A Cambridge councilor’s modest April Fool’s proposal: Annex Boston

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It’s no joke: There was once a plan to make Cambridge the capital of Massachusetts. On this April Fool’s Day, at least once city councilor in the city wants that moniker back.

Cambridge city councilor Burhan Azeem unveiled an ad campaign this April Fool’s Day to encourage the creation of what he’s calls “MegaCambridge.”

Azeem said his proposal makes the case that Cambridge should annex Boston in order to become the capital of Massachusetts. The April Fool’s joke will appear on more than 70 digital billboards across Boston Monday. According to The Boston Globe, Azeem spent $5,000 on the stunt.

Joking aside, Azeem said he hoped the billboards would foster more conversation about regional planning on issues like the MBTA and public infrastructure, where the service or problem doesn’t stop at any one community’s borders.

“We have so many small municipalities, a lot of cities don’t even have, like, their own planners or their own designers or they have really common, simple problems that because we’re all balkanized, like we just don’t have the resources to solve,” Azeen told WBUR. “And I think that having a regional form of governance structure could really, really be helpful.”

This isn’t the first time Azeen has eyed up his neighbors for the greater (Cambridge) good. Two years ago, he tweeted an image showing a wall-mounted graphic of “Camberville” — a portmanteau of Cambridge and Somerville — and suggested the two cities actually combine. If you were wondering, yes, this was also on April 1. And again, he was in on the joke; the “read more” link in the tweet pointed to a Google results page for “April Fools.”

Cantabrigians are not alone in this seemingly insatiable lust for land grabs. Azeen’s target, Boston, has gobbled up several former towns in its history. Names now synonymous with the city — Charlestown, Dorchester, Roxbury and more — once operated as their own municipalities. And according to a 2012 Globe article, an early 20th-century lawyer named Daniel Kiley filed a bill to swallow up 32 cities and towns into Boston, creating the modern concept of Greater Boston that we still use today.

But why stick with municipal avarice? Massachusetts in general hasn’t been above laying claim to more territory. After the Revolutionary War, the country’s nascent states all took a look at the land between the Appalachian mountains and Mississippi River and started a continental-sized game of “dibs,” laying claim to territory — essentially a round of post-colonial colonialism. Maps from the 1700s show Massachusetts decided it owned parts of lower Michigan and Wisconsin, though it ceded that claim to the federal government by 1785.

This map shows the claims Massachusetts and other nascent states made in the Northwest Territory after the Revolutionary War. By 1812, all of the land was ceded to the federal government. (Map courtesy of the Library of Congress)
These maps shows the claims Massachusetts and other states made in the Northwest Territory after the Revolutionary War. By 1812, all of the land was ceded to the federal government. (Maps courtesy of the Library of Congress)

A modern version of this idea, albeit one where the curvature of the earth does not seem to exist, took the form of a minor local meme, showing what “Megachusetts” could (should?) look like, stretching from the capes to Southern California:

None of these plans have come to fruition, so maybe Boston Mayor Michelle Wu shouldn’t be worried about Azeen’s proposal after all.

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