On our way to class, on our way to brunch, on our way to buy groceries, we witness disparities — it’s a part of living in a city. The poor and the wealthy educated folk live side by side, acutely aware of their differences yet consciously ignoring the gap. For a brief and sobering tour of this disparity, just hop on the MBTA 1 bus starting from Harvard Square.
Harvard Square: You’re waiting right outside the gates of Harvard, hearing street musicians in the distance. You watch tourists with their Harvard sweatshirts and maps walking around, and you can hear the tour guides leading families that hope to send their children to this prestigious institution one day. You know for a fact that people are rubbing that shoe of John Harvard’s statue for the photo opportunity, secretly hoping to get into Harvard one day.
Central Square: It’s just a couple stops from Harvard Square, but you notice the vibe is different. More… cultured? Hipster? Not quite gentrified? You see some vegan and vegetarian places, a Korean supermarket, a food co-op, a YMCA, rainbow-colored cross walks, and a slightly different demographic. From the bus window, you see elderly people walking with strollers, homeless people sitting on the sidewalk with signs, and plenty of young professionals talking on their phone while carrying groceries and booking their Uber ride. Multi-tasking millenials seem to be slowly taking over.
Hynes: You’ve passed MIT and watched the blue waving Charles River as you crossed the Mass Ave Bridge. It’s Newbury Street right there to your left, and there are plenty of college students and Back Bay residents turning the corner to get started on their retail therapy. Others carry multiple bags from H&M, Nike, Zara, and Anthropologie. They slip into the T station, ready to head home after a successful shopping trip. The homeless population is more sparse, but they’re still there, placing their bets on someone’s generosity to help them through the day.
BMC: One Symphony Hall, one Prudential, and many many brownstones later, you’ve reached Boston Medical Center. The population is different. Less white, more colored. There’s a women’s shelter (a partner men’s shelter just about a block away), a methadone clinic, a needle exchange program — we’re at the Methadone Mile. The BU shuttle waits to turn the corner onto Albany Street. The bus full of aspiring public health practitioners, medical students, and scientists sit in their enclosed bubble as they pass by drug deals and crippled addicts on that corner. Many students don’t quite understand what’s going on there; they simply know it as “shady” and “scary.” Our future scientists and doctors struggle to look past the fog of privilege and ingrained bias.
Dudley Square: Last stop, we’re near Roxbury. Right by Boston Public Schools and newly renovated territory. You see gentrification happening in live time, with old convenience stores and small business sinking into the shadows while new food vendors with bright new signs take their place. The station is a little grimy from usage, not only as a bus station but also as a gathering place for protests and demonstrations. It’s a space for activists, a place where voices are amplified, a place for resistance.
This is a “tour” of Boston from the views of the 1 bus. It’s not the hub of the universe. It’s not the center of education and intelligent discourse. It’s a city that suffers from social and economic disparities. Four years of living in this city has calloused my conscience to passively ignore the disparities, but this bus ride serves as a stark reminder for me: The disparities won’t go away, as long as we choose to ignore their existence. But what can we do as students, who filter in and out of Boston every four or so years? I can make lofty claims and pleas about activism, but honestly, I have no answers. What can we do to bring about real permanent change?