Ethan Gilsdorf: Why I Love Somerville

(Photo by Scott M. Lacey)

As part of our annual cover story Best Places to Live 2012, we invited prominent Boston residents to tell us what they love about their ‘hood. Here, Ethan Gilsdorf, author of the travel memoir Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, shares the reasons why he loves Somerville.

Growing up next to Cambridge, Somerville once suffered from an inferiority complex. No longer. The city formerly known as “Slumerville” has become a diverse, artsy, community-minded Mecca for professionals, immigrants, and students.

Our 75,000 souls are crammed into just over four square miles, making us the most densely populated municipality in New England. Closely-packed ‘hoods mean not only oodles of restaurants, shops, music venues and bars, but chances to meet neighbors. On my street alone live an Australian-born Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic and an Italian-American woman who prays each evening at her Our Lady of the Bathtub shrine.

My top hangouts include Redbones for BBQ (Davis Square), Wang’s for dumplings (Magoun Square), and True Grounds (Ball Square) for caffeine. To get around, I take to the city’s 30 miles of bicycle lanes. And walk. A lot.

Somerville is home to more festivals than cities ten times its size, including ArtBeat, an accordion fest, and a beard and mustache fest. We even celebrate a certain marshmallow cream invented here in 1917, at the annual “What the Fluff?” party.

Lest you think we’re all hipsters, we “Villens” embrace our scrappy, blue collar past. At our core, we’re DIY and local, making art and pasta, robots and chocolate. To wit: Last summer saw the debut of Porchfest. Some 75 acts — ranging from bluegrass to folk to funk — played for free from porches throughout the city. Three local bands jammed on my front stoop. Crowds gathered. And in an instant, community sprouted, homegrown and real, just the way we like it. — Ethan Gilsdorf

Read Best Places to Live 2012 to find out how much your house is worth, our top Boston real estate picks, and more.