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With city prices rising, influx of youth changes suburbs

Aileen Noonan, left, and Alex Fram played skee-ball at the Waltham office of the online marketing company Constant Contact, where 40 percent of the workforce is in the 20 to 34 age group.Justin Saglio for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

The bright lights, varied entertainment, job opportunities, culture, and living near or even with friends have been part of the allure of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville for young people over many years.

At no time has that been truer than now, with Boston boasting the highest concentration of people ages 20 to 34of any major US city. And Somerville and Cambridge have even higher percentages of "millennials'' than Boston.

But as the cost of living continues to soar in those three cities, an increasing number of young people have turned to the suburbs, where the successors to the Generation X age group have brought a fresh vibe that has many observers angling to find and crown "the next Somerville."


After Somerville, where 43 percent of the population is in the age range of 20 to 34, the highest concentrations of millennials are in Waltham at 31 percent, and Medford and Brookline at 29 percent, according to the latest estimates from the US Census Bureau's American Community Survey, and a Globe analysis of 158 cities and towns in Greater Boston. To the south, Quincy has the highest concentration of 20- to 34-year-olds, who make up 27 percent of its nearly 93,000 residents.

While some of this might reflect young adults who have moved back to their parents' home because of unemployment or underemployment, many millennials are consciously choosing to live beyond Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville for myriad reasons, including economics, work, and quality of life, according to Robert Forrant, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and regional economy researcher for "MassBenchmarks," a journal published with the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

"Contrary to the way I think a lot of us think about young people, they're actually thinking this through and making pretty smart choices in terms of where they'll live for the first time after college," Forrant said. "They look at where the jobs are and what the amenities are, and they're making good choices to where they want to end up. And at the same time, a lot of communities are trying to revive their housing markets and are recognizing that market potential."


With its proximity to Somerville and Boston, and home to Tufts University, Medford is adapting to this growing demographic with the addition of about 900 residential units over the past seven years, predominantly around the Wellington Station area, said Lauren DiLorenzo, the city's community development director.

While there may not be much in the way of local nightlife, the upcoming Green Line extension project, more affordable apartments and homes, and the city's abundance of open space further appeal to the young, who tend to be more environmentally conscious, she said.

"You have to face the fact that it's popular because of its proximity to Boston and Cambridge," DiLorenzo said. "The idea that you can take the train to Boston, work, and go out is essential to young people. If you look at what's going on in the area around us . . . all the signs are that this trend will continue."

For young people south of the city, Quincy makes for a direct line to Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville by virtue of its proximity to Interstate 93 and its four stops on the MBTA’s Red Line. But Quincy can stand on its own when it comes to fun. Along with its historic attractions, beaches, and diverse community, the city also offers a vibrant night scene, said Brendan Burchill, a South Shore-based DJ and entertainer.

Burchill's weekly karaoke, interactive game show events, and DJing gigs in various restaurants, clubs, and bars in Quincy are popular among young people looking for a little variety closer to home.

"Quincy is a nice place to get a little bit of flavor without having to go to Boston," Burchill said. "I can't think of too much that you're missing out on."


Even some communities as far as 30 or 40 minutes from Boston are adapting to the needs of younger residents by revitalizing town centers to include more restaurants, late-night entertainment options, and shops within walking distance or at least near public transit stations. And what some may lack in abundance of nightlife, they make up for with distinctive offerings such as hiking trails and beaches.

Some of those trade-offs were a pleasant surprise for 29-year-old Samantha Porter, who moved to Gloucester a year ago from Cambridge with her husband and daughters, ages 4 and 1, and their two dogs. After graduating from college in 2007, Porter lived in Boston, Brookline, and Somerville before settling in Cambridge, where she later found it challenging to connect with other people in their 20s who were also raising children. Then a single friend of hers who had made the move to Gloucester to live and work told Porter it was actually fun there.

C.J. Sweeney, left, with Samantha Porter, spend time with friends at the Minglewood Tavern in Gloucester.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

"Within downtown Gloucester you can walk to the supermarket, there's live music, there's stuff to do. There's a lot of restaurants on Main Street . . . and we have beaches where the dogs love to run around," said Porter, who works in Gloucester as a marketing and public relations director with the Serenitee Restaurant Group . "It's way cheaper than you could get an apartment in Cambridge, and you can take the train to Beverly or Cambridge.


"That's why people are moving out of the city at a younger age," she said, "because they still have an opportunity to live in Beverly, Gloucester, and Salem, where you can get around having that urban feel in a suburban setting and a place where you can set roots later."

Rising rents in Boston and Cambridge led 31-year-old Akash Vijay to move to Weymouth four years ago. Paying a little more each month to buy a house, he figured, would be a better investment than paying a landlord in the city. His 15-minute commute to Huntington Controls in Braintree, where he works as an engineer, was also a factor in his decision.

"Besides, the backyard gives me the option of getting a dog," Vijay said. "The tranquil surroundings and huge living space for hosting or entertaining are excellent trade-offs. It's a short drive to Whole Foods, the Braintree T station, the South Shore Plaza, and some really good restaurants such as Alma Nove and Tosca" in Hingham.

The cons, he said, are the challenges of meeting people his age outside of work, as well as few late-night restaurant options. To meet people, Vijay recently started a Meetup group for young professionals in his area to network via activities such as hiking, board or video game nights, bowling, and going to local restaurants. It has grown to 25 members.

Meeting people has not been difficult for Erin Barnicle in Waltham, where she lives and works as general manager ofTempo Bistroon Moody Street's "restaurant row." Her boyfriend, Nathan Sigel, is the chef and owner of the restaurant.


Chrystal Brown, the bar manager at Charcoal Guidos Trattoria on Moody Street in Waltham, took a customer’s order on Friday evening.Sean Proctor/Globe Staff

After college, Barnicle said, she lived in and around Boston, "but listening to the T every night and over-dramatic everything" persuaded her to move 10 years ago.

"Waltham was the first place I moved to," said the 32-year-old. "I felt I grew up a little bit. There are more opportunities, it's more affordable, and I can still get to Boston in 10-15 minutes. . . The beauty of Waltham is because there are a lot of companies in town; you're creating relationships with people who are young and starting their lives."

Waltham tech companies like Constant Contact have been working hard to attract young talent. Aileen Noonan, 34, who is part of the 40 percent millennial workforce at the online marketing company, and her boyfriend moved from New York to Beverly after getting sticker shock from the Boston rental market. She uses their one car to commute to Waltham, while he walks five minutes to the commuter rail station for his job in Boston's Seaport District.

She said in both Beverly and Waltham she has found a wealth of things to do, from yoga to ethnic restaurants to bars offering craft cocktails, and even a coffee shop that features special brews for charity.

"We're older, so we're not going out as often partying in the city, but that doesn't mean we're not going out at all," Noonan said.

"We meet in Salem for fun, and people from the city don't mind coming up to hang out as well. We actually do have really great restaurants and things to do. It's not a cultural wasteland."

Katheleen Conti can be reached at Follow her on Twitter@GlobeKConti.