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The past year has witnessed tremendous and rapid changes to Harvard Square, with the beginning of the renovation of the Smith Campus Center and the closures of various restaurants and businesses along Mass. Ave. The new academic year has seemingly failed to halt the momentum of these alterations, with proposals floated in recent weeks by both the city of Cambridge and landlords to renovate various buildings in the Square. Both of these plans, however, have been met with vocal opposition by members of the wider Cambridge community, who seek to protect the historic nature of the Out of Town News kiosk and the Curious George store that fronts the intersection of JFK Street and Brattle Street. Partly in response to the aforementioned closures and also in response to the plans proposed by Equity One—the real estate investment firm that owns the building—to turn the Curious George store into an atrium and add two further stories, the Cambridge City Council is considering changes to zoning regulations to provide the city with more oversight to new developments in the Square.
It is undoubtedly true that change is vital to urban centers as a vehicle for regeneration, progress, and innovation. Though blockading change solely for sentimental purposes is misguided and shirks the need for progress, it is equally important to maintain the singular identity of Harvard Square and its surrounding area. Furthermore, given that the Square is the venue for the day-to-day lives of many Cantabrigians, respectful and democratic debate over proposed changes is essential.
Much of the value and charm of the Square derives from the nature of the businesses and restaurants that currently populate it, and from its accessibility to Cantabrigians, Bostonians, and other locals, as well as to tourists from around the world. The Curious George store—as just one example—is a cherished landmark of the Square, as are the various other small restaurants and local shops. New developments and renovations to the infrastructure in the Square run the risk of raising rents beyond what is affordable to these businesses. Sacrificing local institutions in favor of big, outside corporations runs counter to the Square’s distinct character, which, in conjunction with the University itself, makes the Harvard area such an important landmark.
Though accessibility may be an area in which the Square gains from modifications to its buildings and businesses, we are still concerned about the extent to which the Square has become unfriendly to the small, iconic businesses that have populated the area for decades. Ideally, these institutions would make strides toward greater accessibility as we work to preserve the traditions, institutions, and unique character that define Harvard Square.
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