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An open forum on the sustainable economic development of Central Square drew more than 50 residents and business people from a variety of backgrounds and occupations to the Central Square Library Tuesday night.
Barbara Brandt, educator and author of a book titled Whole Life Economics, said the theme of the forum, which she moderated, was "What makes a good community?"
"Everyone wants Central Square to be a better community," she said. "The questions are: better for what way and better for whom?"
The forum was organized in response to growing threats of corporate interests and high rents, which could force small businesses, ethnic shops and lower-income residents from Central Square.
These threats to diversity, residents said, result from a proposal by Holmes Realty Trust, which aims to tear down a set of buildings in Central Square to make room for a new seven-story building that would house mainstream retailers.
Last night's presentation featured four panelists with experience in the realm of community-building and economic sustainability.
"Cambridge is supposed to be cuttingedge.... I was surprised that I didn't hear anyone talking about the need for sustainable development," said Brandt, who said that "$5-an-hour jobs with no benefits" cannot be the means of reinvigorating business in Central Square.
The panel included George Mokray, a Central Square resident and scholar of economic development; Sarah James, the principal of Sarah James and Associates, a Cambridge community-planning and development consulting firm; Jason Upshaw, a 19-year-old entrepreneur in Central Square, and Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, Greater Boston director of Working Capital, a non-profit focused on assisting small business owners with training and peer lending.
Comprehensive definitions of sustainable development were offered, as well as extensive suggestions for how to apply these ideas to Central Square.
"Sustainable development is the ability to meet the needs of the present while respecting the environment and without compromising the needs of future generations," James said.
James cited a neigborhood initiative in Roxbury and North Dorchester as an example of successful community organization and participation. The initiative sponsors low-cost housing, neighborhood clean-ups, youth activities and a "buy local" campaign in which 118 shops participate.
James also described the construction of a Cambridge house that will use only 20 percent of the energy required of typical homes and many fewer gallons of water per person.
The last part of the forum was devoted to audience questions and brainstorming strategies to improve the sustain ability and maintain the diversity of Central Square.
Panelists discussed how to invigorate the suffering economy from the grass roots up, with the help of local entrepreneurs, and working to circulate money and knowledge within the community.
In fact, panelist Upshaw, director of 2nd Gear Bicycles--a shop where teenagers can learn how to repair bikes and work for 30 hours to earn one of their own--represented such grass-roots efforts.
The enterprise de-eemphasizes monetary profit and values neighborhood participation while helping to provide inexpensive transportation and activities for urban youth.
Enthusiam ran high as the meeting closed, with attendees volunteering to assume various follow-up responsibilities such as networking and compiling a mailing list.
The determination of community groups in Central Square is having an impact, said George Salzman, an organizer of Save Central Square and an opponent of the realty's proposal. The group is "a very dynamic group of people," he said.
According to Salzman, Holmes Realty has scaled down its building plans from seven to 11 stories, thanks to pressure from the community. And he vowed to continue fighting.
"We have actually slowed them down; [the developers] are several months behind," he said. "We're going to fight them as hard as we can."
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