Central Square, Cambridge is a 10 minute walk from our apartment. It’s not a tourist attraction, nor is it the prettiest square that Cambridge has to offer. Central Square is utilitarian. Bus and subway stops are easy to navigate. Several banks, a couple of churches, and all the major chain drug stores dot the streets surrounding the square. Restaurants and coffee shops are in abundance and whether meeting someone for business or pleasure it’s an easy place to gather.
A couple of years ago the Central Square Wendy’s closed. While we rarely frequented this fast-food establishment, known by the red-haired, freckle-faced little girl on the signs, many others did. Large groups gathered near the front of the restaurant — they were regulars.
It was their place to gather.
I thought of this recently as I read an article about a McDonald’s in Queens that was ‘evicting’ a Korean group for over-staying their welcome. The restaurant has a prescribed 20 minute customer dining period and this group was staying for hours at a time. The writer of the article wanted to find out why – why this McDonald’s? Why didn’t they go to the senior center, a place designed to be used by retirees as a gathering space? What did this group, picking this restaurant, have to do with urban space?
This McDonald’s had become a “Naturally Occurring Retirement Community” or a NORC. There were several reasons why this happened. One was just proximity. When questioned all but one said they lived within one or two blocks of the restaurant so they could come without assistance at any time they chose. The second was that this particular McDonald’s had large picture windows, perfect for people watching.
But ultimately – it was all about community and finding a place in the city.
All this makes me think about community and finding our spaces. We are designed to be dependent on one another, to not live in isolation. This is an undeniable thread in our DNA. So we will search and search to find that community, whether it be at a McDonald’s in Queens or an online chat room. The places and spaces we find may not make sense to outsiders looking in– why this McDonald’s and not a burger king down the road? And some of the communities we find are not healthy, not life-giving. But if questioned, we all have our reasons for why we have picked the community and the space that we pick.
If anything proves our deep longing and search for community it is the results you get when you google “How to find community”. In under a second I got 1,810,000,000 results. My jaw dropped when I saw this. In fact I had to count the zeros.
We want to be welcomed in to a physical space that is close to us, to a place with those who are like us where we can sit together and watch the world outside go by, to a place where time stops and all life makes sense while we’re together.
We are designed to be dependent.
Which leads me to ask these questions: Do you have a “McDonald’s” in your life? A place where you gather for community and friendship? Where do you find community? Do you believe we are designed for dependence?
Stacy is in Uganda and says this about today’s muffins which are Banana Sour Cream: “Since I’m still in Uganda, once again, I’ve chosen an ingredient that is produced here in abundance, bananas. We’ve been eating them every day and the farm where we are staying grows several types, including ones called Matoki that the Ugandans served cooked and mashed.” Click here for the recipe.