As close to Boston as Brookline is, it has managed to maintain its own identity. Brookline features a mixture of urban and suburban living, upscale shops and recreational parks, apartment buildings and large estates. Along with offering both a city atmosphere and a feeling of being in the country, there is a wide mix of people in Brookline. It is the home of many academic and scientific professionals who work at the nearby medical centers in Boston. Brookline has staunchly refused to be absorbed by Boston, which surrounds it like a horseshoe. Brookline has kept its town meeting form of government since its 1705 incorporation. It also has an overnight on-street parking ban which is unusual for such a dense area. Among its many unusual resources, Brookline has its own working farm (with farm stand), the oldest country club in the nation, a town golf course, a park on a hillside overlooking Boston with an open-air skating rink and transportation museum, as well as numerous neighborhood parks and playgrounds scattered throughout the town.
Its major retail centers, including Coolidge Corner, Brookline Village, Washington Square, Cleveland Circle and the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center, are pedestrian-oriented shopping areas with a variety of stores, restaurants and malls.
Although predominantly residential, Brookline is somewhat open to new commercial development, and has amended its zoning to encourage limited growth along its major thoroughfares.
Brookline is known in the Boston area for its large population of Russian immigrants and numerous synagogues. Jewish culture is very strong in Brookline, and is especially notable along the section of Harvard Street that starts at Washington St (Brookline Village) runs through Beacon Street (Coolidge Corner) and ends at Commonwealth Avenue, continuing into Allston-Brighton. This neighborhood is home to at least three area synagogues including the first Jewish congregation in Massachusetts (Ohabei Shalom, founded in Boston in 1842 and located in Brookline since the 1920s) and a number of Jewish-themed restaurants and stores. Brookline is also known for its excellent schools, which are supported in large part by property taxes — the town has one of the highest property tax burdens in the country.
While residents of Brookline tend toward liberal ideals, economic and cultural factors keep this section of the Boston metropolitan area less diverse than its neighbor across the Charles River, Cambridge. It's also worth noting that Brookline's liberalism and diversity are relatively new developments in the town's history. In the 19th century Brookline, which has been called "the richest town in America", was a sanctuary for the wealthy where Boston's elites built their summer homes.
The Brookline Historical Society maintains its headquarters in the Edward Devotion House, one of the oldest colonial structures in Brookline with its earliest segments dating to probably around 1680. The first Edward Devotion (1621 -1685) settled in Brookline in about 1650. Devotion was a French Huguenot. The Brookline Historical Society was founded in 1901 and began meeting in the Devotion House the same year. The Edward Devotion School nearby is built on land donated by Edward Devotion's grandson.