IF SENTIMENTAL considerations were the only ones to come into play, the decision to locate the memorial library to John F. Kennedy '40 in Cambridge might be a good one. Cambridge is, after all, an academic center close to Kennedy's family home and political base. But the weight of the practical arguments against locating the memorial in this particular urban environment negates any sentimental considerations and renders the current plans to build on the site of the MBTA Yards ill-advised.
Library planners have not adequately considered the impact of the estimated 1 million tourists who will be drawn yearly to the exhibition of Kennedy's magic and splendor displayed in the imposing library-museum. The resulting traffic and parking problems, as well as the economic metamorphosis already evident a year before the scheduled groundbreaking, are enough to suggest that the library should find a home away from this crowed area.
The library has been plagued by troubles since its quiet inception 10 years ago when President Kennedy personally selected a site near the Business School. The Library Corporation was formed soon after Kennedy's assassination, and in 1965 the City Council invited it to build the library in Cambridge--specifically mentioning the Bennett-Eliot MBTA Yards which were to be vacated soon. But the MBTA's plan to move the subway yards and repair facilities to Dorchester brought objections from residents there, and that plan was scrapped. Finally, the MBTA reached an agreement to establish new facilities in South Boston, where construction is now almost complete.
The 10 year delay wreaked havoc on the Library Corporation's original goals. The general inflationary trend, combined with the skyrocketing increase in building costs, whittled the $27 million project to half its original size. Architect I.M. Pei designed a museum sheltered under an 85-foot high truncated glass pyramid, attached to a five-story semicircle housing the actual archives, the Kennedy Institute of Politics and the Kennedy School of Government.
Debate has focused on the museum and the "related facilities" building designed to bring tax revenue to the city. Although Pei has termed the related facilities area vital to the spirit of the entire development, the corporation and the city have been unable to agree on what to build there. The Library Corporation has offered three proposals--condominium apartments, a parking lot, and, most recently, a hotel-motel. This confusion typifies the lack of coordinated planning and sensitivity to the city's needs that have marked the corporation's approach to the library.
Finally awakened to the potential impact of the library on the future of Cambridge, the City Council appointed a task force to review the project and work as an intermediary between the city, the community, and the Library Corporation. At community meetings sponsored by the task force, five main points have emerged as the basis of local opposition to the library development.
I Parking--It is unlikely that Cambridge can absorb over a thousand tourist cars during peak summer days, especially when the municipal spaces now on the library site are lost to construction. The cars will overflow onto the city's streets, where parking spaces are already severly limited.
I The Square--The tourists attracted to the museum will spawn more fast-food establishments and souvenir shops, and the higher rents will force the small cafes out of the area.
I Congestion--As already implied, the added crowds--12,000 people on summer weekends--will aggravate the current stockyard conditions in the Square. The library will be the impetus for complete redevelopment of at least the southwest sector of Harvard Square, with two new hotels already planned.
I Real estate--An increase in the number of commercial establishments around the Square will push residents farther away from this area. West Cambridge, Riverside and Cambridgeport are already very sensitive about University expansion and a grand-scale library would further inflate rents in the surrounding area. Relations between the University and the community, already unstable, could deteriorate further.
I Ecology--The Charles River and its shores, just beginning to recover some of their lost beauty, will be crowded by tourists munching fried food. Furthermore, the building of prime riverfront real estate to accomodate library visitors will block the community from its rightful access to the Charles.
An impartial and professional Environmental Impact Statement would point to the problems enumerated above. Unfortunately, preliminary indications are that the environmental review may not be thourough. The scope of work statement submitted to the community by the General Services Administration two weeks ago was flagrantly biased in favor of the library as currently planned.
ONE solution to these problems is to separate the museum from the rest of the complex, eliminating the major tourist attraction while retaining the archives, Institute of Politics and School of Government. In an atmosphere of academic research, the garish elements of a tourist haven capitalizing on the memory of an assassinated president would be grossly inappropriate. Kennedy had a strong affection for Harvard and Cambridge and he would not have wanted the library to dramatically change the nature of the Square and alienate the community.
If the Library Corporation decides the museum is not separable from the library's academic facilities, then it must consider moving the whole project out of Cambridge.
The library issue is now returning to the public forum. An aroused City Council should lead the fight against the museum, and all affected neighborhoods and interest groups should join in this fight. The Library Corporation would do well to stop taking Cambridge for granted and realize that it is more than just John Kennedy's last frontier.