Kendall-MIT: All Quiet on the South-Eastern Front

The abandoned warehouses and factories stand on the western side of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) campus, testament to an era when this section of south-east Cambridge was known for its industrial might rather than Internet start-up companies.

But the new norm in and around MIT and Kendall Square are high-tech firms housed in office buildings that have taken over Broadway Street, coming ever closer to the campus itself.

But while new businesses are a boom to the local economy, local residents say the Kendall-MIT neighborhood still suffers from a paltry night-life, a lack of small businesses and a disjointed community.

Moving Up

The new look of Kendall has evolved over the past 10 years, starting with increased construction and business growth after the recession of the early '90s, and recently intensifying with the proliferation of Internet and software based companies.

And MIT has acted as the impetus for this change, providing the human and technological resources to jumpstart local companies and revitalize the business district.

"This neighborhood used to be a dump, basically garages and such," says Moses Katz, a local Middle Easter food vendor who has worked in the area for 25 years. "[Kendall Square] has become a high class, high technology place."

Working on the Night Shift?

Along with the growth in business has been a huge increase in human traffic, meaning that Kendall is bustling from Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p. m. but quiet after 6 p.m. and most of the weekend. And so most restaurants and shops are not open in the evening or on the weekends.

The lack of activity in Kendall is a source of irritation for MIT students and residents, and some say the changes that have happened over the past decade have done little to improve student life.

"The campus itself has a sense of cohesion, but a lot of people only see Kendall as a place to work and get lunch," says Wendy Russell, who lives with her husband in the East Gate, which is MIT housing for students with families.

"The stores don't open on the weekend, and it seems that they're only open for the business community, and not the people who live here," she says.

But many residents were happy to have public transportation easily accessible, to go into more lively destinations.

"On the weekends we take the bus, go across the bridge and into Boston or up Mass Ave. towards Harvard Square, because nothing is going on here at night," says MIT first year Ariya Dararutana.

And while both Harvard and Kendall Squares have an Au Bon Pain, a Bank Boston and their respective Coops, Kendall is noticeably different in its lack of retail stores and small businesses.

Several small businesses do still survive in Kendall, some of which are housed in the renovated Kendall Building, which sits across the street from a newly constructed metal statue of the world.

A Tale of Two Squares

While the daytime traffic has been a source of profit to small businesses in the area, the lack of housing beyond MIT is a serious handicap to small businesses that want to extend their hours.

"We like this area, but for the business we need more houses. This is a big issue. There is no business on the weekend, and after 6 p.m. it's dead here," says Addi Mojahed, who is a partial owner of Arrow Cleaners, which operates in Harvard and Kendall Squares.

"There is definitely a different crowd in Harvard Square, it's much younger there. There are far more office workers here and fewer students," Mojahed says.

Other students say their square is a less accommodating place than their neighbor down the river.

"Kendall Square is an unfriendly place, compared to Harvard Square which has lots of street performers and vendors," says MIT graduate student D. W. Kim. "If you come here on the weekends, practically nothing is open. I'd expect some restaurants or something. Nothing is open past 7 p.m."

But MIT students are saved from this lack of entertainment in the neighborhood by having something Harvard students have recently clamored for: a student center.

"The [Stratton Student Center] is pretty much where people come to hang out, eat...it's actually a mall-type environment," says MIT senior Jerry Rivera. "We don't get into Kendall Square much...it's nice to have a lot of shops and things there, but the student center is the place we go every day."

Next to the student center is the MIT police department, which praises the recent changes.

"Crime was unbelievable here, even as recently as five years ago. It was not so much violent crime, but a lot of theft," said an officer in the MIT police department who requested to remain anonymous. "Now we have to really hunt for something."