Joe Curtatone: Hizonner the hipster

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone.
Pat Greenhouse/globe staff/file 2003
Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone.

Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, 47, is a lifelong Somerville native from an old Somerville family, a strongly accented symbol of the old guard. So to hear him declare, “I wish I were a hipster” — as he did at an event this month in Union Square — is a sign that old and new can more-than-peacefully coexist. Hipsterness is more a frame of mind than an age range, to be sure, but Somerville has special claims to the group, with its densely packed housing stock, its embrace of urban agriculture, and the second-highest proportion of 25-to-34-year-olds in the country, behind only Hoboken, N.J.

The hipster influx in Somerville is nothing new, nor is the tension between old and new residents in any neighborhood. Gentrification often brings legitimate concerns, such as rising housing costs that could eventually drive young residents elsewhere. (Cambridge’s hipster loss, in recent decades, was Somerville’s gain). But some of the reforms that have made Somerville attractive to twentysomethings are good for residents of any demographic: accessible public transit, a business climate that encourages new restaurants and stores, a civic culture that welcomes festivals and public gatherings.

Curtatone came of age politically at a time when it was popular for old Somerville families to disdain the “barneys” coming over the Cambridge line. But, as mayor, he’s laid out the welcome mat. Curtatone is famous for sending residents a “happiness survey,” which has yielded insight into everything from street festivals to recycling programs. Old community values and new hipsters, it turns out, can make for a happy mix.