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A Balancing Act

The Cambridge City Council must consider the wishes of businesspeople and residents alike

Harvard Square has always had strong community and commercial interests. The vested interests of businesspeople in the future of Harvard Square is evident through the proposals of building remodeling as well as broader renovations. In particular, suggested remodeling, such as that of the building housing the Curious George store, would require a complete redesign of the building's interior and the eviction of its existing tenants, at least for the duration of the expensive remodeling process. Other renovation proposals have included a controversial effort to renovate of the iconic Out of Town News kiosk and the surrounding plaza in an effort to modernize both places.

These proposals have been met with opposition from many in the community, including Harvard professors who spoke out against changing the appearance of the kiosk as well as Cambridge residents who worked to delay the remodeling of the building that would require the eviction of the Curious George store and Urban Outfitters.

The issues brought to the forefront by residents and businesspeople are moderated by the Cambridge City Council. Members of the Council recently passed three resolutions concerning preservation of the Square, inviting both prominent donors and business developers as well as local residents to meet for further discussion of these proposals.

It is encouraging that councillors have extended this invitation to both landowners as well as the broader community. For large-scale renovations such as the ones proposed, it is critical to have public voices included in the discussion, not just that of the business elite. Harvard Square’s rich history has made it a treasured place to all of its residents, and it is important to preserve buildings in the Square that are historically significant.

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Needless to say, the Council, as well as those involved in further discussions, should be mindful of the attitudes that the people who live and work in the Square have towards its cultural and historical significance. Contractors, landowners, and City Council members in particular should work to understand the array of opinions regarding changes to buildings that hold so much weight for particular people.

Furthermore, residents’ and developers’ visions for Harvard Square may fundamentally differ from each other. Proposed renovations will likely adversely affect the existing business ecosystem of the Square, driving out small business owners who may no longer be able to afford rent and displacing businesses that have been in the same location for years.

While Harvard Square is certainly a bustling, rapidly changing place, it is critical to respect both the history of the area as well as the wishes of those who live there. We commend City Council members for listening to the voices of residents as well as Harvard Square stakeholders, and hope that future decisions regarding the Square are made only after considering multiple opinions.

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