The Cambridge Neighborhood

The City of Cambridge is one of the most vibrant and enjoyable places to live, work, and play in the country. Cambridge is a large geographical area located in the heart of the Boston metro area, with numerous unique neighborhoods that each has its own character and living advantages for apartment renters and homeowners to enjoy. The southern and eastern neighborhoods of Cambridge are bordered by the famous Charles River, where various bridges provide access to the center of the Boston University campus (Commonwealth Avenue) and to Boston’s Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and Charlestown neighborhoods. To the north of Cambridge is Somerville, and to the west are the “inner suburbs” of Arlington and Belmont.

Many people know Cambridge by the presence of its two world-class colleges, MIT and Harvard University, which infuse the city with youth and energy. Cambridge is an amenity-rich, self-sufficient city with extensive national and local retail options and a plethora of restaurants, bars, music venues, and museums to choose from. The city has two hospitals near Harvard SquareMount Auburn Hospital and Spaulding Hospital, and excellent town services and schools. There is a large volume of commercial real estate on its east side (Kendall Square) and west side (Alewife area) to go along with its heavy retail presence in neighborhoods like Harvard Square, Central Square, and Porter Square. Cambridge apartment rental and home purchase options are extremely varied - every neighborhood in Cambridge is different in terms of pricing, its specific set of amenities, ease of access/parking, and quality of life. To help differentiate between neighborhoods and areas, below are short descriptive summaries of each.

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Central Square & Cambridgeport

This area is extremely popular among Cambridge renters due to the large apartment inventory, the vibrancy and urban character of Central Square, and the ease of access to multiple Boston neighborhoods. Central Square is the “first square” that cars and buses pass through on busy Massachusetts Avenue when coming over the “Mass Ave bridge” from Boston’s Back Bay and Fenway areas. The square is vibrant, busy, and has an urban feel. There are an impressive array of restaurants, bars, and clubs to choose from in both Central Square and in nearby Inman Square, which makes the area popular at night. Central Square is the seat of Cambridge government, which adds buzz and activity to weekdays. Residents love the full set of amenities found in the square, including national and local retail, grocery stores, coffee shops, pharmacies, cell phone stores, bank branches, fitness centers (including a YMCA), and every kind of professional service.


Many of the residents of Central Square, Inman Square (a few blocks north of Central Square), and Cambridgeport (the residential area south of Central Square) are young renters, though there are also many long-term owner-occupants in the area. The Central Square renter population are primarily young professionals, students and graduate students of MIT, Harvard, Boston University (and other colleges), and service industry professionals. As a whole, Central Square/Inman Square/Cambridgeport residents are seen as a well-educated and independent-minded, and there is a neighborhood feel to the area. Much of the rental housing stock in the neighborhood is two or three level multi-family houses, with numerous 4 - 12 story brick apartment buildings closer to the square.


Access to Central Square from every direction is easy by car, train and bus. The MBTA Red Line has its “Central” stop in the heart of the square. Numerous bus lines run frequently throughout the city, including the #1 bus, which is a heavily-used “cross-town” line that makes frequent stops along the length of Mass Ave in Boston, Central Square, Harvard Square, and the western half of Cambridge. Access to Central Square from the Massachusetts Turnpike, Storrow Drive, and other major roadways is simple. Importantly, all the bridges from Cambridge to Boston neighborhoods make Cambridge feel like it’s attached to Boston. There are numerous surface parking lots in Central Square, as well as metered parking on many side streets. The further away from the square one travels, the better the parking availability for residents. Many houses in the area have one or two car driveways, which improves the overall availability of street parking.


Harvard Square & West Cambridge

Harvard Square is Cambridge’s best known neighborhood, and one of the most popular destinations in the Boston area for both tourists and area residents. Of course, Harvard University is a major presence in the square, and an incredible amount of activity revolves around the university and its graduate schools. The neighborhood is visually appealing, with numerous relaxing green spaces (including Harvard Yard), old brick buildings and churches, tree-lined residential areas to the west of the square (called West Cambridge), and the iconic Charles River. A vehicular bridge and a walking bridge over the river connects Harvard Square to Harvard University’s “Allston Campus” in Allston, where the university’s sports facilities, Harvard Business School, and a growing amount of university-related housing are located.


Harvard Square is known for the extensive amenities and activities available to area residents, students, tourists and the general public. With its charming, sophisticated, and busy atmosphere, people of all ages throughout Greater Boston enjoy the extensive shopping, dining, museums, theatres and art galleries available in the square (among numerous other social and cultural activities). As opposed to nearby Central Square’s functional retail presence, Harvard Square has a host of fine retailers who offer unique clothing/apparel/accessories, home decor, jewelry, cosmetics, and much more. In the heart of Harvard Square is the Harvard Coop, where people socialize over coffee, read/research, and buy books, supplies, and Harvard merchandise. Harvard Square is full of restaurant options, from fine dining to the “fast casual” and health food eateries that many students and young professionals prefer. As would be expected in a young, collegiate environment, there are also numerous bars, coffee shops, pharmacies, bank branches, fitness centers, and cell phone stores for students and young people to choose from.


Harvard Square is an extremely tight real estate environment. Compared to nearby Central Square with its large population of renters, a sizable percentage of the housing stock in Harvard Square is owned by long-term owner-occupants, especially within a few blocks of the square itself. The excellent quality of life that Harvard Square offers contributes to the low vacancy and low apartment turnover that has been in place for decades. However, there is a larger inventory of apartments just to the north of Harvard Square along Massachusetts Ave and Garden Street (among other streets), and east along Massachusetts Ave and Broadway (towards Central Square and Inman Square). The most common unit types in those areas of Harvard Square are multi-family houses and 4 - 12 story apartment buildings, and they are generally rented by young professionals, students and graduate students. Most Harvard Square renters are in some way affiliated with the square, whether educationally or professionally, and are willing to pay a rent premium to live within easy walking distance of their daily activities and routine.


Access to Harvard Square from every direction is simple by car, train and bus. The MBTA Red Line has its “Harvard” stop in the heart of the square. Numerous bus lines run frequently throughout the city, including the #1 bus, which is a heavily-used “cross-town” line that makes frequent stops along the length of Mass Ave in Boston, Central Square, Harvard Square, and the western/northern section of Cambridge. Access to Harvard Square from the Massachusetts Turnpike, Storrow Drive, and other major roadways is fast and easy. There are numerous parking garages in Harvard Square, with metered parking in the square and on major roads nearby and resident parking on most side streets in the area. Some houses in the neighborhood have one or two car driveways, and most apartment buildings provide designated parking for residents.


Kendall Square/MIT & East Cambridge

The eastern side of Cambridge (closest to Beacon Hill and downtown Boston) was once an area without a true identity. The residents of east Cambridge, which is a quiet residential neighborhood, were once the primary users of Kendall Square. There have always been some good local restaurants, enjoyable bars, a movie theater, and some interesting retail stores to choose from. In recent decades, however, an entire section of Kendall Square has changed dramatically due to a huge commercial/biotech building boom. With the addition of dozens of new buildings, thousands of new employees, and hundreds of new residents to the area, Kendall square in now a modern, multifaceted urban neighborhood with a lot to offer -  both by day and by night.


The biotech boom (including the expansion of MIT’s research and development facilities) has resulted in some large new apartment buildings, which has added needed vitality to Kendall Square. In turn, new and trendy bars and restaurants, as well as a few “fast casual” eateries, have opened to serve the new professional demographic and the increased daily population of the square. Other amenities like coffee shops, bank branches/ATM’s, a fitness center, a new hotel, expanded parking options, and Hubway bike rental stations have also opened to keep pace with the neighborhood’s expansion and heavier activity.  The Cambridgeside Galleria, a fairly new mall with numerous national retail and dining options, is walkable from Kendall Square and is popular with all demographics and all Boston area residents. Also, on the northern edge of Cambridge (on the Somerville border) is the Twin City Plaza, which has a grocery store and “big box” national retailers.


The campus of MIT (globally famous for its science and technology research and development) runs into the southern edge of Kendall Square. MIT’s residence halls and its extensive research and development facilities are a scattered throughout the area, and weave in nicely with all of the new commercial/biotech buildings in the area. MIT students, who have always used the somewhat edgier Central Square to service some of their daily needs, can now get much more done in Kendall Square than past generations of students were able to.


While the majority of MIT students live in campus housing, many choose to rent in Kendall Square or in Cambridgeport (to the south of Central Square). Their rental choices include the large handful of older apartment buildings on the main roads that connect Kendall Square and the MIT campus to Central Square, or group houses in Cambridgeport. By contrast, the newer apartment buildings and condominium apartment complexes in east Cambridge, and particularly in Kendall Square, are often occupied by employees of the biotech firms in the area, or other business professionals who love the convenience and lifestyle of east Cambridge. The older residential section of east Cambridge is comprised primarily of 2 to 3 story multi-family residences and owner-occupied homes, and residents of east Cambridge are a mix of young professionals, families, retirees, and service industry professionals.


The biotech firms of Kendall Square and the residents of Kendall Square love the convenience and “coolness” of having their address in East Cambridge. Boston is next door (via the Longfellow Bridge and Memorial Drive), most major roadways are easily accessed, and parking is easy. The MBTA Red Line has its “Kendall” stop in the heart of the square, and the “Lechmere” Green Line stop is located on the north side of the neighborhood (off of Cambridge Street). Numerous bus lines run frequently throughout east Cambridge. For drivers who need to park, there are numerous surface parking lots in Kendall Square, and main streets have metered parking. All the new buildings in the area have their own parking facilities (mostly underground), which has created a good parking situation in the area. In the residential section of east Cambridge, there is primarily resident-only street parking.  


Porter Square

Porter Square is located in interior Cambridge along Mass Ave between Harvard Square and Davis Square in Somerville. Porter Square is a smaller, quieter neighborhood than Cambridge’s other squares. It is an extremely popular neighborhood to live in for professionals of all ages and for young families.  The excellent amenities in the square including national and local retail stores, a grocery store, restaurants, bank branches, cell phone stores, a fitness center, and various professional services. Another benefit of living in Porter Square is that a few short blocks away is Davis Square (in neighboring Somerville), which is a young, vibrant and exciting semi-urban neighborhood with an outstanding range of conveniences/amenities, restaurants, and entertainment options. Tufts University and its students are in the Davis Square area. Apartment rental options in Porter Square are typically found in multi-unit houses or in 4 - 8 story apartment buildings, and the primary renter demographic is professionals (of all ages). A large percentage of the homes on the side streets in Porter Square are owner-occupied, particularly on the west side of Mass Ave. Vehicular access to Porter Square is via Mass Ave from the north and south, and from Beacon Street and Somerville Ave from the east. The MBTA Red Line has its “Porter” stop in the heart of the square, and numerous MBTA bus lines service the neighborhood. Parking on Mass Ave and other roads in Porter Square is metered, and most side streets provide resident parking.


North Cambridge & Fresh Pond (Cambridge Highlands)

To the west of Porter Square are the North Cambridge and Fresh Pond neighborhoods, both of which are on the western edge of Cambridge. To the west of North Cambridge is Arlington, and Somerville is to its north. To the west of Fresh Pond is Belmont, one of the more affluent inner suburbs in Greater Boston.


North Cambridge has primarily multi-unit houses, and has a sizable stock of apartment buildings along Massachusetts Avenue. Many students attending Tufts University, which is just across the town line in Somerville and close to Davis Square, live in apartments in North Cambridge. On the west side of Alewife Brook Parkway is the rapidly expanding Alewife area. Alewife has newer apartment towers, a growing commercial real estate presence, and a large parking lot for commuters who use the MBTA Red Line “Alewife” station - the final stop on the red line.


The Fresh Pond neighborhood has two separate identities. On the east side of Fresh Pond Parkway (the Harvard Square side), there is a typical western Cambridge mix of multi-unit houses, some small-sized apartment buildings, and owner-occupied homes, with local businesses and restaurants on the main roadways. The west side of the parkway, which includes Fresh Pond itself, feels more like an “inner suburb” and has primarily owner-occupied homes.


Many residents in the area, particularly young people, use both Davis Square and Harvard Square for dining, shopping, and entertainment. Fresh Pond Mall provides a national retail resource for the area, including a grocery store and a cinema. Danehy Park and various athletic fields are located behind Fresh Pond Mall, and there are public parks and the 9-hole Fresh Pond Golf Course that overlook Fresh Pond.


Access to North Cambridge and Fresh Pond is good by train and by car. Beyond the MBTA Alewife Red Line train station, a variety of MBTA bus lines service the entire area. For drivers, Fresh Pond Parkway is a busy four lane roadway which connects to Watertown and eastern sections of Cambridge and Boston via Soldiers Field Road/Storrow Drive. Alewife Brook Parkway provides access to Route 2 (west), and to Somerville, Arlington, and the Mystic Valley Parkway. Massachusetts Avenue travels through the center of North Cambridge, providing access to Porter Square and Harvard Square to the southeast, and to Watertown to the northwest. Parking is readily available in most cases. Many homes have driveways, and resident parking is widely available.


Every Live Realty Boston agent thoroughly understands every aspect of Cambridge’s real estate market, including the current available apartment inventory in each neighborhood. With each new renter/client we work with, we leverage that local knowledge to become a trusted neighborhood resource for them. Even after a client chooses a Cambridge apartment that suits them, our agents are always available to provide any needed guidance that helps them get off to a great start in their new neighborhood.

Live Realty Boston hopes you’ll put our local experts to work to find the new rental apartment or new home that suits your needs perfectly. Call 617-487-8227 to get moving!

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