I’ve lived in East Somerville for 8 months now, and have noticed a few things about it that differentiate it from Somerville proper. First, there’s the pejorative nickname “Slumerville” use to denote what looks like a poorer area of the city. This area of Somerville is also underserved by the subway (as compared to Davis Square) and relies chiefly on buses and cars for transit needs.
In my neighborhood alone I can take the 89 or 101 to Sullivan Square subway station or the 80 close to Davis station or right to Lechmere, within a 5 minute walk. 15-20 minute walk would bring me to the 88 bus line which also runs to Davis but up and down Highland. This is convenient to that entire neighborhood as well as anyone going to the Somerville public library.
I have many friends who either have lived in this area, or live close by and consider it “far” from Davis, the most hopping/trendy part of Somerville (with Union Square a close second, in my opinion). In actuality it’s a 20 minute walk, or 5-10 minute busride if you can stomach the long waits during off-peak hours. So essentially, this area is most convenient to live in during rush hour when the buses stop every 10-15 minutes rather than once every hour and a half or so. For all other times, various bus tracking apps allow you to see how many minutes til the next bus will arrive, which makes that waiting slightly more variable.
I believe another reason this area is referred to as “Slumerville” is because, the further down Winter Hill you go, in the direction of Sullivan Station (southeast) the poorer the area begins to look. I think this is largely attributed to the various immigrant groups that live in this part of East Somerville, an observation based on a few things. First, every morning at the local park there is what appears to be a large number of immigrants standing around waiting to be picked up for work (I’ve even seen painting vans picking them up on my way to work once in a while).
Another good indication of this demographic is the amount of ethnic restaurants and shops in the area. Mexican, Brazilian, Creole, Italian, Ethiopian, and more. I for one think that the inhabitants of this area benefit from having such a wide selection of food choices in a very small area. Another benefit is that immigrants make better neighbors, leaving the areas they live safer in a bid to succeed and live safely. What does Davis have? Joshua Tree and upscale bars, JP Licks, McDonalds, barber shops and cafes, a homestyle restaurant with a bit of everything, and a burger joint. Oh and some Indian restaurants, Japanese restaurants, and a BBQ place. All definitely a bit more upscale than you can find in East Somerville, even if not far away.
I think what this mainly comes down to is gentrification. The areas close to subway stops are obviously coveted and therefore more valuable, causing rents to go up. When I looked at my apartment the realtor told me it was much cheaper because it’s not convenient to a subway station. What did he mean by cheaper? Oh, $975. The people who live closer to the subway pay a premium for the privilege, while those live further away pay less for the same or better accommodations, but make up for it by having to take the bus before getting on a train.
I hear rumors of gentrification coming east Somerville fairly often, starting with nice French restaurant a few blocks away from Sullivan Station, and I worry that at some point this will push out the local businesses already there and provide the residents with less choice but I think that time is slow to come. Perhaps as the green line construction progresses more businesses will choose to move further into Somerville, but some have already tried this banking on construction starting only to be burned when the MBTA delayed the project due to funding.
So what does that live us with in East Somerville vs the rest of Somerville?
East Somerville has a Super Stop and Shop grocery store and Sullivan Station T stop, Rite Aid/Walgreens/CVS, bars, liquor stores, Dunkin Donuts, myriad restaurants and 2 convenient libraries. Davis has hipsters and more well-to-do folks, and Union Square has homeowners who complain about a public housing building project that will supposedly block their marvelous view of Boston even though it’s blocked by a tree 6 months out of the year anyway despite the fact that it will house firefighters, police, and other low income earners.