurants, including M3, a southern-style eatery, and Casa B, which Boston Magazine recently named one of Boston’s best new restaurants. 

Webster and Platt discussed how Somerville’s demographic changes have benefitted the local business community. 

“The recent development is bringing a lot of younger people into the business [world], which, in turn, brings in new neighborhoods,” Webster, a six-year resident of Somerville, said. “I think its healthy competition. The local businesses already have a steady line of customers, and it’s a way for Somerville to expand.”

Hopper also noted the effects of Somerville’s changes. 

“I definitely feel like Somerville is gentrifying more,” Hopper said. “There are good and bad things with that. It makes things more expensive,
but it also brings [other things like] new restaurants.”

Hopper, a mother of two, noted that Somerville has also recently become more expensive, like Cambridge. The rise in the cost of living has brought changes to the types of residents moving into her neighborhood, she said. Hopper resides just outside of Davis Square. 

“One thing that makes me really sad is that no families with little kids are moving into my neighborhood because
 the house down the street was over $1 million,” she said. “What I see moving in a lot near me is couples without children.”

While Somerville has attracted many different types of new residents, there is no doubt that the new businesses have made Somerville a more social and vibrant place, Platt said. For example, she said she has seen The Biscuit get busier over the years.

In contrast to Hopper’s comment about fewer families moving to Somerville, Platt said she feels Somerville has opened its arms to younger people and younger families. She noted that since the cost of living in Cambridge has become more expensive, she has seen growing variation in the demographics of customers — more students and families. 

Additionally, Platt explained that she remains positive about the future of the local Somerville industry in the presence of new businesses. 

“I think the more, the better,” Platt said. “This will bring more people in[to] the neighborhood, in[to] the area, and as a result, we will have more diversity. [Local businesses] have their own customers, and new customers are coming in, as well.”

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