Confessions of a Defector

Why I left Somerville, and why I sometimes wish I hadn’t

By Shannon Cain Arnold

Parking in Davis Square on a Friday night is a pain.

Yes, I just realized this.

No, I’m not a newcomer to the city who is just learning the ropes. I’m a 30-year-old defector who’s just now learning what she really misses about her former city.

I never knew how difficult it was to park in Somerville because I never had to. I lived 15 minutes from the T and on three major bus routes. We had a grocery store, restaurants, coffee shops, hardware stores and half a dozen of our good friends within a short walk or bus ride from our apartment. In the winter, my husband and I walked three miles to the farmers market at the Armory (191 Highland Ave) just to get a little outdoor exercise.

I moved to Somerville when I was 25, a suburb-raised yuppie who wanted to spend her last few carefree (i.e. child-free) years in a fun, energetic city. Somerville fit the bill perfectly. It was affordable on my nonprofit salary; diverse; big enough that there were always interesting things going on; and small enough that I had a sense of community.

My husband and I loved the city so much that – three years ago – we decided to stray from our house-in-quiet-suburb upbringings and put down roots right here. We made an offer on one of the only single-family houses we could afford – a cute barely-three-bedroom with a tiny paved yard on short-sale in East Somerville.

We waited almost a year for an answer.

Then we started thinking more seriously about having a family. The house seemed smaller and more in need of expensive repairs. We realized our commutes to work would be nightmarish unless the fabled Green Line came. We thought about our own backyards growing up, and all the time we spent outside just running around and playing imagination games.

We withdrew our offer on the house. But we kept looking for the next two years, still hoping that our dream house would come up in Somerville. It did, many times – except it was always about double the highest price we could afford. We started to rethink our priorities, realizing most of what we loved about the city was what we wanted for ourselves – not necessarily for the children we hoped to have.

Sometimes I say we stopped being selfish. Sometimes I say we lost our nerve. We widened our search by fewer than 10 miles on either side and found half a dozen houses we loved within the first month.

Since May, we have lived in a small town 10 miles northeast of Somerville. It’s a place most people would call charming, and it is. Our first child is due in March. He or she will have a yard with a swing-set and a playroom in the house. We can still walk to a lot of things, including a downtown and a beautiful lake. But somehow it’s not quite the same. The buses don’t run on weekends. There are only three bars in town, and almost every restaurant is Italian.

I miss Somerville, but the truth is we can’t afford to go out every weekend anyway. And we’ve been busily settling into our new house and preparing for the kid.

One thing that drew us to our new town was that there seemed to be so many other young couples like us there. When I’m a new mom, I’ll be surrounded with other new moms with interests similar to mine.

But the one thing I underestimated is how boring it is to live in a place where so many people seem just like you. Though I am learning to leave behind many parts of my life in Somerville, I miss being surrounded by such a variety of people.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t pretend Somerville was a perfect melting pot. I know there are tensions and inequities, and that many long-term residents feel resentment – a good bit of it probably justified – against yuppies like me taking over many neighborhoods. But I was never at risk of thinking that my way of life was the only one.

Here in my new home, I have to work a little harder to connect with the wider world.

Needless to say, I’ll be searching for parking in Somerville many times in the years to come.

Shannon Cain Arnold lives in Wakefield with her husband Ryan and her three-year-old cat Doris. She is the communications manager at the nonprofit Discovering Justice ( She has written for Scout about food access and insecurity (“A Seat at the Table”) and on innovative, interior design ideas for crowded, clutter-filled apartments (“Somerville’s Sweetest Spaces”).

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