Sunday morning, waiting to cross Massachusetts Avenue at Cambridge Street in Harvard Square, I overheard two tourists, standing behind me, also waiting for the crosswalk sign.
“It’s not square,” one woman commented, looking at the hodgepodge of intersecting, bustling streets before us, Cambridge Common, green and leafy, across the street.
“No shape,” agreed the other. She paused, as if at a museum, to carefully assess what was before her: “There’s no plan, really.”
Oh, but there was, I wanted to say! Look again. Directly in front of you, not a quarter of a mile away, is a river. The Charles River. Below your feet, beneath all this concrete and paving, are springs. These multi-lanes streets were once pathways leading to sources of fresh water, the best places to fish, higher-ground land that would not flood in the spring. The indigenous people who once inhabited Harvard Square knew every inch of where we’re standing. They had a plan.
And that Commons, I could have gone on. That was the communal place where early settlers pastured their cows. We greater-Bostonians joke that our meandering, confusing, non-gridded streets were once cowpaths. What we don’t acknowledge is that our semi-historic factoid neglects who’d originally created those paths. And why.
Water is Life, I could have extolled, church bells ringing from the other side of the Commons. That’s the plan. Are you ready?