Wednesday, June 12, 2024

There’s widespread agreement here in our neighborhood that we should review its name, because Louis Agassiz, key to the evolution of Harvard University, believed in ever-continuing divine creation instead of Darwin’s then-new idea of “godless” evolution. As Agassiz had never seen a black person before seeing a waiter during his lecture tour in Philadelphia, he thought, “Aha – another new species for me to publicize!” (But to his credit, Agassiz opposed slavery and became a pre-Civil War abolitionist).

Of Cambridge’s 13 neighborhoods, the majority have simple and useful directional names: North Cambridge, East Cambridge, West Cambridge, Cambridge Highlands, Riverside, Cambridgeport and The Port. Only one-half of one is named after a former local school principal: Wellington-Harrington. Mr. Wellington was not a school principal, but Mr. Harrington was. (Or was it vice versa?) Yet the paid employees of our local Agassiz Baldwin nonprofit (which administers our extensive after-school and arts programs) and the six to 12 folks who bother to attend our monthly Agassiz Neighborhood Council meetings want our name to be the same as that of the school: Baldwin.

Cambridge long ago abolished school districts and (looking at the long line of school buses on Oxford Street) it appears most Baldwin students live outside this neighborhood. So despite the extreme worthiness of Maria Baldwin, the first African American school principal in our state, why should two names (neighborhood and school) be the same – making for the only neighborhood to have only the school’s name?

Many simpler, far easier to use “directional” names are possible, such as The North of Harvard Neighborhood, The Grad Schools Neighborhood, The Oxford Street/Francis Avenue Neighborhood or maybe (for a little humor) The Intellectuals Neighborhood. Or we could be named for more-famous local residents such as Julia Child or William James, or for historical figures such as Gen. Artemas Ward, the first commander of the patriot forces. He made his volunteer army headquarters here, and his troops walked down Kirkland Street to Bunker Hill. Why must the Baldwin Neighborhood now be our only choice?

Our self-directed paid staff distributed a flimsy flyer to which less than one-half of one percent of our 5,000 or so voters responded. If you did not “vote” for Baldwin, you were not allowed to suggest or vote for any other choice in this online-only consumer-product-style “survey.” And, as far as we can tell, anyone who picked up a blown-away paper flyer in the gutter could vote, whether registered to vote here or not! 

Instead, just expand our famous proportional representation ballot next November to include (within only this neighborhood) a second ballot showing all the neighborhood names anyone has suggested, which voters can number in order of preference. I don’t see any other way to settle this vital issue amicably. Do you?

What’s more, do you think any city councillor who votes against this reasonable solution instead of determining our name so arbitrarily will get their usual number of votes from this neighborhood? I don’t think so, and I’ve lived here since 1959, active for decades trying to see all our many local developmental issues resolved happily for all involved.

Please just jot a quick email to [email protected] to tell your elected representatives how you feel about how this local issue, so vital for your neighborhood, may best be resolved. You’ll be glad you did.

Fred Meyer, Hammond Street

Fred Meyer has been an Agassiz neighborhood resident since 1959.