Wanted: your map of Boston neighborhoods

Let’s settle this.

Over and over it’s been made clear that there is little agreement on the precise boundaries of Boston’s neighborhoods. Most people agree on the existence of the major neighborhoods, but everyone has different opinions on where one ends and another begins. The South End may or may not be eating Roxbury. A chunk of Dorchester may or may not have been handed over to Mattapan. Mission Hill may nor may not be part of Roxbury. The confusion and disputes are understandable because the reality on the ground is that there are no hard lines except in a few cases of obvious physical barriers, but it’s also true that arbitrary borders do matter in politics, city services, and even personal identity.

Well, we can look at the variety of city-defined boundaries (PDF) or at somebody else’s assertions and say “that’s wrong, stupid!” or we can all compare notes on what we think the neighborhood boundaries actually are. To that end, fellow Bostonographers, we would like to collect your opinions and map areas we all agree upon and where we disagree. We’ve made a simple mapping tool for you to contribute your neighborhood definitions. It lives at http://bostonography.com/neighborhoods and looks like this:

Boston neighborhood mapper

We ask you to draw and submit boundaries for most of the usual top-level neighborhoods, excluding Charlestown and East Boston because they’re pretty well indisputable, and with Allston and Brighton treated separately because they seem to be the most easily divisible sections of the official neighborhoods. You can submit a map of as many or as few neighborhoods as you wish, but we of course encourage you to draw all of them. Detail as intricate as you have patience for is appreciated, too, for the sake of the eventual maps of the results. Once enough people have contributed, we’ll post the data and some maps of it.

So get to it! Contribute, spread the word, and let’s create the ultimate collective map of Boston’s neighborhoods.

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28 Responses to Wanted: your map of Boston neighborhoods

  1. Dave D says:

    That’s such a great idea. I’ve done my neighborhood, the Fenway. I’ll post it on FB to see if others will help.

  2. JF says:

    Very cool project, I can’t wait to see the results!

    PS: If you see a wasp-waisted Back Bay that was me getting my vertices all confused. Is there any way to clear a neighborhood and start over?

    • No way to clear a neighborhood (other than refreshing the page and starting everything over), but I should get in there and add something for that. Will do that soon!

  3. Henrik says:

    I think this is a very intresting thing to try. Im not sure though if it will give you some form of consensus about the borders though as I believe neighborhoods are mere centers of attentions wich gets more diffuse the farther from the center one get.

    What I find really intresting is the areas, if any, that no one claims for a special neighborhood. A kind of mental nomansland :-)

    • Indeed, we don’t expect consensus on borders, but it will be interesting to see what the minimum area of consensus is for each neighborhood—there will be at least some central part that everyone agree is in the neighborhood.

      Good point about the unclaimed areas, too, and I think our use of only the quasi-official top-level neighborhoods here may produce some of that. People may not want to assign the Longwood Medical Area to any of them, for example, or the Bullfinch Triangle, the large green spaces in the south, &c.

    • MarkB says:

      A classic no-man’s land is around Mt Hope cemetery. Few residents to decide where they live and pass it on. Franklin Park is another one, in a sense. It’s commonly claimed that Franklin Park is ‘in’ Dorchester, but it was never part of the town of Dorchester. It was part of Roxbury, and then West Roxbury, until West Roxbury was annexed. It would be better to say that the park is bordered by Roxbury, Dorchester, Jamaica Plain and maybe Mattapan.

  4. Henrik says:

    And how did you change the colors on your background googlemap? Css selector? They look great!

    • The Google Maps API lets you style the map to some extent. You can play with the options here, albeit in a kind of clunky interface.

      Credit goes to Tim for coming up with this particular style!

  5. Can we get Cambridge and Somerville neighborhoods/squares added as well? Where does Davis Square end and Porter Square start?

    • That’s a good idea; the square-based neighborhoods in these parts are pretty vague, although they don’t seem to inspire as much argument. We’ll stick with the Boston neighborhoods on this one, but perhaps some kind of SquareMapper is in order!

  6. Molly says:

    I don’t see a way to save or share your map after you’re done. Would you guys consider adding that? It would be a lot of fun, and after all, a lot of careful deliberation went into those neighborhood boundaries! I’d love to be able to link to a copy of my map, or maybe get the KML or something so I could rebuild it to show off :)

    • Certainly a good idea! We skipped that sort of thing mainly out of eagerness to post this without spending forever on writing code, but perhaps if there’s a spare moment or two we could add some kind of sharing or download feature. (Admittedly, though, the next couple weeks don’t look so good for such availability.)

      We will post all the collected data in a useable format at some point, so it’ll be there to grab and convert into KML or whatever else—but since we’re not saving any particular identifying information, the only way to find an individual’s submission would be to dig through all of them and try to recognize the map. Largely as a reminder to myself, I’ll mention that when you posted this comment there were about 100 submissions, so if you submitted a map around then, we’ll know where to start looking if you want to find yours when we do push out that data.

  7. Herve says:

    (Shameless plug alert)

    You may be interested in a similar attempt of mine to figure out the people’s map of neighbourhood boundaries in Edinburgh. I scraped an online classifieds site where people must enter both their postcode (which can be pinpointed on a map) and the name of their neighbourhood (according to them), and I mapped the results.

    Turns out there’s a lot of disagreement between next-door neighbours as to the name of the area they live in.

    Looks like this: http://saintamh.org/maps/areas-of-edinburgh/

    Maybe if there’s a similar data source in Boston you could try this approach too? Real estate sites are also a possible source.

    • That’s excellent work; thanks for sharing!

      Somebody alerted us to a similar project for San Francisco using craiglist ads, presumably this map. Most craigslist posts don’t provide specific locations though, so I’m not sure how they managed to dig through the ads and find mappable points. Still, if it was done for San Francisco it could be done for Boston too.

  8. MarkB says:

    Yes, I’m one of those border nazis. At least I fight the good fight when I see the need. Sadly, the BRA doesn’t care what makes Jamaica Plain Jamaica Plain, and City Hall doesn’t know. So many people left the city in the 70s-80s that the historical knowledge of what street belongs where was lost. Repeatedly, I’ve seen people insist online that the neighborhood around the old Roxbury Memorial High School(!) is Dorchester.

    The truth is, there are places where there never really was any border. Try figuring out where Jamaica Plain stops and Roslindale begins along Hyde Park ave. Zip codes don’t answer the question – that’s just one bureaucracy. Neither do police, fire, or any other city department. They all serve their own needs, without regard to historical districts.

    And then, of course, practice does move borders. Much of the Hyde Square neighborhood down to Jackson square was officially part of the town of Roxbury, even after the town of West Roxbury broke away, carrying Jamaica Plain with it. After the entire area was annexed to Boston, the whole area became part of Jamaica Plain to the residents. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when strips of Roslindale – without doubt – decide that they live in West Roxbury, or Mission Hill residents insist they don’t live in Roxbury.

  9. Nick says:

    This project is great, but I take slight offense to “Dorchester” being considered one neighborhood. Dot is just as large as “Boston” and has many neighborhoods within it. I think giving Dorchester’s neighborhoods some more credit would be good for the city of Boston. I hate telling friends that I live in Dot and hearing “oh wow that’s so dangerous!” No, Dorchester in general is not dangerous, it’s just large. Just like in Boston there are some worse neighborhoods than others, Dot has the same thing going. Breaking down Dot into the neighborhoods it has may bring more people out to explore and check it out these “hidden” gems.

    • MarkB says:

      Neighborhood is the wrong word to use. The word district would be more appropriate. Dorchester had an independent identity for almost 250 years. When it comes to defining borders, doing it by neighborhood would be impossible. If people can’t even agree on the borders between Dorchester and Mattapan and Roxbury, how would they split up Dorchester into smaller units.

      And splitting Dorchester up into dangerous and safe parts doesn’t change the fact that it’s all Dorchester. Franklin Field is just as much Dorchester as Neponset or Cedar Grove are.

      • Nick says:

        I didn’t mean that Dorchester should be literally split up into “Safe” and “Dangerous” just that Dorchester has districts/neighborhoods/areas and should be broken up into them and given that respect.

        However, I get your argument that Dorchester is more broken into “districts” rather than “neighborhoods.” Still, the same project for Dorchester would be interesting. I live in Glover’s Corner/Meetinghouse Hill on the border of Savin Hill and Fields Corner. I’d like to see all the other neighborhoods and where residents believe they begin and end.

        • It would be great to try to map out that “district” level too. I think there’s less of a desire to draw borders between those sub-neighborhood units, but even so, people do identify themselves by those areas. Similar would be the “squares” across the river, as was suggested in a comment earlier. I’d definitely like to do round two of this project later for that sort of thing if this one goes well!

  10. Brighton has several neighborhoods within it. Just because we are attached to Boston by a thread does not mean I’ll do my best to put a few on the map. Gonna be a bit of a learning curve learning it.

  11. Joel says:

    I love this idea and I’m having fun with it.

    However, I found a problem with map creation. If you start a neighborhood by accident with a double click, you can’t create any more squares and you’re stuck with a single dot. I don’t see any way to recover from this. Is there one?


    • Hmm… doesn’t look like there’s a simple way out of that. I suppose if you want to make sure to get that neighborhood in there, you’d have to reload the page or come back to it a second time after submitting the rest of them. You can send a second submission with just that one neighborhood.

  12. Alex says:

    How would one recreate this, technically, for St. Louis? Any help would be appreciated!

  13. Jim c says:

    The Dorchester/mattapan border is on groveland st. This is where dorchester’s ward 17 meets ward 18 mattapan. Some say standard st. Ward 17 is Dorchester and one side of groveland st and maryknoll st is the border between Dorchester and mattapan. The Dorchester lower mills neighborhood is in ward 17 which consists of precints 12,13, 14 and part of precinct 4. The confusing thing is that two of these Dorchester precincts are serviced under the mattapan post office but they are officially in Dorchester. This is the lower mills neighborhood of Dorchester.

  14. Joe b says:

    I agree. Coming up river st the border is at groveland/maryknoll sts. The right side of groveland and maryknoll streets are in Dorchester and the other side of the street is mattapan.

  15. Kelly says:

    I kinda like that!
    I stayed in Allston/Brigthon for a few days and the guys I was staying with couldn’t decide if they live in Allston or Brighton. haha.
    I lived in Dorchester than for 3 Month and worked in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury. At some point it got confusing aswell because some told me I’m still in Dorchester, some said I’m already in Mattapan or in Roxbury.
    I mapped a few neighborhoods I know, as I figured it out, when I was there.
    I’ll share the map on facebook to my Boston friends and I’m curious how your map will turn out in the end! :)

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