A few years ago, students trudged wearily to psychology and statistics lectures through a concrete wasteland. The Science Center Plaza resembled not the bustling city square the name invokes, but instead little more than a stretch of asphalt dotted with patches of grass and filled with students only when they traversed it by necessity on their way to class.
Today, things are different. It took just over a year of construction—preceded by extensive planning—for the plaza to go from unremarkable eyesore to cherished common space. On a sunny early fall day, students lounge in comfy beanbag chairs, read and write under the shade of wide umbrellas, line up in front of gourmet food trucks, and even face off at giant chess on a board that doubles as a stage for a capella groups and other performers.
The reinvented Science Center Plaza makes clear the perks common spaces can provide not only to Harvard students but to all Cambridge residents. Harvard should continue developing similar initiatives, and we hope that those who helm future projects will solicit student and community input in the planning process.
We have said before that Harvard ought to provide students with a greater array of accessible and appealing social spaces. When students congregate in a public space, not specific to one House, club, or social organization, there is a much greater chance that they will run into friendly faces from all corners of the College. The Common Spaces Program has recognized this opportunity for community building, and the new Science Center Plaza is the first example of true success in establishing a space that draws enough crowds to achieve such a goal.
What’s more, we often lose sight of the fact that much of the land surrounding Harvard is owned not by the University but by the City of Cambridge. What takes place on that land—along with the land that Harvard does own—affects Cantabrigians just as much as it does Harvardians. The University and the city’s joint effort to upgrade the Science Center Plaza illustrates the value of cooperation between Harvard and Cambridge to work toward ends that benefit both the school and the city surrounding it.
In that spirit, we encourage Harvard and the Common Spaces Program to establish more social spaces, indoors and out. In doing so, we hope the University will take care to consult students and anyone else who may make use of such facilities by convening focus groups and conducting simple surveys. That way, common spaces will reflect the needs and desires of those who frequent them, pushing even more students to take advantage of an initiative that could change Harvard’s social scene for the better.