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STREET VENDORS and musicians have been an integral part of Harvard Square's atmosphere for many years. The University's banning of them from Forbes Plaza in front of Holyoke Center should be reversed because it unnecessarily hurts the business of the vendors and musicians, and detracts from the Square's unique character.
The University temporarily passed the ban in 1975, and earlier this year decided to make it permanent, citing several reasons for the action. Two years ago the University said that the expected increase in foot traffic caused by the location of the Cambridge Bicentennial Office in Holyoke Center required the ban. But the office is no longer there, and the claim that subway construction slated to start this spring will create congestion in the area is dubious, as there is no reliable way of predicting what effect the underground construction will have.
Apparently, the main impetus for the University's decision was the steady stream of complaints from its Holyoke Center tenants, primarily The Crimson Shop. Before the original ban was passed, The Crimson Shop made almost daily complaints about the presence of vendors and musicians in Forbes Plaza.
The tenants may have had valid complaints but this does not justify the University's arrogant dealings with the vendors and musicians. The University ignored their offer to pay for a police detail to supervise the plaza, and has shown no interest in trying to work out a compromise agreement. It has even ignored the distinction between vendors who actively solicit for money, do not attract large crowds, and usually work during the day, and musicians who do not directly solicit money and usually work weekends and evenings.
The vendors and musicians are obviously not a powerful interest group and have negligible power to pressure the University. Out of consideration for people who are earning their living and to preserve the Square's character, the University should seek to reach some accommodation with the vendors and musicians.
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