The Hub's Metropolis sketches out, in roughly chronological order, the development of the Boston metropolitan region from 1800 to the present day, beginning when Boston was largely confined to the Shawmut peninsula and connected to surrounding villages in only tenuous trading and regional economic relationships. Prior to the railroad, people generally lived within walking distance of where they labored on a daily basis; deep into the twentieth century this held true for working-class families. (Only since the 1980s have the inner suburbs become locations for the impoverished and working poor who can no longer afford to live in the rapidly-gentrifying core of America's largest cities.) One of the most interesting tidbits of information I learned from O'Connell is that the human tolerance for a daily commute has remained more or less static at 45 minutes and urban historians can trace the growth of cities out from business nodes based on transportation options. When people generally walked to work, residences were within 2.5 miles of their places of business. When streetcars and trains, and later the automobile pushed outward from that radius exponentially as workers were able to travel further and further in the same window of time.
Of course, now we're coming full circle in the sense that "walkable urbanism" is the new hip thing. Hanna and I are both committed to finding an apartment within that 45 minute walking radius (for us 2.5-3 miles) from the neighborhood where we engage in our wage-work. Interestingly, we come to such a lifestyle from opposite ends of the spectrum: I grew up in a family where my father was a ten-minute walk from work and seek to replicate that sense of accessibility, while Hanna grew up an hour's drive from most amenities and never wants to return to such an extreme rural mode of life. We currently live in what used to be a streetcar suburb of Boston, about four miles out from the Statehouse on Beacon Hill; our neighborhood of Allston was developed in the early 1900s as the streetcars made it possible for middle- and working-class families to escape inner-city tenements for newer apartment buildings further away from the noxious industries that clustered around the waterfront (or put them within walking distance of Brighton's slaughterhouses and railroad yards). As we start looking at apartments within the old suburbs (Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, Brookline, Allston/Brighton) we'll be crossing paths trod by generations of Boston workers before us.