Jamaica Plainer reassesses city ‘so three years ago’
When I moved to Central Square in 1999, life got exciting. I had my own apartment for the first time and was exploring a new neighborhood on my own. I was a few years out of college and at an age when hanging out in a coffee shop at night still seemed impossibly sophisticated. I loved that my neighborhood was “gritty” and “urban,” even though my Brooklyn friends snorted with laughter at these adjectives when they came to visit.
It was a heady time — I was in love. With Cambridge, that is. I loved being a block away from everything — the T, nightlife and, yes, the coffee shop. But the longer I stayed, I began to notice less appealing things that were also right at my doorstep.
Somehow what I loved about Cambridge — its liberal atmosphere, its economic diversity, its youthful vigor — became what annoyed me.
I became frustrated by the myopic viewpoints of longtime Cambridge residents, who could not conceive of the nation outside their city limits where people might support a war in Iraq. I got tired of navigating through the groups of homeless and emotionally disturbed people who populate the sidewalks year-round. And, as I got a little older, I started to wish I lived in a neighborhood where people my age were putting down roots, settling down rather than moving on and making way for the next wave of recent college graduates. So I too moved on.
In 2002, I was looking for a new apartment and a friend offered to rent to me in Jamaica Plain. I had heard good things about JP but, in five years of living in the area, had never once visited. It seemed terribly far away.
I took the orange line down. The train was crowded, and a man offered me his seat, saying, “Sit, and enjoy your coffee!” — something I’d never heard from the self-absorbed hipsters on the red line. It seemed like an auspicious sign, and I liked the neighborhood, so I made the move.
Since then, I’ve gotten married and divorced, bought my first car, looked into a condo of my own, made a major job change — in short, I’ve grown up. The community I found in JP has supported me through my bumpy transition, and I feel a part of something bigger as a result. Although I loved Cambridge, I often felt like an outsider there — one of thousands of anonymous young adults passing through on the way to somewhere else. I felt that to feel comfortable staying in Cambridge, I’d need to, say, make a lot more money, become a left-wing idealist and stay 25 forever.
In JP I’m part of a community without restrictive membership requirements. JP is no utopia, to be sure, but I think other communities, such as Cambridge, would do well to emulate its spirit of inclusiveness.
Several months ago, I had occasion to be in Central Square and found myself irritated all over again. I came home and fired off a post on my blog about how Cambridge was “so three years ago.” Like most blog postings (well, most of mine, anyways), it was hastily written and informed by my feelings at the moment. When I was asked if it could be reprinted, I hesitated. Who wants to be the jerk whose anti-Cambridge rant is published in a new paper for Cambridge? But I suspect there are others in Cambridge who are young, dissatisfied and wondering where to go next, and so this, my tempered rant, is for you.
Sure, you could come to JP — you might find the community you’re looking for. Or you could stay in Cambridge and make it work for you. All things considered, it’s not a terrible place to be, and if more people who want different things stay, it can only become better