The Cambridge Candle


Issue 2

January/February 1999


Cambridge at the Crossroads

By David Hoicka

(Photo by Lawrence Prift)

When I came to Cambridge 25 years ago, Cambridge was a friendly family-centered city, economically, culturally and socially diverse. A number of family businesses with long histories in the neighborhood, reached out into and supported the community. The Orson Welles near Harvard Square played funky classic movies, while the Central Square Theatre set a world record with "King of Hearts." A free community bus went up and down Mass. Ave. Ordinary, friendly families could afford to live here and participate, contribute to the community.

That’s why I made Cambridge my home, buying my home on Lopez Street.

Today, hyper-development excludes these same friends and families from Cambridge. On almost every street you can see development projects taking place: three deckers where all the residents have been pushed out, being renovated for luxury housing.

And what expensive luxury housing it is -- as much as $2,000 or more for a two-bedroom apartment. More than 30 percent of Cambridge residents have been forced to move away from Cambridge in the last couple of years alone. Even with Section 8 subsidies, long-term residents are squeezed out of Cambridge, because Cambridge rents are too high for HUD standards.

Businesses too are being forced out. Cambridge’s squares are becoming shopping malls just like the suburbs. Our distinctive character is going by the wayside as Cambridge’s commercial centers sprout the same chain stores that have taken over Faneuil Hall or Anywhere, USA. 90-year old family stores are shuttered to make way for impersonal, large development in Central Square. Our small personal eateries like the Golden Donut (in Central Square) and the Tasty (in Harvard Square) are gone in the wake of big developer profits.

MIT creates a park near Cambridgeport, but encircles it with buildings to keep out the neighborhoods. Neighborhood children are excluded from playing soccer or any games in this park. These buildings "moon" the neighborhood, showing the rest of us their rear ends.

Don’t look for relief from the legislature. Our newly elected state rep, who spent near $70,000 to get elected (about $50,000 more than any of his opponents), was supported by developers, people out-of-state, and by downtown law firms. You know he’s got debts to pay back. Don’t look to City Council -- the obsolete city charter places real control in the city manager, who is solidly pro-development.

Is it too late to have an inclusive, affordable, neighborly City of Cambridge? Letters and calls welcome. Let’s talk about some solutions next time.

David Hoicka, 10 Lopez Street, Cambridge 02139, 617-547-4000. Email:

A “sign of the times” in Cambridge, these days (photo by Lawrence Prift)

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