Situated directly north of Boston, across the Charles River, it was named in honor of the University of Cambridge in England, an important center of the Puritan theology embraced by the town's founders. 
Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Lesley University, and Hult Business School are in Cambridge, as was Radcliffe College, a college for women until it merged with Harvard on October 1, 1999.
According to the 2010 Census, the city's population was 105,162. As of July 2014, it was the fifth most populous city in the state, behind Boston, Worcester, Springfield, and Lowell. Cambridge was one of two seats of Middlesex County until the county government was abolished in Massachusetts in 1997.
In December 1630, the site of what would become Cambridge was chosen because it was safely upriver from Boston Harbor, making it easily defensible from attacks by enemy ships. Thomas Dudley, his daughter Anne Bradstreet, and her husband Simon were among the town's first settlers. The first houses were built in the spring of 1631. The settlement was initially referred to as "the newe towne". Official Massachusetts records show the name rendered as Newe Towne by 1632, and as Newtowne by 1638.
Located at the first convenient Charles River crossing west of Boston, Newe Towne was one of a number of towns (including Boston, Dorchester, Watertown, and Weymouth) founded by the 700 original Puritan colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Colony under Governor John Winthrop. Its first preacher was Thomas Hooker, who led many of its original inhabitants west in 1636 to found Hartford and the Connecticut Colony; before leaving, they sold their plots to more recent immigrants from England.
The original village site is now within Harvard Square. The marketplace where farmers sold crops from surrounding towns at the edge of a salt marsh (since filled) remains within a small park at the corner of John F. Kennedy and Winthrop Streets.
The town comprised a much larger area than the present city, with various outlying parts becoming independent towns over the years: Cambridge Village (later Newtown and now Newton) in 1688, Cambridge Farms (now Lexington) in 1712 or 1713, and Little or South Cambridge (now Brighton) and Menotomy or West Cambridge (now Arlington) in 1807. In the late 19th century, various schemes for annexing Cambridge to Boston were pursued and rejected.
In 1636, the Newe College (later renamed Harvard College after benefactor John Harvard) was founded by the colony to train ministers. According to Cotton Mather, Newe Towne was chosen for the site of the college by the Great and General Court (the Massachusetts legislature) primarily for its proximity to the popular and highly respected Puritan preacher Thomas Shepard. In May 1638, The settlement's name was changed to Cambridge in honor of the university in Cambridge, England.
Newtowne's ministers, Hooker and Shepard, the college's first president, major benefactor, and the first schoolmaster Nathaniel Eaton were Cambridge alumni, as was the colony's governor John Winthrop. In 1629, Winthrop had led the signing of the founding document of the city of Boston, which was known as the Cambridge Agreement, after the university. In 1650, Governor Thomas Dudley signed the charter creating the corporation that still governs Harvard College.
Cambridge grew slowly as an agricultural village eight miles (13 km) by road from Boston, the colony's capital. By the American Revolution, most residents lived near the Common and Harvard College, with most of the town comprising farms and estates. Most inhabitants were descendants of the original Puritan colonists, but there was also a small elite of Anglican "worthies" who were not involved in village life, made their livings from estates, investments, and trade, and lived in mansions along "the Road to Watertown" (today's Brattle Street, still known as Tory Row).
Coming north from Virginia, George Washington took command of the volunteer American soldiers camped on Cambridge Common on July 3, 1775, now reckoned the birthplace of the U.S. Army. Most of the Tory estates were confiscated after the Revolution. On January 24, 1776, Henry Knox arrived with artillery captured from Fort Ticonderoga, which enabled Washington to drive the British army out of Boston.
Between 1790 and 1840, Cambridge grew rapidly, with the construction of the West Boston Bridge in 1792 connecting Cambridge directly to Boston, so that it was no longer necessary to travel eight miles (13 km) through the Boston Neck, Roxbury, and Brookline to cross the Charles River. A second bridge, the Canal Bridge, opened in 1809 alongside the new Middlesex Canal. The new bridges and roads made what were formerly estates and marshland into prime industrial and residential districts.
In the mid-19th century, Cambridge was the center of a literary revolution. It was home to some of the famous Fireside Poets—so called because their poems would often be read aloud by families in front of their evening fires. The Fireside Poets—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes—were highly popular and influential in their day.
Soon after, turnpikes were built: the Cambridge and Concord Turnpike (today's Broadway and Concord Ave.), the Middlesex Turnpike (Hampshire St. and Massachusetts Ave. northwest of Porter Square), and what are today's Cambridge, Main, and Harvard Streets connected various areas of Cambridge to the bridges. In addition, the town was connected to the Boston & Maine Railroad, leading to the development of Porter Square as well as the creation of neighboring Somerville from the formerly rural parts of Charlestown.
Cambridge was incorporated as a city in 1846 despite persistent tensions between East Cambridge, Cambridgeport, and Old Cambridge stemming from differences in culture, sources of income, and the national origins of the residents. The city's commercial center began to shift from Harvard Square to Central Square, which became the city's downtown around that time.
Between 1850 and 1900, Cambridge took on much of its present character—streetcar suburban development along the turnpikes, with working-class and industrial neighborhoods focused on East Cambridge, comfortable middle-class housing on the old Cambridgeport and Mid-Cambridge estates, and upper-class enclaves near Harvard University and on the minor hills. The coming of the railroad to North Cambridge and Northwest Cambridge led to three major changes: the development of massive brickyards and brickworks between Massachusetts Ave., Concord Ave. and Alewife Brook; the ice-cutting industry launched by Frederic Tudor on Fresh Pond; and the carving up of the last estates into residential subdivisions to house the thousands of immigrants who arrived to work in the new industries.
For many decades, the city's largest employer was the New England Glass Company, founded in 1818. By the middle of the 19th century it was the world's largest and most modern glassworks. In 1888, Edward Drummond Libbey moved all production to Toledo, Ohio, where it continues today under the name Owens-Illinois. The company's flint glassware with heavy lead content is prized by antique glass collectors. There is none on public display in Cambridge, but the Toledo Museum of Art has a large collection. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Sandwich Glass Museum on Cape Cod also have a few pieces.
By 1920, Cambridge was one of New England's main industrial cities, with nearly 120,000 residents. Among the largest businesses in Cambridge during the period of industrialization was Carter's Ink Company, whose neon sign long adorned the Charles River and which was for many years the world's largest ink manufacturer. Next door was the Atheneum Press. Confectionery and snack manufacturers in the Cambridgeport-Area 4-Kendall corridor included the Kennedy Biscuit Factory (later part of Nabisco and originator of the Fig Newton), Necco, Squirrel Brands, George Close Company (1861–1930s), Page & Shaw, Daggett Chocolate (1892–1960s, recipes bought by Necco), Fox Cross Company (1920–1980, originator of the Charleston Chew, and now part of Tootsie Roll Industries), Kendall Confectionery Company, and James O. Welch (1927–1963, originator of Junior Mints, Sugar Daddies, Sugar Mamas and Sugar Babies, now part of Tootsie Roll Industries).
Only the Cambridge Brands subsidiary of Tootsie Roll Industries remains in town, still manufacturing Junior Mints in the old Welch factory on Main Street. The Blake and Knowles Steam Pump Company (1886), the Kendall Boiler and Tank Company (1880, now in Chelmsford, Massachusetts) and the New England Glass Company (1818–1878) were among the industrial manufacturers in what are now Kendall Square and East Cambridge.
As industry in New England began to decline during the Great Depression and after World War II, Cambridge lost much of its industrial base. It also began to become an intellectual, rather than an industrial, center. Harvard University had always been important as both a landowner and an institution, but it began to play a more dominant role in the city's life and culture. When Radcliffe College was established in 1879 the town became a mecca for some of the nation's most academically talented female students. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's move from Boston in 1916 reinforced Cambridge's status as an intellectual center of the United States.
After the 1950s, the city's population began to decline slowly as families tended to be replaced by single people and young couples. In Cambridge Highlands, the technology company Bolt, Beranek and Newman produced the first network router in 1969, and hosted the invention of computer-to-computer email in 1971. The 1980s brought a wave of high-technology startups. Those selling advanced minicomputers were overtaken by the microcomputer. Cambridge-based VisiCorp made the first spreadsheet software for personal computers, Visicalc, and helped propel the Apple II to major consumer success. It was overtaken and purchased by Cambridge-based Lotus Development, maker of Lotus 1-2-3. (This was in turn replaced in the market by Microsoft Excel).
The city continues to be home to many startups. Kendall Square was a major software hub through the dot-com boom and today hosts offices of such technology companies as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. The Square also now houses the headquarters of Akamai.
In 1976, Harvard's plans to start experiments with recombinant DNA led to a three-month moratorium and a citizen review panel. In the end, Cambridge decided to allow such experiments but passed safety regulations in 1977. This led to regulatory certainty and acceptance when Biogen opened a lab in 1982, in contrast to the hostility that caused the Genetic Institute (a Harvard spinoff) to abandon Somerville and Boston for Cambridge. The biotech and pharmaceutical industries have since thrived in Cambridge, which now includes headquarters for Biogen and Genzyme; laboratories for Novartis, Teva, Takeda, Alnylam, Ironwood, Catabasis, Moderna Therapeutics, Editas Medicine; support companies such as Cytel; and many smaller companies.
By the end of the 20th century, Cambridge had one of the most costly housing markets in the Northeastern United States. While considerable class, race, and age diversity persisted, it became harder for those who grew up in the city to afford to stay. The end of rent control in 1994 prompted many Cambridge renters to move to more affordable housing in Somerville and other cities or towns.
Until recently, Cambridge's mix of amenities and proximity to Boston kept housing prices relatively stable despite the bursting of the United States housing bubble. Cambridge has been a sanctuary city since 1985 and reaffirmed its status as such in 2006.
According to the United States Census Bureau, Cambridge has a total area of 7.1 square miles (18 km2), of which 6.4 square miles (17 km2) is land and 0.7 square miles (1.8 km2) (9.82%) is water.
Cambridge is located in eastern Massachusetts, bordered by:
- the city of Boston to the south (across the Charles River) and east
- the city of Somerville to the north
- the town of Arlington to the northwest
- the town of Belmont and
- the city of Watertown to the west
The border between Cambridge and the neighboring city of Somerville passes through densely populated neighborhoods which are connected by the MBTA Red Line. Some of the main squares, Inman, Porter, and to a lesser extent, Harvard and Lechmere, are very close to the city line, as are Somerville's Union and Davis Squares.
Through the City of Cambridge's exclusive municipal water system, the city further controls two exclave areas, one being Payson Park Reservoir and Gatehouse, a 2009 listed American Water Landmark located roughly one mile west of Fresh Pond and surrounded by the town of Belmont. The second area is the larger Hobbs Brook and Stony Brook watersheds, which share borders with neighboring towns and cities including Lexington, Lincoln, Waltham, and Weston, Massachusetts.
- Kendall Square, formed by the junction of Broadway, Main Street, and Third Street. Technology Square is an office and laboratory building cluster in this neighborhood. Just over the Longfellow Bridge from Boston, at the eastern end of the MIT campus, it is served by the Kendall/MIT station on the MBTA Red Line subway. Most of Cambridge's large office towers are located in the Square. A biotech industry has developed in this area. The Cambridge Innovation Center, a large co-working space, is in Kendall Square at 1 Broadway. The Cambridge Center office complex is in Kendall Square, and not at the actual center of Cambridge. The "One Kendall Square" complex is nearby, but not actually in Kendall Square.
- Central Square, formed by the junction of Massachusetts Avenue, Prospect Street, and Western Avenue. Containing a variety of ethnic restaurants, it was economically depressed as recently as the late 1990s; it underwent gentrification in recent years (in conjunction with the development of the nearby University Park at MIT), and continues to grow more costly. It is served by the Central Station stop on the MBTA Red Line subway. Lafayette Square, formed by the junction of Massachusetts Avenue, Columbia Street, Sidney Street, and Main Street, is considered part of the Central Square area. Cambridgeport is south of Central Square along Magazine Street and Brookline Street.
- Harvard Square, formed by the junction of Massachusetts Avenue, Brattle Street, and JFK Street. This is the primary site of Harvard University and a major Cambridge shopping area. It is served by a Red Line station. Harvard Square was originally the Red Line's northwestern terminus and a major transfer point to streetcars that also operated in a short tunnel—which is still a major bus terminal, although the area under the Square was reconfigured dramatically in the 1980s when the Red Line was extended. The Harvard Square area includes Brattle Square and Eliot Square. A short distance away from the square lies the Cambridge Common, while the neighborhood north of Harvard and east of Massachusetts Avenue is known as Agassiz, after the famed scientist Louis Agassiz.
- Porter Square, about a mile north on Massachusetts Avenue from Harvard Square, at the junction of Massachusetts and Somerville Avenues. It includes part of the city of Somerville and is served by the Porter Square Station, a complex housing a Red Line stop and a Fitchburg Line commuter rail stop. Lesley University's University Hall and Porter campus are in Porter Square.
- Inman Square, at the junction of Cambridge and Hampshire streets in Mid-Cambridge. It is home to restaurants, bars, music venues and boutiques. Victorian streetlights, benches and bus stops were recently added to the streets, and a new city park was installed.
- Lechmere Square, at the junction of Cambridge and First streets, adjacent to the CambridgeSide Galleria shopping mall. It is the MBTA Green Line's northern terminus, at Lechmere Station.
Cambridge's residential neighborhoods border but are not defined by the squares.
- East Cambridge (Area 1) is bordered on the north by Somerville, on the east by the Charles River, on the south by Broadway and Main Street, and on the west by the Grand Junction Railroad tracks. It includes the NorthPoint development.
- MIT Campus (Area 2) is bordered on the north by Broadway, on the south and east by the Charles River, and on the west by the Grand Junction Railroad tracks.
- Wellington-Harrington (Area 3) is bordered on the north by Somerville, on the south and west by Hampshire Street, and on the east by the Grand Junction Railroad tracks. Referred to as "Mid-Block".
- The Port, formerly known as Area 4, is bordered on the north by Hampshire Street, on the south by Massachusetts Avenue, on the west by Prospect Street, and on the east by the Grand Junction Railroad tracks. Residents of Area 4 often simply call their neighborhood "The Port" and the area of Cambridgeport and Riverside "The Coast". In October 2015, the Cambridge City Council officially renamed Area 4 "The Port", formalizing the longtime nickname, largely on the initiative of neighborhood native and then-Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan. The port is usually the busier part of the city. 
- Cambridgeport (Area 5) is bordered on the north by Massachusetts Avenue, on the south by the Charles River, on the west by River Street, and on the east by the Grand Junction Railroad tracks.
- Mid-Cambridge (Area 6) is bordered on the north by Kirkland and Hampshire Streets and Somerville, on the south by Massachusetts Avenue, on the west by Peabody Street, and on the east by Prospect Street.
- Riverside (Area 7), an area sometimes called "The Coast", is bordered on the north by Massachusetts Avenue, on the south by the Charles River, on the west by JFK Street, and on the east by River Street.
- Agassiz (Harvard North) (Area 8) is bordered on the north by Somerville, on the south and east by Kirkland Street, and on the west by Massachusetts Avenue.
- Neighborhood Nine or Radcliffe (formerly called Peabody, until the recent relocation of a neighborhood school by that name) is bordered on the north by railroad tracks, on the south by Concord Avenue, on the west by railroad tracks, and on the east by Massachusetts Avenue.
- Brattle area/West Cambridge (Area 10) is bordered on the north by Concord Avenue and Garden Street, on the south by the Charles River and Watertown, on the west by Fresh Pond and the Collins Branch Library, and on the east by JFK Street. It includes the sub-neighborhoods of Brattle Street (formerly known as Tory Row) and Huron Village.
- North Cambridge (Area 11) is bordered on the north by Arlington and Somerville, on the south by railroad tracks, on the west by Belmont, and on the east by Somerville.
- Cambridge Highlands (Area 12) is bordered on the north and east by railroad tracks, on the south by Fresh Pond, and on the west by Belmont .
- Strawberry Hill (Area 13) is bordered on the north by Fresh Pond, on the south by Watertown, on the west by Belmont, and on the east by railroad tracks.
In the Koppen-Geiger classification Cambridge has a warm continental summer climate (Dfa) that can appear in the southern end of New England's interior. Abundant rain falls on the city; it has no dry season. The average January temperature is 26.6 °F (- 3 °C), making Cambridge part of Group D, independent of the isotherm. There are four well-defined seasons.
As of the census of 2010, there were 105,162 people, 44,032 households, and 17,420 families residing in the city. The population density was 16,354.9 people per square mile (6,314.6/km²). There were 47,291 housing units at an average density of 7,354.7 per square mile (2,840.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 66.60% White, 11.70% Black or African American, 0.20% Native American, 15.10% Asian (3.7% Chinese, 1.4% Asian Indian, 1.2% Korean, 1.0% Japanese), 0.01% Pacific Islander, 2.10% from other races, and 4.30% from two or more races. 7.60% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race (1.6% Puerto Rican, 1.4% Mexican, 0.6% Dominican, 0.5% Colombian, 0.5% Salvadoran, 0.4% Spaniard). Non-Hispanic Whites were 62.1% of the population in 2010, down from 89.7% in 1970. An individual resident of Cambridge is known as a Cantabrigian.
In 2010, there were 44,032 households out of which 16.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 28.9% were married couples living together, 8.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 60.4% were non-families. 40.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.00 and the average family size was 2.76.
In the city, the population was spread out with 13.3% of the population under the age of 18, 21.2% from 18 to 24, 38.6% from 25 to 44, 17.8% from 45 to 64, and 9.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30.5 years. For every 100 females, there were 96.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 94.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $47,979, and the median income for a family was $59,423 (these figures had risen to $58,457 and $79,533 respectively as of a 2007 estimate). Males had a median income of $43,825 versus $38,489 for females. The per capita income for the city was $31,156. About 8.7% of families and 12.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.1% of those under age 18 and 12.9% of those age 65 or over.
Cambridge has been ranked as one of the most liberal cities in America. Locals living in and near the city jokingly refer to it as "The People's Republic of Cambridge." For 2016, the residential property tax rate in Cambridge was $6.99 per $1,000. Cambridge enjoys the highest possible bond credit rating, AAA, with all three Wall Street rating agencies.
In 2000, 11.0% of city residents were of Irish ancestry; 7.2% were of English, 6.9% Italian, 5.5% West Indian and 5.3% German ancestry. 69.4% spoke only English at home, while 6.9% spoke Spanish, 3.2% Chinese or Mandarin, 3.0% Portuguese, 2.9% French Creole, 2.3% French, 1.5% Korean, and 1.0% Italian.
Data is from the 2009–2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.
Manufacturing was an important part of Cambridge's economy in the late 19th and early 20th century, but educational institutions are its biggest employers today. Harvard and MIT together employ about 20,000. As a cradle of technological innovation, Cambridge was home to technology firms Analog Devices, Akamai, Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN Technologies) (now part of Raytheon), General Radio (later GenRad), Lotus Development Corporation (now part of IBM), Polaroid, Symbolics, and Thinking Machines.
In 1996, Polaroid, Arthur D. Little, and Lotus were Cambridge's top employers, with over 1,000 employees, but they faded out a few years later. Health care and biotechnology firms such as Genzyme, Biogen Idec, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Sanofi, Pfizer and Novartis have significant presences in the city. Though headquartered in Switzerland, Novartis continues to expand its operations in Cambridge.
Other major biotech and pharmaceutical firms expanding their presence in Cambridge include GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Shire, and Pfizer. Most of Cambridge's biotech firms are in Kendall Square and East Cambridge, which decades ago were the city's center of manufacturing. Some others are in University Park at MIT, a new development in another former manufacturing area.
None of the high-technology firms that once dominated the economy was among the 25 largest employers in 2005, but by 2008 Akamai and ITA Software were. Google, IBM Research, Microsoft Research, and Philips Research maintain offices in Cambridge. In late January 2012—less than a year after acquiring Billerica-based analytic database management company, Vertica—Hewlett-Packard announced it would also be opening its first offices in Cambridge. Also around that time, e-commerce giants Staples and Amazon.com said they would be opening research and innovation centers in Kendall Square. And LabCentral provides a shared laboratory facility for approximately 25 emerging biotech companies.
The proximity of Cambridge's universities has also made the city a center for nonprofit groups and think tanks, including the National Bureau of Economic Research, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Cultural Survival, and One Laptop per Child. A group of start-up companies have emerged in Kendall Square since 2010.
As of 2015, the city's ten largest employers are:
Arts and culture
- Harvard Art Museum, including the Busch-Reisinger Museum, a collection of Germanic art the Fogg Art Museum, a comprehensive collection of Western art, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, a collection of Middle East and Asian art
- Harvard Museum of Natural History, including the Glass Flowers collection
- Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard
- MIT Museum
- List Visual Arts Center, MIT
- Semitic Museum, Harvard
Cambridge has a large and varied collection of permanent public art, on both city property (managed by the Cambridge Arts Council) and the Harvard and MIT campuses. Temporary public artworks are displayed as part of the annual Cambridge River Festival on the banks of the Charles River, during winter celebrations in Harvard and Central Squares, and at university campus sites. Experimental forms of public artistic and cultural expression include the Central Square World's Fair, the annual Somerville-based Honk! Festival, and If This House Could Talk, a neighborhood art and history event.
Street musicians and other performers entertain tourists and locals in Harvard Square during the warmer months. The performances are coordinated through a public process that has been developed collaboratively by the performers, city administrators, private organizations and business groups. The Cambridge public library contains four Works Progress Administration murals completed in 1935 by Elizabeth Tracy Montminy: Religion, Fine Arts, History of Books and Paper, and The Development of the Printing Press.
Despite intensive urbanization during the late 19th century and the 20th century, Cambridge has several historic buildings, including some from the 17th century. The city also has abundant contemporary architecture, largely built by Harvard and MIT.
Notable historic buildings in the city include:
- The Asa Gray House (1810)
- Austin Hall, Harvard University (1882–84)
- Cambridge City Hall (1888–89)
- Cambridge Public Library (1888)
- Christ Church, Cambridge (1761)
- Cooper-Frost-Austin House (1689–1817)
- Elmwood House (1767), residence of the president of Harvard University
- First Church of Christ, Scientist (1924–30)
- The First Parish in Cambridge (1833)
- Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church (1891–93)
- Harvard Lampoon Building (1909)
- The Hooper-Lee-Nichols House (1685–1850)
- Longfellow House–Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site (1759), former home of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and headquarters of George Washington
- The Memorial Church of Harvard University (1932)
- Memorial Hall, Harvard University (1870–77)
- Middlesex County Courthouse (1814–48)
- Urban Rowhouse (1875)
- O'Reilly Spite House (1908), built to spite a neighbor who would not sell his adjacent land
- Baker House dormitory, MIT, by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, one of only two Aalto buildings in the US
- Harvard Graduate Center/Harkness Commons, by The Architects Collaborative (TAC, with Walter Gropius)
- Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard, the only Le Corbusier building in North America
- Harvard's Science Center, Holyoke Center and Peabody Terrace, by Catalan architect and Harvard Graduate School of Design Dean Josep Lluís Sert
- Kresge Auditorium, MIT, by Eero Saarinen
- MIT Chapel, by Eero Saarinen
- Design Research Building, by Benjamin Thompson and Associates
- American Academy of Arts and Sciences, by Kallmann McKinnell and Wood, also architects of Boston City Hall
- Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard, one of the few buildings in the US by Pritzker Prize winner James Stirling
- Harvard Art Museums, renovation and major expansion of Fogg Museum building, completed in 2014 by Renzo Piano
- Stata Center, home to the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the Department of Linguistics, and the Department of Philosophy, by Frank Gehry
- The two MIT Media Lab buildings by I. M. Pei and Fumihiko Maki
- Simmons Hall, MIT, by Steven Holl
The city has an active music scene, from classical performances to the latest popular bands. Beyond its colleges and universities, Cambridge has many music venues, including The Middle East, Club Passim, The Plough and Stars, and the Nameless Coffeehouse.
Consisting largely of densely built residential space, Cambridge lacks significant tracts of public parkland. Easily accessible open space on the university campuses, including Harvard Yard, the Radcliffe Yard, and MIT's Great Lawn, as well as the considerable open space of Mount Auburn Cemetery, partly compensates for this. At Cambridge's western edge, the cemetery is known as a garden cemetery because its landscaping (the oldest planned landscape in the country) and arboretum. Although known as a Cambridge landmark, much of the cemetery lies within Watertown. It is also an Important Bird Area (IBA) in the Greater Boston area.
Public parkland includes the esplanade along the Charles River, which mirrors its Boston counterpart; Cambridge Common, a busy and historic public park adjacent to Harvard's campus; and the Alewife Brook Reservation and Fresh Pond in western Cambridge.
Cambridge is split between Massachusetts's 5th and 7th U.S. congressional districts. The 5th district seat is held by Democrat Katherine Clark, who replaced now Senator Ed Markey in a 2013 special election; the 7th is represented by Democrat Ayanna Pressley, elected in 2018. The state's senior United States Senator is Democrat Elizabeth Warren, elected in 2012, who lives in Cambridge. The governor of Massachusetts is Republican Charlie Baker, elected in 2014.
Cambridge is represented in six districts in the Massachusetts House of Representatives: the 24th Middlesex (which includes parts of Belmont and Arlington), the 25th and 26th Middlesex (the latter of which includes a portion of Somerville), the 29th Middlesex (which includes a small part of Watertown), and the Eighth and Ninth Suffolk (both including parts of the City of Boston). The city is represented in the Massachusetts Senate as a part of the First Suffolk and Middlesex district, which contains parts of Boston, Revere and Winthrop in Suffolk County; the Middlesex, Suffolk and Essex district, which includes Everett and Somerville, with Boston, Chelsea, and Revere of Suffolk, and Saugus in Essex; and the Second Suffolk and Middlesex district, containing parts of the City of Boston in Suffolk County, and Cambridge, Belmont and Watertown in Middlesex County.
Cambridge has a city government led by a mayor and a nine-member city council. There is also a six-member school committee that functions alongside the superintendent of public schools. The councilors and school committee members are elected every two years using the single transferable vote (STV) system, known locally as ”proportional representation”. Cambridge is the only unit of government in the country that elects its council by this method, which uses ranked-choice voting in an at-large, multi-member district to obtain proportional representation (Minneapolis uses it for at-large boards).
The mayor is elected by the city councilors from among themselves, and serves as the chair of city council meetings. The mayor also sits on the school committee. The mayor is not the city's chief executive. Rather, the city manager, who is appointed by the city council, serves in that capacity.
Under the city's Plan E form of government, the city council does not have the power to appoint or remove city officials who are under direction of the city manager. The city council and its individual members are also forbidden from giving orders to any subordinate of the city manager.
Louis DePasquale is the City Manager, having succeeded Lisa C. Peterson, the Acting City Manager and Cambridge's first woman City Manager, on November 14, 2016. Peterson became Acting City Manager on September 30, 2016, after Richard C. Rossi announced that he would opt out of his contract renewal. Rossi succeeded Robert W. Healy, who retired in June 2013 after 32 years in the position. In recent history, the media has highlighted the salary of the city manager as one of the highest for a Massachusetts civic employee.
= current mayor = former mayor
Cambridge was a county seat of Middlesex County, along with Lowell, until the abolition of county government. Though the county government was abolished in 1997, the county still exists as a geographical and political region. The employees of Middlesex County courts, jails, registries, and other county agencies now work directly for the state. The county's registrars of Deeds and Probate remain in Cambridge, but the Superior Court and District Attorney have had their operations transferred to Woburn. Third District court has shifted operations to Medford, and the county Sheriff's office awaits near-term relocation.
Cambridge is perhaps best known as an academic and intellectual center. Its colleges and universities include:
- Cambridge School of Culinary Arts
- Harvard University
- Hult International Business School
- Lesley University
- Longy School of Music of Bard College
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Radcliffe College (now merged with Harvard College)
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is also based in Cambridge.
- Amigos School
- Baldwin School (formerly the Agassiz School)
- Cambridgeport School
- Fletcher-Maynard Academy
- Graham and Parks Alternative School
- Haggerty School
- Kennedy-Longfellow School
- King Open School
- Martin Luther King, Jr. School
- Morse School (a Core Knowledge school)
- Peabody School
- Tobin School (a Montessori school)
Five upper schools offer grades 6–8 in some of the same buildings as the elementary schools:
- Amigos School
- Cambridge Street Upper School
- Putnam Avenue Upper School
- Rindge Avenue Upper School
- Vassal Lane Upper School
Other public charter schools include Benjamin Banneker Charter School, which serves grades K–6; Community Charter School of Cambridge in Kendall Square, which serves grades 7–12; and Prospect Hill Academy, a charter school whose upper school is in Central Square though it is not a part of the Cambridge Public School District.
Cambridge also has several private schools, including:
- Boston Archdiocesan Choir School
- Buckingham Browne & Nichols School
- Cambridge Montessori school
- Cambridge Friends School
- Fayerweather Street School
- International School of Boston (formerly École Bilingue)
- Matignon High School
- Shady Hill School
- St. Peter School
Cambridge is home to the following commercially licensed and student-run radio stations:
Cambridge Community Television (CCTV) has served the city since its inception in 1988. CCTV operates Cambridge's public access television facility and three television channels, 8, 9, and 96, on the Cambridge cable system (Comcast). The city has invited tenders from other cable providers, but Comcast remains its only fixed television and broadband utility, though services from American satellite TV providers are available. In October 2014, Cambridge City Manager Richard Rossi appointed a citizen Broadband Task Force to "examine options to increase competition, reduce pricing, and improve speed, reliability and customer service for both residents and businesses."
Several major roads lead to Cambridge, including Route 2, Route 16 and the McGrath Highway (Route 28). The Massachusetts Turnpike does not pass through Cambridge, but provides access by an exit in nearby Allston. Both U.S. Route 1 and Interstate 93 also provide additional access on the eastern end of Cambridge at Leverett Circle in Boston. Route 2A runs the length of the city, chiefly along Massachusetts Avenue. The Charles River forms the southern border of Cambridge and is crossed by 11 bridges connecting Cambridge to Boston, including the Longfellow Bridge and the Harvard Bridge, eight of which are open to motorized road traffic.
Cambridge has an irregular street network because many of the roads date from the colonial era. Contrary to popular belief, the road system did not evolve from longstanding cow-paths. Roads connected various village settlements with each other and nearby towns, and were shaped by geographic features, most notably streams, hills, and swampy areas. Today, the major "squares" are typically connected by long, mostly straight roads, such as Massachusetts Avenue between Harvard Square and Central Square, or Hampshire Street between Kendall Square and Inman Square.
Cambridge is served by the MBTA, including the Porter Square Station on the regional Commuter Rail; the Lechmere Station on the Green Line; and the Red Line at Alewife, Porter Square, Harvard Square, Central Square, and Kendall Square/MIT Stations. Alewife Station, the terminus of the Red Line, has a large multi-story parking garage (at a rate of $7 per day as of 2015).
The Harvard Bus Tunnel, under Harvard Square, connects to the Red Line underground. This tunnel was originally opened for streetcars in 1912, and served trackless trolleys (trolleybuses) and buses as the routes were converted; four lines of the MBTA trolleybus system continue to use it. The tunnel was partially reconfigured when the Red Line was extended to Alewife in the early 1980s.
Besides the state-owned transit agency, the city is also served by the Charles River Transportation Management Agency (CRTMA) shuttles which are supported by some of the largest companies operating in city, in addition to the municipal government itself.
Cambridge has several bike paths, including one along the Charles River, and the Linear Park connecting the Minuteman Bikeway at Alewife with the Somerville Community Path. Bike parking is common and there are bike lanes on many streets, although concerns have been expressed regarding the suitability of many of the lanes. On several central MIT streets, bike lanes transfer onto the sidewalk. Cambridge bans cycling on certain sections of sidewalk where pedestrian traffic is heavy.
While Bicycling Magazine in 2006 rated Boston as one of the worst cities in the nation for bicycling, it has given Cambridge honorable mention as one of the best and was called by the magazine "Boston's Great Hope". Boston has since then followed the example of Cambridge, and made considerable efforts to improve bicycling safety and convenience.
Walking is a popular activity in Cambridge. In 2000, of US cities with more than 100,000 residents, Cambridge had the highest percentage of commuters who walked to work. Cambridge's major historic squares have changed into modern walking neighborhoods, including traffic calming features based on the needs of pedestrians rather than of motorists.
The Boston intercity bus and train stations at South Station, Boston, and Logan International Airport in East Boston, are accessible by subway. The Fitchburg Line rail service from Porter Square connects to some western suburbs. Since October 2010, there has also been intercity bus service between Alewife Station (Cambridge) and New York City.
In addition to the Cambridge Police Department, the city is patrolled by the Fifth (Brighton) Barracks of Troop H of the Massachusetts State Police. Due, however, to close proximity, the city also practices functional cooperation with the Fourth (Boston) Barracks of Troop H, as well. The campuses of Harvard and MIT are patrolled by the Harvard University Police Department and MIT Police Department, respectively.
The city of Cambridge is protected by the Cambridge Fire Department. Established in 1832, the CFD operates eight engine companies, four ladder companies, one rescue company, and two paramedic squad companies from eight fire stations located throughout the city. The Acting Chief is Gerard Mahoney.
Cambridge is unusual among cities inside Route 128 in having a non-MWRA water supply. City water is obtained from Hobbs Brook (in Lincoln and Waltham) and Stony Brook (Waltham and Weston). The city owns over 1,200 acres (486 ha) of land in other towns that includes these reservoirs and portions of their watershed. Water from these reservoirs flows by gravity through an aqueduct to Fresh Pond in Cambridge. It is then treated in an adjacent plant and pumped uphill to an elevation of 176 feet (54 m) above sea level at the Payson Park Reservoir (Belmont). The water is then redistributed downhill via gravity to individual users in the city. A new water treatment plant opened in 2001.
The city used MWRA water during the old plant's demolition and the new plant's construction. In October 2016, the City of Cambridge announced that, due to drought conditions, they would begin buying water from the MWRA. On January 3, 2017, Cambridge announced that "As a result of continued rainfall each month since October 2016, we have been able to significantly reduce the need to use MWRA water. We have not purchased any MWRA water since December 12, 2016 and if 'average' rainfall continues this could continue for several months."
Further educational services are provided at the Cambridge Public Library. The large modern main building was built in 2009, and connects to the restored 1888 Richardson Romanesque building. It was founded as the private Cambridge Athenaeum in 1849 and was acquired by the city in 1858, and became the Dana Library. The 1888 building was a donation of Frederick H. Rindge.
Sister Cities – Twin Towns
- Coimbra, Portugal (est. June 1982)
- Gaeta, Lazio, Italy (est. December 1982)
- Tsukuba Science City, Ibaraki, Japan (est. October 1983)
- San José Las Flores, Chalatenango, El Salvador (est. March 1987)
- Yerevan, Armenia (est. April 1987)
- Galway, County Galway, Ireland (est. March 1997)
Since the 2010 Haiti earthquake Cambridge has been in the process of developing a relationship with Les Cayes, Haiti, but the damage wrought then and by Hurricane Matthew in 2015 have delayed the process.
- Dublin, Ireland (October 1983)
- Ischia, Campania, Italy (June 1984)
- Catania, Sicily, Italy (February 1987)
- Kraków, Lesser Poland Voivodeship, Poland (October 1989)
- Santo Domingo Oeste, Dominican Republic (May 2003)
- Southwark, Greater London, UK (June 2004)
- Yuseong District, Daejeon, Korea (February 2005)
- Haidian District, Beijing, China (March 2005)
- Cienfuegos, Cuba (May 2005)
- Hezekiah Usher, first bookseller in the thirteen colonies.
- Kerry Quarter
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Cambridge, Massachusetts