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The Harvard Square Business Association
18 Brattle Street, Suite 352
Cambridge, MA 02138
A Timeless Harvard Square
Cambridge City Councillor Leland Cheung
Harvard Square is not just a place you go; it’s a place that goes with you. It draws you in and stays with you when you leave.
When my father first immigrated to the United States he rented a room just north of the Square, passing through each morning on his way to class at Boston University and stopping by each night for coffee and the news. These were the days before cell phones and the internet, and Out of Town News, which sold newspapers from all around the world, served as his only connection back home. Reading in the Square, night after night, punctuated by the youthful bustle, the boisterous celebrations, and the innumerable slices of pizza, Harvard Square came to symbolize his new home. Although he would subsequently move across America in search of work and opportunity, whenever he’d speak about what makes this country great he’d reflect on what he first found right here in Harvard Square: education, social engagement, a deep community, commerce without commercialism, and an eye to the future that held an appreciation for the past.
To represent Harvard Square now as a City Councillor is a unique honor for me because of the importance it held in my father’s life. It has been a home to both of us; although, it’s clear every time he visits that his Harvard Square is not my Harvard Square. Many of us have had the experience of an old friend returning to visit several years after moving away. Half the time is spent revisiting old haunts – the Coop, Pinocchio’s, Whitney’s; the other half is spent lamenting the missing favorites replaced, more often than not, by banks. It’s an experience that speaks to a fundamental tension in life between continuity and change.
Human beings crave both change and continuity. Change is growth, progress, and life, but continuity is comfort and a connection to the past. Like when our parents finally move out of our childhood home, changing their surroundings to better meet their needs. It strikes us as a loss because on some level, we expected things to forever stay the same, regardless of the fact that we ourselves haven’t stayed the same. Another part of us knows though that if we still tried to go back to that home for Thanksgiving, while it may be the same place, the experience would be quite different.
What makes Harvard Square different is an important institution stretching across generations that gives Harvard Square its character and shape. And it’s not the one we’re all familiar with, behind the gates, Harvard University, anchoring the Square; it’s the one out here making sure no matter who’s holding the Thanksgiving, if the home is Harvard Square you’re always welcome. This centennial celebration is not just for commemoration, but in recognition of the role The Harvard Square Business Association has played in our lives. Because while change is inevitable, continuity takes some doing.
The Harvard Square Business Association is the institution we have to thank for balancing the continued revitalization that keeps the Square current and the essential sense of continuity of the Square that makes it a timeless place. It is the eye to the future with an appreciation for the past that connects the owners of Sweet or Charlie’s to new customers and the ones that can’t stay away. It’s the steward of the Square that connects college students to the formative experiences of young adulthood. It is a host to demonstrations, celebrations, and time spent with family. The tie that binds merchants together in pursuit of a collective good. A caretaker that connects a father to his son, ensuring that although the experiences may be different, the place is unforgettably the same.
For all that, let’s thank and congratulate the Harvard Square Business Association on this centennial milestone.