My Colorful Neighborhood

This post was first published in February of 2011 – it’s one of my favorites, if only because it gives the reader a colorful picture of where we live!


It’s a 8 am and I’m a kind of drunk and I want you!” were the words sung to me at Central Square, Cambridge.  The truth is – It was 7:30, he was drunk, and he didn’t want me!

But it brought laughter to my heart and I realize how much I love my colorful neighborhood.

While Harvard Square is full of intellectuals of all ages, brain cells abounding with funky stores,coffee shops, and Out of Town News – Central Square is hardcore life. It is dirtier and grittier with a cross-section of people that defies any stereotype. Recent and older immigrants speaking everything from Amharic and Arabic to Portuguese and Punjabi; every age from infants in strollers to the elderly heading to a community center or the library around the corner; and the sassiest and saltiest homeless people you will ever meet, all converge in Central Square.

If you don’t give money, the homeless population have no problem escorting you to the nearest ATM or looking you up and down with derision and the comment “That’s ok! What goes around comes around!” and you are left feeling cursed.

Central Square T Stop
Central Square T Stop

Maybe the reason I feel so at home in this neighborhood, as opposed to Harvard Square with its sophisticated milieu, or Kendall Square filled with Geeky MIT students and biotech engineers, is that I feel like I am a cross-section of worlds and people. The suburbs stifled me as I felt the need to fit in with beautiful homes and more beautiful people, never quite measuring up to what I perceived as the unspoken expectation.

My past of both Pakistan and Egypt didn’t seem important in the suburbs, but in Central Square it feels like my background belongs. Central Square welcomes me with its imperfection and honesty. There is the ability to feel fully alive and authentic, even as I am serenaded by intoxication at 7:30 am.

With burnt orange, brick-redelectric lime, and hot magenta all mixed together in one place, Central square is like a box of crayons that are primary colors – no pastel pinks, light blues, or pale yellows in sight.

A Mile From the Well

Ancient cities were never more than a mile from the well…

Downtown Los Angeles

“We have to stop building 20th Century cities in a 21st Century world” Tuning into NPR (National Public Radio) on a recent Friday afternoon I happened upon a talk that was being given at TedxBoston by Kent Larson, a researcher at MIT.

The title alone captured my attention but beyond the title, what he said struck me as so significant that I barely heard the rest of the program. Cities in the ancient world centered around wells and no one lived more than a mile from the well. You lived, he said, only as far as you could walk with a water pot on your head. You could look at a grid and the limits were never more than a mile from that well. As the city grew larger, another well would be built and along with it another neighborhood.

If a city began to grow beyond this, another well would be built

The well was the giver of water, the giver of health, giver of community, giver of life. I was lost in a world of disbelief as I thought about how far we have come from this idea. With sprawling cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix trapped with poor transportation systems and gated communities we are miles from “the well”. We try to make it work, but it doesn’t. Moving beyond the well has consequences – we need more cars, more roads, more bridges, more money and we lose community in the process.

The well was the giver of water, the giver of health, giver of community, giver of life…

Mr. Larson directs a research program at MIT called “Changing Places”. His research focuses on urban living – more specifically responsive urban housing, new urban vehicles, ubiquitous technologies, and living lab experiment. In short, how can our cities change so they better meet the needs of those who live in them.

I don’t have answers for any of this – but I bring this up because so many of you know what it is like to live a mile from the well. A mile from where life happens and life is given. And when you move beyond that, you’ve faced distractions and frustrations, loneliness and loss.

So what do you think? What does this idea of being a mile from the well mean to you? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.