From “street car suburb” to ‘student ghetto:” Allston and urban change
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Allston, considered Boston’s student neighborhood, has a historical trajectory that has been understudied, in that the neighborhood has not followed a linear path of either ascent or descent. Given Allston’s status as a hybrid neighborhood, displaying durable trends of both ascent and decline, residents and other neighborhood actors utilize cultural narratives to orient Allston’s history and future, which, in turn, reify certain aspects of the neighborhood. Based on ethnographic observations for two years and interviews with over 60 residents, students, business owners, real estate agents, and workers in Allston, this study extends previous literature on urban change in demonstrating Allston’s understudied hybridity, as well as locals’ use of cultural narratives to navigate this context. In so doing, neighborhood actors have perpetuated cultural narratives of Allston that embrace Allston’s gritty nature as the root of Allston’s legitimacy. The perception of Allston as a relatively disinvested and student neighborhood have allowed two distinct cohorts to see themselves as early stage gentrifiers, investing in the area. Nostalgia for the past also shapes residents’ cultural narratives of Allston, specifically for lifelong residents and other longtime residents. Tensions persist between the two groups, as an imagined past informs each groups distinct orientation to Allston’s future. Real estate agents and students perpetuate Allston’s student narrative by engaging in ritual interactions specifically related to “Allston Christmas,” or the September 1st moving day. Combined with Allston’s gritty nature, these rituals and interactions perpetuate an exploitative housing market characterized by poor housing conditions. This study demonstrates how neighborhood actors utilize cultural understandings to make sense of their surroundings and how these narratives reify existing conditions and perpetuate neighborhood inequality in the context of non-linear neighborhood change. This study contributes to literature on cultural understandings of place by examining how neighborhood hybridity facilitates specific neighborhood narratives, and how different cohorts utilize the same narrative frame, but with distinct orientations.