A Changing Neighborhood

Weekdays and Sunday for the past seven years, the Rev. L. Nelson Foxx has helped conduct services for his congregation at St. Bartholomew's Church, a historic spiritual center that is at the heart of Cambridge's poorest and youngest neighborhood.

"I have probably one of the most culturally diverse churches around," boasts Foxx, the rector of St. Bartholomew's . "They come from South America, Haiti, all of the islands in the Caribbean, the U.S."

St. Bartholomew's congregation--usually between 150 to 180 people, "depending on the weather"--reflects the diversity of Cambridge's Area Four, a rectangular-shaped neighborhood nestled between Central and Kendall Squares.

The most diverse of Cambridge's 13 neighborhoods, Area Four has the city's largest concentrations of Blacks and Hispanics. The neighborhood is a true polyglot; the language spoken on the street is more likely to be Haitian Creole, Spanish or Portuguese that English.

Area Four has the highest concentration of children of any city neighborhood; more than a third of its residents are under 18. Cambridge's poorest neighborhood, more than a fifth of Area Four's families live below the poverty line.


And its residents say families in Area Four are changing too. "It's an epidemic that there is no such thing as a nuclear family anymore," Foxx says. Reflecting a national trend, Area Four's families are headed more and more by single parents, making daily interaction with their children a challenge.

But despite its problems, Area Four's residents say their community is on the move. They point to the new Area Four Youth Center, opened by the city in June 1993 after a 20-year campaign by community residents, andto the efforts of grass-roots activists to getneighborhood dwellers to vote.

"The community feels more cohesive around theneed for parental support and family preservation,and not always in combating the onslaught of crimeand drugs," says Iona Smith Nze, Director of theMargaret Fuller Neighborhood Center.

"The energy is being dispersed much moredifferently than three years ago," Nze adds.

An Image Problem

But Area Four's residents say a negative imageremains one of their biggest problems. "It's seenas a community of people who can't help themselvesand need to be told what they need," says Nancy M.Ryan, co-chair of the Area Four NeighborhoodCoalition.

"We just get tired of getting portrayed asdrug-taking, knife-wielding, gun-toting people,"agrees Jacqueline L. Carroll, who has lived inArea Four for more than 30 years. "We look like abunch of people who don't care about theircommunity. That's far from being true."

The neighborhood's appearance is certainly amarked contrast to the coffee shops and high rentapartments of Harvard Square.

Two sprawling public housing developments,Newtowne Court and Washington Elms, sit at theneighborhood's eastern edge. Tucked among freshlypainted one-and two-family frame houses are otherunits in decaying condition and the occasionalbuilding with boarded-up windows.

Residents must walk to Central Square to findlarge chain stores or supermarkets. The fewbusinesses in Area Four are small, ranging fromthe Latino bodegas to Izzy's Restaurant and SubShop.

The neighborhood's poverty rate remains thehighest in the city but is decreasing. Of the 486households counted in the 1990 U.S. Census, 18.6percent lived below the poverty line, down from26.9 percent in 1980. Area Four also has thecity's highest unemployment rate, more than 10percent in 1990.