Yesterday, I posted an article from Financial Times of London, comparing the New Haven market to the Cambridge, MA one. We lost. I thought it was not a fair comparison. New Haven is a very different place--it's a center city, with suburbs around it. Cambridge IS a suburb, of Boston. It seems to me that that makes them very different, with many more low-income areas in New Haven.
Having lived in both places, I don't find them as disparate as the article would make them appear. Harvard has always had a very good PR image, and has managed to weather bad news without making as many headlines. Most people would no more walk through Cambridge Common after dark than stroll across the New Haven Green. Yet, somehow, the national media has always presented New Haven as a dangerous place in which to live or attend school, while Cambridge comes across as a trendy, high-end metropolis. Granted, Yale has more high-crime areas within walking distance than Cambridge does, but the subway system in Boston has the potential to deliver crime there as well. My old dorm had an incident a few years ago, where someone was killed after a student opened the gate for a "townie" (yes, Harvard now locks its gates as well).
It is true that Cambridge has two major institutions--Harvard and MIT--compared to New Haven's Yale, and that the biotech spinoff effect is therefore twice as great. It's also true that dual-career couples have a somewhat easier time both finding jobs in the Boston area (although New Haven offers the possibility of NYC). Real estate values are indeed higher in Cambridge, especially since Massachusetts is undoubtedly further along in its recovery from the Great Recession. Yet I would argue that both are residential hubs, with lively nightlife, lots of educational institutions, and plenty to do. I would even give New Haven the edge in the arts, especially if you take Boston out of the equation. There may be statistical truth to the article, but it presents a very one-sided look at the numbers, in my opinion.