Talkin’ about Walkin’ with “The Brick Lady” of Cambridge

brickwalk conservancy

There are a lot of things that make Cambridge such a beautiful city—the architecture, the foliage, the views of the Charles. But ask Diane Beck, and she’ll tell you: It also has something to do with the ground you’re walking on.

“The brick around the new Harvard Museums is wire-cut brick, laid very closely, and it’s really a smooth ride,” Beck effuses. She’s the vice president of the Cambridge Brickwalk Conservancy, a nonprofit that’s looking to preserve and maintain the city’s brick sidewalks.

“People know me as ‘the brick lady,'” she says, laughing. “Our main purpose is to preserve the brick legacy that—I think—attracts a lot of visitors to Cambridge. That make it not just a concrete jungle.”

Since the nonprofit got its start in 2013, she and other members of the conservancy have spoken to city officials, city council, the Department of Public Works and professors at area universities to determine how they can encourage further implementation and preservation of the city’s bricks.

According to Beck, this has long been a passion for her and for CBC president and director Jack McMullen. The pair believes that diversity—of people, of restaurants, of businesses and, yes, of walkways—is what makes cities beautiful. “There’s a history that goes back 100 or more years,” Beck says, “and just to tear it up and put more concrete in isn’t doing a good job.”

Beck admits that brick is more expensive than other building materials. (“At the moment, the DPW will tell you it’s much more expensive to have brick than concrete,” she concedes.) But whereas concrete gets pitted and cracks and lifts, she says she believes brick actually lasts longer.

She adds that, in conversations with the differently-abled community in Cambridge, she’s learned that even concrete isn’t always that great—especially slabs that have wide openings in between them. That’s been a concern for her, as unkempt and uneven brickwork—like cracked concrete or asphalt—can be a hazard to those traveling in wheelchairs or with the aid of a walker, crutch or cane. “We also want to make these brick sidewalks good for everybody, not just for the population that can see, hear and walk easily,” she says.

As a member of a very small team with a very niche interest, Beck says it’s taken a little while to drum up support for the Brickwalk Conservancy’s cause. But now, in addition to working with city officials and the DPW, she wants to get the public involved, a strategy that she says seems to be working so far.

“I’m now getting emails from folks saying, ‘You’re absolutely right—what can we do?'” Beck says. “So I know we’re getting somewhere.”

You can learn more about the Brickwalk Conservancy, including updates on events and information on how to contact The Brick Lady herself, at cbc-brick.org.

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