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According to the 2008-10 American Community Survey, 26 percent of people in Cambridge are in college, and the most recent census shows 65 percent of the city’s housing units are rented. This adds up to an extremely transient population, and it can get confusing for newcomers to parse the various squares, neighborhoods, areas, nooks and crannies claimed by longtime residents. You may be ready to meet a friend in Central Square, or even Inman Square. But are you prepared to find your way to Huron Village or Larchwood?
There’s no real easy way to get into the details, or through them.
City government says there are 13 neighborhoods in Cambridge: East Cambridge; Area 2/MIT; Wellington-Harrington; Area IV; Cambridgeport; Mid-Cambridge; Riverside; Agassiz; Neighborhood Nine; West Cambridge; North Cambridge; Cambridge Highlands; and Strawberry Hill. (Another version of the 13-neighborhood map, uploaded by real estate agent Charles Cherney with some annotation, is here.)
But city government also calls these Cambridge’s five major squares: Central, Harvard, Inman, Kendall and Porter, even though many newcomers will probably discover Cambridge first through its T stops, which excludes Inman but adds Alewife and Lechmere.
It may not make sense at first, but take heart. Cambridge is only 6.43 square miles and densely populated, so how lost can you get? To get you started getting lost, here’s a guide to how the squares and areas overlap with the neighborhoods:
Alewife is in North Cambridge above Cambridge Highlands, but walk south across a bridge and you’re at Fresh Pond.
Avon Hill is an upper-class neighborhood of Porter Square, which puts it in Neighborhood Nine (also called Area 9) and Peabody — and looks across Massachusetts Avenue at North Cambridge.
Brattle Square is part of Harvard Square to the west, at the complex intersection of Brattle and Mount Auburn streets just above Eliot Square.
Brattle Street is Tory Row, and vice versa, and they’re both an area of large, beautiful and historic homes to the west of Harvard Square in West Cambridge.
Central Square is at the nexus of Mid-Cambridge, Area IV, Cambridgeport (also called The Port) and Riverside. Lafayette Square is attached to the east by Massachusetts Avenue.
Charles Square is part of Harvard Square to the west, a private area between The Charles Hotel and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government next to Eliot Square.
The Coast is another way to refer largely to the Riverside neighborhood — except that it also includes a sliver of Cambridgeport.
Coolidge Hill is a ritzy area between Mount Auburn Cemetery and the Charles River in West Cambridge.
Eliot Square is part of Harvard Square to the west, where Eliot and Bennett streets meet just below Brattle Square.
Fresh Pond is the neighborhood of the Fresh Pond Reservoir below Alewife and overlapping with Cambridge Highlands toward the north, Strawberry Hill toward the south and Neighborhood 10 (also known, confusingly, as West Cambridge) toward the east. (And the town of Belmont to the west.)
Harvard Square is considered to be mainly in West Cambridge/Neighborhood 10, when anybody bothers to think at all about which neighborhood it’s in. But Cambridge Common is in Neighborhood Nine, as soon as you cross Harvard Yard toward the university’s Science Center and Sanders Theatre you’re in the Agassiz neighborhood and plenty of the square fades off to the east into Riverside. It makes thinking about “where” Harvard Square lies, except as its own place, more or less useless.
Harvard Yard is Harvard’s quad and old campus, located to the northeast of the heart of Harvard Square — the plaza and “bunker” providing access to the MBTA red line. Harvard Yard remains surrounded by gates, which can be locked and guarded. They are at times of campus unrest, causing residents and tourists to walk around while members of the Harvard community can walk through.
Huron Village is in West Cambridge/Neighborhood 10, east of Fresh Pond.
Inman Square is arguably in Mid-Cambridge and Wellington-Harrington, blending imperceptibly into East Cambridge to the north up Cambridge Street.
Lafayette Square is attached to the east side of Central Square on Massachusetts Avenue.
Larchwood is the southernmost portion of Neighborhood Nine, above Cambridge Common, West Cambridge and Harvard Square and to the west of the Agassiz neighborhood. Upland Road is its border to the north.
Lechmere is the MBTA green line stop named after a defunct department store that provides access to East Cambridge and NorthPoint.
Observatory Hill is midway between Fresh Pond and Harvard Square, clustered around the intersection of Concord and Huron avenues.
Peabody is another way people have to refer to Neighborhood Nine (also called Area 9), made distinct from North Cambridge only by being south of Massachusetts Avenue.
The Port is how some refer to the Area IV neighborhood.
Putnam Square is the area around where Mount Auburn and Massachusetts Avenue meet on the east side of Harvard Square. The remnants of an informal housewares and furniture district can still be found here.
Radcliffe Yard is south of Cambridge Common on Garden Street, a few blocks northwest of the heart of Harvard Square. The sexes were once separated at Harvard, with women officially attending getting a Radcliffe degree.
Tory Row is Brattle Street, and vice versa, and they’re both an area of large, beautiful and historic homes to the west of Harvard Square in West Cambridge.
Strawberry Hill is a small area that starts mid-Fresh Pond Reservoir and Thomas P. O’Neill Municipal Golf Course and extends south to the borders of Belmont and Watertown, going only as far east as the train tracks.