Tuesday, May 14, 2013

2013 Jane Jacobs Walk: Exploring "Prayer Central"

At the encouragement of national Jane Jacobs Walk leaders (who have been enthusiastic supporters of Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of The Death and Life of Great American Cities), Glenna Lang has organized the popular local walk in Cambridge, MA, for the last five years. A version of the following article appeared in the Cambridge Chronicle.

Walkers on Norfolk Street

Cambridge Jane Jacobs Walk Explores “Prayer Central”

Cambridge’s fifth annual Jane Jacobs Walk proved more timely than its organizers had imagined when they planned the route several months ago. On Saturday morning May 4, more than sixty people, led by Charles Sullivan, executive director of the Cambridge Historical Commission, set out from Central Square to explore the layers of history and culture found just north of Massachusetts Avenue between Prospect and Norfolk Streets, Cambridge’s geographic and political center in the early 19th century.

Writer Michael Kenney suggested the theme of this year’s walk, inspired by his Boston Globe article on November 4, 2000, entitled “Prayer Central: Known for Its Curries and Live Music, One Cambridge Neighborhood Is Home To Nearly 60 Congregations.” The area’s diverse and continually changing population is reflected in its surprising number of places of worship.

Charles Sullivan, executive director of the Cambridge
Historical Commission, and Father Gabriel Troy, pastor of St. May
of the Annunciation, address Jane Jacobs Walkers
As the walk began, Kenney pointed out an unassuming storefront Pentecostal church among multi-family dwellings on Norfolk Street. Walkers then headed to St. Mary of the Annunciation, the city’s third and once most important Catholic church, dating from 1866. Over time, St. Mary’s grew to form a complex with two school buildings, a convent, rectory, and gymnasiums for boys and girls. Its programs included a boys’ high school and two-year college, all free to its mainly Irish parishioners. The current pastor, Father Gabriel Troy, invited walkers to view the gloriously refurbished church interior, now home to a largely Spanish-speaking congregation. Appointed to a parish in the Peruvian mountains by Cardinal Cushing, Father Troy – a native of Ireland – is fluent in Spanish and delivers services in both languages.

Around the corner from St. Mary’s, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church was originally built in 1861 as a Methodist church and now serves many families whose shared heritage is from the Caribbean islands. Minka vanBeuzekom, a Cambridge City Councilor on the walk with a copy of Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities in hand, called attention to the solar panels on the church roof, which they obtained through a grant for nonprofits.

Cindy Carpenter, a walk participant, informed the crowd about the Temple Beth Shalom, also known as the Tremont Street Shul, which she attends. She described it as special because “it seeks to accommodate different Jewish practices, often offering two services at the same time (egalitarian and traditional), and is not formally affiliated with any of the three main branches of organized Judaism in this country."

Nichole Mossalam, secretary of the Islamic Society
of Boston in Cambridge, speaks with a participant
in Cambridge’s annual Jane Jacobs Walk.
Welcoming the walkers to the Islamic Society of Boston’s Cambridge mosque, Nichole Mossalam, its secretary, led the group through the site. The visitors peered into two prayer rooms with sparsely decorated walls and beautiful rugs covering the floors. Outside the painted tile-like front of the former Knights of Columbus building, erected in 1958, Mossalam described the mosque as unaffiliated with any particular kind of Muslim religion. Worshippers come from countries on at least four continents, and they value inclusiveness. Muslims in the U.S. are becoming part of American life, she said, and “they don’t want to be divisive” in their relations with non-Muslims.

As they headed back to Central Square, many walkers expressed delight in discovering the diverse houses of worship tucked within a few blocks and remarked on the warm reception they had received.

Jane Jacobs Walks honor the memory and spirit of author and urban activist Jane Jacobs.

Begun in Canada the year after Jacobs died in 2006, the walks take place on the weekend closest to her birthday on May 4. Any group or individual can organize a walk and list it on www.janejacobswalk.org. In its seven years, Jane Jacobs Walks have become an international movement with hundreds of walks occurring simultaneously all over the world.

Glenna Lang is a Cambridge, MA, resident and the author, along with Marjory Wunsch, of Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Genius of Common Sense is available on the Godine website in both hardcover and softcover formats.

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