What’s in a name? Would an Area IV by any other name be as sweet?
On Tuesday, voting wrapped up in a survey asking Cambridge residents if they thought the neighborhood should have a name change—and if so, what that new identifier should be. You can read all about City Council’s impetus for the vote in the August policy order calling for it, but the short version is essentially this: In 1940, the city’s Planning Board divided Cambridge into 13 districts named—you guessed it—Areas 1 through 13. Area IV is the dense neighborhood sandwiched between Central, Inman and MIT, with Mass. Ave. and Main Street on its southern border, Prospect Street to the west, Hampshire Street to the north and the Grand Junction Railroad tracks on the east.
Over time, nearly all of these districts evolved to have more “formal” titles like East Cambridge, Agassiz and Strawberry Hill. Area IV was initially a part of Cambridgeport, and while the neighborhood was for a time (and is still to some) known as “the Port,” it is the only remaining district largely referred to by its planning term. Since Area IV was also the descriptor police used for the neighborhood, there are also residents who feel the name has a connotation of being a “police term.”
This isn’t the first time City Council has considered a name change for the neighborhood. Councilor Marc McGovern tells us that there was another vote earlier this year, and as Cambridge Day notes, Area IV won. But this time around residents were surveyed, with both an online vote and an in-person one at Area Four Day on September 12.
McGovern, who grew up in Cambridge and remembers hearing locals refer to the area as the Port in his youth, says he supports the idea of a name change. “I certainly would like [residents] to have a neighborhood that’s named after something they can feel more proud of as opposed to something that denotes a negative message of being a neighborhood that the police have to pay special attention to,” he says, though he adds that he will, of course, defer to the residents of the neighborhood.
As we looked into the history of Area IV, our thoughts (as they often do) turned to pizza—namely, Area Four pizza (500 Technology Sq.), an eatery whose owners are so proud to be a part of the neighborhood that they named their restaurant after it and have a paragraph about the location on their website. What do the people behind this beloved local dough dispensary think about the Area IV name?
“There was a lot of confusion when we first got here about this location,” says Area Four co-owner Michael Krupp of the origins of the establishment’s moniker. “People thought we were Kendall Square, people thought we were Central Square, and for those who are not native to Cambridge … the Area IV neighborhood was kind of unknown. So we called ourselves Area Four because we really wanted to pay homage to the neighborhood that we were based out of.”
Krupp isn’t a native Cantabrigian, but he’s lived in the city for years (and is familiar with Area IV specifically because he had a high school girlfriend from the neighborhood). He’s a wealth of knowledge about this neck of the woods—for example, he can tell you that Alexander Graham Bell made the first ever telephone call from Area IV and that the first sewing machine was invented there. And he’s not super keen on the thought of rebranding the region.
“I’m not a huge fan of the idea of the name change,” he says. “I love Area IV, I love the name Area IV, I love the identity that this part of Cambridge has. If it was just my vote, I would say leave it.”
Even if the change does pass, Krupp says he thinks locals will continue to refer to the neighborhood by its numerical name. (Councilor McGovern agrees: “It’ll probably take a long time to get people to stop calling it Area Four,” he admits with a chuckle.) And of course, regardless of the signifier that appears on city documents, Krupp is certain that the area will remain a distinct nook of the city, a region with its own rich history and unique style.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about the name, it’s about the neighborhood, and it’s about the people in the neighborhood,” he says. “Whether you call it the Port or you call it Area Four, whether or not people confuse it for Kendall Square, this is an incredibly dynamic neighborhood filled with artists and techies alike. You’ve got some of the wealthiest people in the world at these tech firms mixing with people from the most humble beginnings, and it’s really a wonderful thing.”