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Best Places to Raise a Family: Affordable Living in the Boston and Eastern Massachusetts Area

By Eric H.

Walpole, Massachusetts

Great place to live, Walpole, MA -- A summer scene from old-fashioned Downtown Walpole, MA, a southwest suburban Boston small town with nice neighborhoods to raise a family, friendly people, community spirit,  open spaces, scenic ponds and fine schools. Read more on Walpole further down in the article.  (photo by Eric H.)

New best places to raise a family reviews:
Franklin, Mass.
and North Attleboro, Mass.

Those who live in eastern and central Massachusetts know

that buying a modest, move-in condition home for about 400K is a great bargain. For those who don't live in New England, those prices must seem like sheer lunacy. Some prefer to just visit New England, and that might be a wise idea. Who would want to spend that much money for a home? However, others know that if they're lucky enough to earn a high salary in this region, the prices might not seem all that bad. It's a shame that many hard working people of lower or middle class status won't have the opportunity to buy around this region, but for those who do, we have compiled a list of the top five, most reasonably affordable places to raise a family. The following towns have homes available in the aforementioned price range (as well as pricier homes) and offer lots of safe suburban and rural living:

Burlington, northwest Boston suburb-- At first glance, Burlington doesn't seem like a sensible choice for affordable living in the Boston area. The suburban industrial sprawl, the huge Burlington Mall, strip malls, fast food chains and all the usual suspects make Burlington look like just another assembly-line suburban town that doesn't know the term "moratorium" when it comes to development.

While there is a strong element of truth to all that, Burlington has some overwhelmingly great features that make this large geographical area of 27,000 stand out. The village green is actually one of the most impressive, undeveloped greens in eastern Massachusetts. Surrounded by old homes and pleasant town office buildings, the town village green is a haven for strollers out for a "real "New England walk, and is particularly amazing during the holiday season when the tree lighting makes it official that you are in New England. It is also perfect for a hot summer night concert "on the green."

Nearby Simonds Park provides one of the best playgrounds in all of suburban Boston with its age appropriate sections of play areas, lighted tennis courts, a great baseball field, and an outdoor swimming area. This is part of the Burlington tradition of having an active recreation department, featuring 11 parks and facilities and including music and art, fitness dancing, adult education , sports, summer activities, tours, leagues special events, workshops, and adventure programs. There's never a shortage of things to do for adults and children living in Burlington, according to those who live, or have The neighborhoods consist of mostly well-kept ranches with nice yards, although new developments with bigger homes have sprung up in the past several years. There are still some homes available for under $400,000, but expect to pay a little over that amount for a move-in condition, modest home. Additionally, the school system is a good one and improving steadily; it has come a long way in the past 30 years. Details on the improvement can be read at the Town of Burlington Web Site Education section.

Burlington is also home to the Lahey Clinic, generally regarded as one of the best suburban hospitals in the United States. It is comforting to know that this stellar medical facility is within minutes, in case of emergency or for having a great primary care physician for the entire family.

Suddenly, the suburban sprawl makes more sense and is more tolerable, as living in a quiet town with one of the finest hospitals in New England, one of the best shopping malls in Massachusetts (The Burlington Mall features 155 specialty shops and is anchored by Macy's, Nordstrom and Sears), and an endless array of restaurants (the kid-friendly Rainforest Cafe is there for the kids and the upscale Cafe Escadrille for romantic couples), and quick access to Routes 128, 3 (20 minutes to New Hampshire) and 93 (leading to Boston) make Burlington a serious contender for great, affordable suburban living.

More on Burlington

Foxborough, southwest Boston suburb -- Foxborough, MA, is known as the home of the esteemed New England Patriots, but it is so much more than that. Blessed with one of the nicest village greens in New England, Foxborough seems less like a Boston suburb and more like a quaint Vermont town. Like all classic New England small towns, the village green is the center of attention, a small oasis with park benches, old-fashioned tall lamps, a gazebo, well kept walkways and an always well-manicured lawn and in the spring and summer, flowers in bloom. Foxborough -- located at the intersection of Interstates 95 and 495 -- is 24 miles south of Boston. It seems like a million miles away from the state capital, as well as the football stadium and the anytown, strip mall look of Route 1.

The Foxborough village green serves as a very attractive rotary with steady traffic driving around the circular piece of land. The tree-lined side streets near the downtown offer great, big homes, many Victorians and colonials, and provide a perfect stroll to the town center. Businesses and stately churches frame the village green. There is the old-fashioned Aubuchon Hardware where service is a priority; the family-oriented Commons Cafe and Eatery (the only full-service privately-owned downtown restaurant), the Orpheum which hosts local theater productions in its old, charming pink building; and specialty shops ready to sell you clothing and antiques, to name a few.

An old-fashioned fire station looks like something out of those silent 1920s movies. While certainly not a vacation destination -- but perhaps an ideal town to live if considering making the move to New England -- Foxborough is worth a visit with its great village green and a walkable pleasant downtown. Sit on a village green bench, enjoy the leisurely pace, visit a few local shops and you just might find Foxborough more authentic than the high profile "vacation" towns.

Walpole, southwest Boston suburb -- Walpole is three towns away from Boston in the southwest direction. Farms, ponds and old-fashioned neighborhoods with small to mid-size homes and kids actually playing outside make Walpole a great place to raise a family. You can get a decent home starting at about $400,000, although most move-in condition homes typically sporting a quarter acre of land surpass that price -- still a good deal in the Boston area. Residents seem more friendly than in other Boston suburbs, perhaps due to the influx of people moving from Boston neighborhoods that are grateful for the opportunity to have more land, better safety, and the chance to be close to their parents from the old Boston neighborhoods. The town center is well-defined and pleasant, with unique and thriving independently-owned stores, several fine restaurants, a bakery, coffeehouse, a beautiful new public library that gets a great daily turnout, and a quintessentially "New England" village green (actually, there are three town commons in the center, an amazing asset for scenic purposes and town events). Meandering suburban and country roads off-shooting from the downtown make for wonderful neighborhoods and drives. Common St., right off the center, has some of the nicest, stately, historic big homes in eastern Massachusetts.

East Walpole has a peaceful village-like setting with fine neighborhoods to walk, a terrific restaurant (204 Washington), pizza place, hair salon, and other businesses. Also in East Walpole is Bird Park. This pastoral gem boasts 89 acres of gentle rolling parkland framed by tall, majestic trees and a scenic part of the Neponset River. Large stone walkways lead you past open, grassy fields, small walking bridges overlooking the water, mature shade trees, tree groves, and ponds. Recreational opportunities abound -- a well-constructed playground for children five years-old and younger, tennis and basketball courts, cross country skiing, picnic areas and a bandstand for concerts.

North Walpole features some truly spectacular newer homes, some appealing farms, impressive modestly-sized homes with big lots, tranquil Willett Pond where "lakefront" homes on Bullard St., have a spectacular view of some very clean water, and the 365-acre Adams Farm -- a perfect place for a quiet New England hike. Over the North Walpole line in Westwood is the Bubbling Brook ice cream stand. Bubbling Brook means the official start of warmer weather to many local residents (and falling into a depressive state when they close for the season after Columbus Day). Set beside some rolling farm land, Bubbling Brook looks like your classic ice cream stand with its outdoor windows framed by lines of people, picnic benches and bright under-the-roof lights warmly illuminating the nighttime. They also have indoor dining, with some good nightly specials.

Walpole is one of the last great bargains in the Boston area, has an impressive school system (although like many Boston suburbs, financially-challenged), the pastoral Norfolk Agricultural School (a four-year regional high school providing high quality academics and vocational/technical education) and is every bit as nice looking as some of the more expensive towns. The population is just under 24,000, but Walpole is essentially a small town with a large geographical area (22 square miles) -- this space allows room to roam for everyone in this suburban gem of a town. Walpole is also a great sports town, renowned for its high field hockey teams and some terrific football and baseball teams through the years.

Ultimately, Walpole is a pleasant, family-oriented place with a true small-town, old-fashioned feel. It is a must-see when looking for a home in the Boston area.

More on Walpole


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Shrewsbury, western Boston suburb, Worcester suburb -- A pretty New England village green, neighborhoods with quarter to half acre lots, a superb school system, easy access to major highways, and 15 parks --including the beautiful Dean Park-- makes Shrewsbury a suburban dream. The west side does border some Worcester city elements, but the neighborhoods there are decent enough. Other parts of town rival the neighborhoods of Boston suburbs selling homes for twice the price. Another great aspect to Shrewsbury is that most of the commercial and industrial endeavors are kept on Routes 9 and 20, away from the heart of the town. More on Shrewsbury


Maynard, western Boston suburb -- The demise of Digital Corporation nearly ruined the town, but Maynard still has a sunny downtown with locally owned shops, some beautiful old colonial homes, a relatively low crime rate and enough in the parks and recreation department to keep the kids busy. The schools are fine and the air smells cleaner than in other suburbs. The legendary Maynard Outdoor Store is a great example of an old fashioned, downtown, locally-owned business -- for outdoor wear, it's a nice alternative to L.L. Bean, of Freeport, Maine. Maynard also offers available storefronts for those who want to start a business. In addition, Maynard is close to historic Lexington and Concord and only 35 minutes west of Boston. More on Maynard

Holden, western Boston suburb, Worcester suburb -- A quiet rural suburban Worcester town that has a sleepy downtown, reasonably priced homes, a highly rated school system and a central location that makes driving to all six New England states a breeze. More on Holden

Medway, southwest Boston suburb -- Medway has some lovely old colonials and Victorians, easy access to Route 495, and a laid-back, safe feeling. It also has one of the better school systems in Massachusetts, as evidenced by good MCAS results. There are no bad sections of Medway, just a plethora of nice neighborhoods. The town has some nice restaurants, especially the Main Street Cafe which serves excellent steak and seafood dinners in a friendly suburban setting. More on Medway

Hopedale, southwest Boston suburb -- Hopedale is a peaceful, little town about 30 miles southwest of Boston and 30 miles northwest of Providence, RI. One policeman, after a month on the job, left his Hopedale assignment because there was just not enough crime to keep him busy. Hopedale's mix of fine, old homes, a quaint downtown, a centrally located playground and a serene river to watch the sun go down makes for a nice place to raise a family. One drawback is a big, old vacated factory building in the downtown area that should come alive soon as space is for lease. Hopedale is a rarity for a community so close to Boston, as it is so quiet, it makes a library seem like a heavy metal concert. More on Hopedale

Wakefield, northwest Boston suburb -- It's hard to believe that tranquil Lake Quannapowitt, in Wakefield, MA, is just off manic Route 128. The Lake offers numerous recreational opportunities, including a lovely four mile walk around the scenic body of water. A pretty town green, open park land and a playground offer additional scenic and recreational opportunities at this jewel in the middle of northwest suburbia. Wakefield also has a nice, old-fashioned downtown with charming, old brick town buildings, a classic New England village green, independently-owned local shops and convenient parallel parking. For a town with a population of around 25,000, the Lake and small-town downtown make it seem like a much smaller town.

More on Wakefield

Related articles:

Oxford, MA : A nice town to visit and a place you might want to live.

Massachusetts Small-Town Living -- Bay State communities that have held onto their small-town roots, making them traditional, classic towns to live in.


New England Towns of the Day (Massachusetts) from the Weekly New England Travel and Vacation Gazette:

Norwood

Foxborough

Sandwich (Cape Cod)

Marion

Plymouth




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