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Seal of Boston

Boston, one of the oldest cities in the United States, was founded on the Shawmut Peninsula in 1630 by Puritan settlers from England.  It is the economic engine, capital, and most populous city of the Commonwealth [State] of Massachusetts in the United States.

Boston nicknames include "The Hub," "Beantown," "The City on the Hill," and "America's Walking City" (a tourism industry slogan first popularized in the 1980s that references Boston's compact geography and high number of pedestrian commuters).


Childe Hassam,

Boston city proper covers 48 square miles (124 km2) -- almost exactly the same as San Francisco proper -- with an estimated 2016 population of 673,184 and a population density of 12, 793 per sq mile/4,939 km square. Boston is by far the largest city by population in its region of New England and the 28th most populous city in the nation.

The Greater Boston Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is home to a census-estimated 4.7 million people, and the Combined Statistical Area (CSA) commuting region is home to 8.1 million people.


See the Massachusetts section of Politics, Elections, and Legislation for additional information.

The City of Boston has a "strong-mayor" system of government in which the Mayor (elected every four years with no restriction on the number of terms s/he can serve) represents the Executive branch of government and wields a great deal of budgetary and administrative power. The Boston School Committee and the Boston Public Health Commission's governing board, for example, are appointed by the Mayor.

The Mayor is checked by the City Council (made up of 13 members: Nine district representatives and four at-large members), Boston's legislative branch of government.

Boston's City Council is responsible for approving the city budget, overseeing, creating, and dissolving city agencies; making planning and land use decisions; and approving, altering, or rejecting other legislative proposals. Councilors serve two-year terms and if re-elected there is no limit as to how many of these terms they can serve.

The City Council is led by the President, who is elected each year by the Council by majority vote. The President's role is to 1) preside over Council meetings as effective chair, 2) appoint Councilors to committees, and 3)  fill in for the Mayor, as Acting Mayor, when the Mayor travels out of state, can no longer perform his/her functions, and/or is removed from office.

Alongside City Hall, a number of City Commissions and state authorities have an important impact on life and conditions in Boston. For example:

  • Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA; also known as the T) - The public agency that operates public transportation (buses, subways, streetcars, ferries, paratransit, park and ride facilities, and commuter rail) in the Greater Boston Area
  • Massachusetts Port Authority known as Massport, which controls and operates the Port of Boston, three airports (including Boston's Logan International Airport and contributes to transport to and from this airport)  
  • Massachusetts Water Resources Authority which provides drinking water and sewage treatment services in the Commonwealth, and in particular in Boston

Boston is situated in Suffolk County and is its county seat, although the county government was abolished in the late 1990s (when the Commonwealth assumed from the City of Boston most county functions). "Suffolk Couny" now operates only as a colloquial reference (as it is a historical geographical region), for statistical purposes and as an administrative subdivision of state government. The district attorney, sherriff and some other county officials with specific duties are still elected locally to perform services within the county region (election ballots, for example, will designate Suffolk County), but there is no county council, executives or commissioners.

City Council Districts (colloquially called wards)

The City of Boston is divided into nine neighborhood-specific districts. Boston City Council also includes Councilors for four city-wide (not specific to geography) elected seats.

  • District 1 - Charlestown, East Boston, North End
  • District 2 - Downtown, South Boston, South End
  • District 3 - Dorchester
  • District 4 - Mattapan, Dorchester
  • District 5 - Hyde Park, Roslindale
  • District 6 - Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury
  • District 7 - Roxbury
  • District 8 - Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Fenway-Kenmore, Mission Hill, West End
  • District 9 - Allston, Brighton

There are City Councilors for each of these districts plus four additional Councilors filling at-large positions on Boston City Council.

City Council Committees include Housing, Aviation and Transportation, Economic Development and Planning, City and Neighborhood Services, and a Special Committee on Livable Boston among other issue areas.

Public and Governmental Resources

City of Boston

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)


Boston is strongly defined by its neighborhoods. The City of Boston has a Department of Neighborhood Services to assist residents in its twenty-three neighborhoods with receiving city services, communicate with them and coordinate emergency responses.

Twenty-Three Official City-Defined Neighborhoods 

Allston | Back Bay | Bay Village (also known as South Cove) | Beacon Hill | Brighton | Charlestown | Chinatown-Leather District | Dorchester (also known as Dot) | Downtown | East Boston | Fenway-Kenmore | Hyde Park | Jamaica Plain (also known as JP) | Mattapan | Mid-Dorchester | Mission Hill | North End | Roslindale | Roxbury | South Boston (also known as Southie) | South End | West End | West Roxbury

Sub-districts within the officially defined neighborhoods

Allston and Brighton: Allston Village | Brighton Center | Chestnut Hill | Cleveland Circle | Harvard Station/Charlesview | Union Square | Oak Square | Fanueil Square | Brighton Mills | Lower Allston | North Brighton | Packard's Corner | Soldier's Field

Back Bay: Copley Square/Boston Public Library | Commonwealth Avenue Mall | Newbury Street

Beacon Hill: Louisburg Square | Massachusetts Statehouse

Charlestown: Bunker Hill | The Neck | The Navy Yard | Hayes Square | City Square | Thompson Square | Sullivan Square

Dorchester: Adams Corner/Adams Village | Ashmont (including Ashmont Hill, Ashmont-Adams, Ashmont Valley and Peabody Square) | Columbia Point/Harbor Point | Cedar Grove | Clam Point | Fields Corner | Franklin Field | Grove Hall | Lower Mills | Jones Hill | Meeting House Hill | Mount Ida | Neponset | Polish Triangle | Popes Hill | Port Norfolk | Savin Hill | Shawmut | Uphams Corner

Downtown and the Financial District: Bulfinch Triangle | Combat Zone | Downtown Crossing/Ladder District | Fort Hill Square | Government Center | Haymarket Square (Boston) | Post Office Square | South Station | Boston Theater District | Waterfront

East Boston: Eagle Hill | Jeffries Point | Orient Heights | Central Square | Day Square | Maverick Square

Fenway/Kenmore: Audubon Circle | Back Bay Fens | Kenmore Square | Boston University (extends into Allston)| Longwood Medical Area (extends into Mission Hill)| Lansdowne Street/Fenway Park

Hyde Park: Readville | Fairmount Hill | Sunnyside

Jamaica Plain: Hyde Square | Forest Hills/Woodbourne | Jackson Square | Jamaica Hills | Jamaica Pond/Pondside | Moss Hill | Stony Brook | Sumner Hill

Mattapan: Wellington Hill

Mid Dorchester: Bowdoin-Geneva | Codman Square | Four Corners

Mission Hill: Brigham Circle | Back of the Hill | Parker Hill

North End: Ann Street (North Street) | Hanover Street

Roslindale: Roslindale Square

Roxbury: Dudley Square | Egleston Square | Fort Hill | Franklin Park (extends into Jamaica Plain) | Roxbury Crossing

South Boston: Andrew Square (extends into Dorchester) | D Street | Fort Point | South Boston Waterfront/Seaport District | City Point

South End: South of Washington (SoWa)

West End: Charles Street | North Station/TD Garden (also known as Boston Garden and The Garden) | Massachusetts General Hospital

West Roxbury: Parkway

Segregated Neighborhoods

Historic Districts

As an old city with many historic buildings, Boston has made conservation of these structures a priority. Boston's historic districts are overseen by its historic preservation agency, the Landmarks Commission with direct oversight by local commissions. The designated Landmark Districts (most of which are in the center city) where conservation/preservation is a primary objective and development is strictly prescribed, limited or disallowed are:

In addition to having landmark districts, Boston also has swathes of protected land. A non-exhaustive list follows:

  • Boston Common and Public Garden
  • Back Bay Fens (Fenway)
  • Emerald Necklace Parks - Jamaica Pond, Olmsted Park and The Riverway (Fenway and Jamaica Plain)
  • Franklin Park (Roxbury)
  • Chestnut Hill Reservoir and Pump Station Complex (Brighton)
  • Charles River Esplanade (Beacon Hill/Back Bay)
  • Commonwealth Avenue Mall (Back Bay)
  • Dorchester North Burying Ground (Dorchester)
  • Brook Farm (West Roxbury)

See the Boston Landmarks Commission Map

Neighborhood-related Associations and Organizations

These associations' perspectives on development vary. Boston requires neighborhood association input (where such associations are present) in the development process:


DORCHESTER (includes Mid Dorchester)





Publications and Blogs






Roxbury - more info

Incorporated a town Sept 28, 1630;
Incorporated as a city, March 25, 1846.
Annexed to Boston, Jan 6, 1868. 

YIMBYtown_2018 gathering is in Roxbury, at Roxbury Community College. 

BU Today. "Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Roxbury." November 11, 2016, with subsequent updates.

The Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists

Roxbury Cultural District. 

City of Boston - Roxbury resources page.


YIMBY and related organizations

See Also (and add to!):  YIMBY organizations directory (Massachusetts section)

Suggestions for this article

from: Welcome to dot‏ (@WelcomeToDot)
Replying to @jessekb @YIMBYwiki
how to make sure YIMBY mission is not defined in a classist/white frame. Intersectionality, inclusion, outreach.

from: Somerville YIMBY‏ @somervilleyimby 
Replying to @jessekb @YIMBYwiki
MBTA maint. woes?
Recent bike infra improvements & experiments?
Current state of IZ in metro area?
List of all our groups?

from: captive driver‏ @CaptiveDriver  
Replying to @jessekb @YIMBYwiki @WelcomeToDot
YIMBY for affordable housing to combat displacement. YIMBY for transit and bike infra. YIMBY for local biz. 

YIMBY for section 8. YIMBY support for ppl fighting eviction.





Reading List

  • Bass, Sam Warner. Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 (1962). 
    Classic study of land-use and housing-development dynamics around new transit in late 19th century Boston suburban areas Roxbury, Dorchester, and West Roxbury. 
  • Dalzell, Robert F. Enterprising Elite: The Boston Associates and the World They Made (1987). 
  • Gamm, Gerald. Urban Exodus: Why the Jews Left Boston and the Catholics Stayed (2001). 
  • Gans, Herbert, J. The Urban Villagers: Group and Class in the Life of Italian-Americans (Free Press, 1962). 
    "Gans...initially made his reputation as a critic of urban renewal in the early 1960s. His first book, The Urban Villagers (1962), described Boston's diverse West End neighborhood, where he mainly studied its Italian-American working class community. The book is also well known for its critical analysis of the area's clearance as an alleged 'slum' and the West Enders' displacement from their neighborhood." - Wikipedia, "Herbert J Gans".
  • Hiestand, Emily, and Ande Zellman, editors. The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston. (2004). 
  • Howells, WiIliam Dean.
  • Innes, Stephen. (1995). Creating the Commonwealth: The Economic Culture of Puritan New England.
  • Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
    Includes substantial discussions of Boston. 
  • Krieger, Alex, and David Cobb (eds). Mapping Boston (2011). 
  • Lukas, J. Anthony. (1985). Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families.
    Nonfiction book, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1985, that examines race relations in Boston through the prism of desegregation busing. It received the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award.The book traces the history of three families: the working-class African-American Twymons, the working-class Irish McGoffs and the middle-class Yankee Divers. It gives brief genealogical histories of each families, focusing on how the events they went through illuminated Boston history, before narrowing its focus to the racial tension of the 1960s and the 1970s. Through their stories, Common Ground focuses on racial and class conflicts in two Boston neighborhoods—the working-class Irish-American enclave of Charlestown, and the uneasily integrated South End." -Wikipedia.
  • Mollenkopf. The Contested City (Princeton University Press, 1983). 
         "Over the last five decades American cities have been transformed as profoundly and tumultuously as they were during the industrial 'revolution. In contrast to that earlier era, this contemporary transformation has been stimulated and guided by governmental intervention. John H. Mollenkopf analyzes the government programs and the supporting political coalitions that made this intervention possible. His book shows how the success of these programs, developed largely by urban liberal Democrats, led to new conflicts that ultimately undermined urban development policy.
          "Using Boston and San Francisco as case studies, the author shows how urban development programs influenced and were influenced by big-city politics. He denies that the current impasse in national politics and urban development stems from technical inadequacies in existing policies. Instead, he argues, it results from failure to reconcile the conflicting interests of dominant urban economic institutions and the urban populace--a failure that led not only to the collapse of the postwar urban development consensus but to the disarray of the Democratic party itself."  -'from description. 
    - suggested by John Stehlin
  • Morgan et al. Community by Design: The Olmsted Firm and the Development of Brookline, Massachuusetts (2013). 
  • Morris, Charles R. The Dawn of Innovation: The First American Industrial Revolution (2012).
  • O'Connell, Shaun. Imagining Boston:  A Literary Landscape (1990). 
  • Olmsted, Frederick Law. Civilizing American Cities: Writings on City Landscapes.
    A compilation of Olmsted Sr.'s writings on cities. 
  • Pasnik, Mark and Chris Grimley. Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (2015). 
  • Puleo, Stephen. A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850-1900 (2011). 
  • Rawson. Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston (2011). 
  • Rubin, Elihu. Insuring the City: The Prudential Center and the Postwar Urban Landscape (2012). 
  • Saxenian. Regional Advantage
    Classic work examining the comparative decline of Boston's high-tech corridor vs California's Silicon Valley. 
  • Seasholes, Nancy S. Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston (The MIT Press, 2018). 
  • Thoreau, Henry David. Walden (1854).
  • Tissot, Sylvie. Good Neighbors: Gentrifying Diversity in Boston's South End. (Verso, 2015). Google Books preview.      
         "Does gentrification destroy diversity? Or does it thrive on it? Boston’s South End, a legendary working-class neighborhood with the largest Victorian brick row house district in the United States and a celebrated reputation for diversity, has become in recent years a flashpoint for the problems of gentrification. It has born witness to the kind of rapid transformation leading to pitched battles over the class and race politics throughout the country and indeed the contemporary world.
         "This subtle study of a storied urban neighborhood reveals the way that upper-middle-class newcomers have positioned themselves as champions of diversity, and how their mobilization around this key concept has reordered class divisions rather than abolished them."      
  • Vale, Lawrence. From the Puritans to the Projects: Public Housing and Public Neighbors (2007).
  • Whitehill, Walter Muir, and Lawrence W. Kennedy. Boston: A Topographical History. (1958, 1968, with 1975 afterword). 
  • Whyte, William Foote. Street Corner Society: The Social Structure of an Italian Slum (1943). 
          "In the late 1930s, on a fellowship from Harvard University, Whyte lived in the North End of Boston, which was mostly inhabited by first- and second-generation immigrants from Italy. Whyte, who came from a well-to-do family, considered the neighborhood a slum, and wanted to learn more about its "lower class" society.[2] Whyte lived in that district for three and a half years, including 18 months he spent with an Italian family. Through this work, Whyte became a pioneer in participant observation (which he called 'participant observer research').
          "Street Corner Society describes various groups and communities within the district. Compaesani – people originally from the same Italian town – are one example. The first part of the book contains detailed accounts of how local gangs were formed and organized. Whyte differentiated between 'corner boys' and 'college boys': The lives of the "corner boys" revolved around particular street corners and the nearby shops. Conversely, the 'college boys' were more interested in good education and moving up the social ladder.
          "The second part of the book describes the relations of social structure, politics, and racketeering in that district. It is also a testament to the importance of WPA jobs at the time."  ( Wikipedia, "Street Corner Society").  

  • Wright, Gwendolyn. Building the Dream: A Social History of Housing in America (1981). Google Books preview
           Not about Boston per se, but has a fascinating first chapter "The Puritan Way of Life" discussing the distinct social/religious conceptions behind Puritan building and town form in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and how this may have widely influenced subsequent American building and planning. 


[Greater] Boston in Literature

see also

  • Wikipedia: "Boston in Fiction"
  • Wilson, Susan. Literary Trail of Greater Boston.
  • O'Connell, Shaun. Imagining Boston:  A Literary Landscape (1990). 


  • Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid's Tale. 
    dystopian novel set in a future, fundamentalist theocratic state headquartered at former site of Harvard University, Cambridge. 

  • Bellamy, Edward. Looking Backward: 2000–1887 (1888). 
    "A utopian science fiction novel set in Boston of 1887 and 2000. It was the third-largest bestseller of its time, after Uncle Tom's Cabin and Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. It influenced a large number of intellectuals, and appears by title in many socialist writings of the day. 
    Bellamy's novel tells the story of a hero figure named Julian West, a young American, who towards the end of the 19th century in Boston, falls into a deep, hypnosis-induced sleep and wakes up 113 years later. He finds himself in the same location, but in a totally changed world: It is the year 2000, and while he was sleeping, the United States has been transformed into a socialist utopia. The remainder of the book outlines Bellamy's thoughts about improving the future. The major themes include problems associated with capitalism, a proposed socialist solution of a nationalization of all industry, and the use of an "industrial army" to organize production and distribution, as well as how to ensure free cultural production under such conditions." 

  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter (1849). 
    Probably most famous and influential literary work set in or connected to Boston. 
  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of the Seven Gables (1851). 
    Set in Hawthorne's home town of Salem, Massachusetts, on the "North Shore" of Boston. 
  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Blithedale Romance (1852).
    novel based on Hawthorne's experiences as a founding resident of Brook Farm, a utopian communal community located in West Roxbury, Massachusetts (9 miles outside of downtown Boston) in 1841. 
  • Higgins, George V. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1970). 
       "George V. Higgins (November 13, 1939 – November 6, 1999)[1][2] was an American author, lawyer, newspaper columnist, raconteur and college professor. He authored 29 books, including Bomber's Law, Trust and Kennedy for the Defense and is best known for his bestselling crime novels, including The Friends of Eddie Coyle, which established the Boston noir genre of gangster tales.." --Wikipedia, "George V. Higgins." 
       "The Friends of Eddie Coyle, published in 1970, was the debut novel of George V. Higgins, then an Assistant United States Attorney in Boston. The novel is a realistic depiction of the Irish-American underworld in Boston. Its central character is the title character Eddie Coyle, a small-time criminal and informant.
    The Friends of Eddie Coyle was adapted into a 1973 film, directed by Peter Yates and starring Robert Mitchum."
        "Elmore Leonard said that The Friends of Eddie Coyle was the best crime novel ever written, though Higgins hated being classified as a "crime writer". According to Leonard, "He saw himself as the Charles Dickens of crime in Boston instead of a crime writer. He just understood the human condition and he understood it most vividly in the language and actions among low lives." - Wikipedia, "The Friends of Eddie Coyle". '
  • Howells, William Dean. The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885).
    Classic novel despicting class aspiration and conflict in late-19th Century Boston, including dynamics of who was choosing or being forced to move/live where. Title character, a socially-aspiring, nouveau riche industrial magnate, is during the novel living with family in fast-declining South End, while building a sumptuous new home in Back Bay. 
  • James, Henry. The Bostonians. 
  • Lehane, Dennis. Mystic River (2001); The Given Day (2008). 
  • Lowell, Robert. Life Studies (1959); For the Union Dead (1964); Poems: A Selection (ed. by Jonathan Raban, 1974).
  • O'Connor, Edwin. The Last Hurrah (1956).
    Fictionalized account of preeminent Boston machine politician of 1/2 half of 20th Century. Mayor James Curley
  • Senna, Danzy. Caucasia (1988).  
    Novel (with some autobiographical aspects) about growing up with mixed-race parents in Boston area. 
  • Thoreau. Walden (1854).  based on his experiences living in 1844-45 at Walden Pond, near Concord, about 18 miles from Boston. 
  • Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest (1996). 
  • West, Dorothy. The Living is Easy (1948). 
    Novel by a Boston-raised, Harlem Renaissance-active writer, set in 1920s Boston. Depicts complex situation of the "color line" in Boston, and  interactions between Yankee Bostonians, bourgeoise African-Americans such as the main character, and African-American newcomers from the South. A central plot line concerns the main character's renting of and moving extended family into a house which, like West's childhood home, was on the boundary between Roxbury (Boston) and the suburban city of Brookline.