Sunday, July 14, 2024

A parking lot is not a place that usually sparks deep emotion. Often it is a site of frustration (at being cut off from a spot) and annoyance (at needing to park far away from the entrance to a store). But the parking lot at the end of Seagrave Road slowly gained enough dimensions beyond parking that I feel grief at its loss. Let me explain.

Dimension 1

I moved to Seagrave Road in June 2021. Seagrave Road is at the edge of Cambridge with only Alewife Parkway separating it from Arlington. At the time I would regularly cut across the wide parking lot next to the One Alewife business center on my way to the Minuteman bike path. The parking lot was a pleasant shortcut that had the benefit of being very even, the opposite of which was well expressed by the actual bike path that encircled the lot. It always felt good to cut across the lot diagonally and feel that precious seconds were being saved in relative comfort.

A crab apple tree on the One Alewife lot. (Photo: Anirudh Wodeyar)

The One Alewife lot after rain. (Photo: Anirudh Wodeyar)

Dimension 2

In the first winter I experienced in Cambridge, the snow was quite extensive. We had several days when we were snowed in. On one of those days a blizzard was passing through and we decided to experience it in person. We walked around Alewife Station and had to pass through the parking lot. There we found magical oaks peering mysteriously through the snowfall and huge snow piles that we could wade through. The crabapple trees with their crooked twisting branches dancing through the snow stuck with me.

Oak and black locust trees in a blizzard. (Photo: Anirudh Wodeyar)

Dimension 3

On occasional evenings I would catch a group of teenagers hanging out on the shaded lawn by the lot. They’d toss a ball against the wall of the office. Given they were a group of teenagers I couldn’t help feeling vaguely wary of them, but also glad that they had this space away from home, school and sports to congregate and do the things that teenagers do.

The author’s mom biking on the lot. (Photo: Anirudh Wodeyar)

Dimension 4

My mom and dad are not the most active people. Given my partner is Dutch, we go to the Netherlands frequently and hope to take my parents with us at some point. But to get around in the Netherlands, it’s great if you can bike. My parents had biked when they were kids, but they hadn’t done it in a long time. Next to the lot is the Russell Field exit of the Alewife train station and the Bluebikes stand. Bluebikes, with their low center of gravity and high weight, make for great training bikes. We rented two and helped my parents relearn biking in the parking lot. While they were relearning biking, others were learning to roller-skate (something I’d done here in the past) and skateboard. My parents starting to feel comfortable on bikes again is easily my favorite memory of the One Alewife parking lot.

The parking lot is disappearing as IQHQ does construction to put up offices. The company has done a much better-than-average job at engaging with local stakeholders – they’re revamping the bike path (already partially completed), helping clean up Jerry’s Pond and have put up a pavilion. The company is even making food courts where residents can come spend time. But we will lose the parking lot. Two buildings are going to replace it. The crab apple trees are already cut down.

This elegy isn’t to say the parking lot should have remained. It is to say that people (including me) crave communal, usable spaces that are multipurpose. Public spaces play a crucial role in building strong communities. It is not always necessary that public spaces are designed to be multifunctional, though, and some of the most vibrant public spaces come into being without any intention. For another example, consider the bike path from Cambridge to Watertown where a little tunnel has become an unexpected spot for community use. Recently, I saw a father and son playing in the tunnel under Huron Avenue, using the walls to bounce a ball, demonstrating the potential for community use in unexpected places. This idea of a multizoned communal space isn’t new; Jane Jacobs made an impassioned case for it 50 years ago, but it probably needs a boost today. The commons are less tragic when everyone has a true stake in them.

Goodbye, One Alewife parking lot.

A lone commuter from the train station. (Photo: Anirudh Wodeyar)

Trees cast their shade over the snow-covered lot. (Photo: Anirudh Wodeyar)

Anirudh Wodeyar is a North Cambridge resident.