As someone who has lived in Berkeley and has now chosen to move to Cambridge one topic naturally keeps coming up: Cambridge is like the East Coast version of Berkeley (or vice versa, depending on where you are from).
I would like to keep track of ways that this is true, and not true, so here’s the start of my observations:
*NOTE: These are generalizations and really based only on my personal experience – I may be wrong and I may be leaving individuals out, I know, but take it for what it is.
- Both are college towns and are very academically-oriented cities thanks to the world-class institutions that occupy them;
- Both seem to have liberal populations;
- People in both cities love farmers markets, drive Prii (apparently that’s the proper pluralization of Prius), ride bikes (while ignoring traffic rules), eat organic, own iPhones, etc…;
- Both are separated by a body of water from a larger city;
- The larger city that they are close to is not that large (compared to New York and other truly big cities);
- Both regions that the two cities occupy are home to a lot of start-ups and tech companies.
- Not to state the obvious, but Berkeley has only one very large and well-known institution whereas Cambridge has two slightly smaller, but equally (okay maybe more) famous institutions;
- I’m pretty sure that the Boston area also just has more universities and colleges in general;
- The big famous school in Berkeley – University of California, Berkeley – is a public institution, which comes with a whole set of differences in population, problems, ideas, and attitudes as compared to the private universities in Cambridge – Harvard and MIT;
- Generally people dress more formally and conservatively in Cambridge and Boston than in Berkeley and San Francisco;
- There are more homeless people on the streets in Berkeley than in Cambridge (I know, I know, Central Square… but trust me there are more in Berkeley);
- Boston is closer to Cambridge than San Francisco is to Berkeley;
- Cambridge and Boston have more historic buildings, and older buildings, than Berkeley and San Francisco.
Do these things mean anything? Since I have only been here a short time I admit I am looking at the surface aspects more than at the deep down differences between the two. I will keep thinking about it and add to this list when I have had more time to get to know Cambridge and this area.
I found this article interesting as a more scientific way to understand the psyche of people living in each location: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/19/east-west-culture-clash-boston-san-francisco_n_1896282.html
I spent some time exploring the areas around Boston this weekend and it was fun, picturesque, and just the perfect dose of real autumn (the leaves are just starting to change) that I craved when I was in California. All my friends have heard me quote the Augustana song “Boston” to explain why I would move back to the East Coast: “I think I’ll go to Boston… I’ll get out of California, I’m tired of the weather… I think I need a sunrise, I’m tired of the sunset; I hear it’s nice in summer, some snow would be nice…” Fortunately my life is not really like a somewhat “emo” song, but really, some snow would be awesome! But it’s not just that, I also love the old buildings, the history, the traditional culture, even the annoyingly uneven (and hole-filled) brick sidewalks. And today I am surrounded by many of the most brilliant minds in the world on MIT’s campus. From here I can see the beauty of the urban environment that has taken over this antique city. I will not say that every building is an architectural masterpiece, but the skyline seems comfortable, nobody is trying to be the tallest building, the old brick ones still show through.
I can definitely see myself spending a long time here – given the right opportunity I would even settle down here.
So far my posts (seen under “Old Posts”) have all been about building my website (j-conway.com) and learning about HTML, etc. All of those were written from San Francisco, a place where knowledge of technology is so important to many people and it’s hard to get away from talking about the latest start-up or big move by Google. But now I am returning to the East Coast (I grew up in New Jersey) and starting an adventure in Boston. While the area has its fair share of start-ups and tech junkies I have so far felt a shift in focus of the people around me that is less about technology and more about, well, everything else in life! While I’m sure the fact that Boston is the ultimate college town where you can’t go 2 feet without seeing another student and there might be more talk of dorm rooms and college credits than I might like (or the woes of being a TA and poor salaries from my grad student friends), I also expect there to be a higher level of intellectualism and a broader grasp on culture. Not to say that San Franciscans are dumb or uncultured, far from it. I knew many incredibly intelligent people there with all kinds of tastes and backgrounds. I just mean to say that in the San Francisco/Bay Area I often felt bombarded by much of the same – it was always startups, hipster culture and music, and food. While I value and appreciate all of these things (I mean at least hipsters provide some entertainment and maybe make you think a little) I felt like I was being sucked into a bubble and I was losing touch with the world. In practice I don’t really think that happened, but it was enough of a feeling to push me towards the decision of leaving.
All that said, I still love San Francisco (and Berkeley) and could certainly see myself going back one day, preferably after the current tech boom runs out and things like the cost of rent return to the realm of the normal person. On the other hand I am very excited to be moving to Boston, a place I have only visited a few times and know very little about. But people keep telling me how it’s so great! you’ll have so much fun! Don’t raise my expectations too much, people!