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Dissent: Harvard Square is Not the Center of the Universe

By Joseph W. Hernandez, Clyve Lawrence, and Prince A. Williams, Crimson Opinion Writers
Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.

For all the talk about bubble tea, we’re surprised our colleagues on the Editorial Board are unable to recognize the more ebullient bubble that surrounds us. We want to see Harvard Square improve as much as the next person, but there are some serious issues with how we’ve been thinking about it.

Firstly, Cambridge and Somerville are vibrant and bustling communities, forming one of the most densely populated regions in the United States. Perhaps their liveliness stems from their impressive connectivity and accessibility — at least relative to the rest of our car-dependent country. So why doesn’t the Board venture a little outside of Harvard Square instead of focusing exclusively on the store availability here?

Sure, when it comes to more accessible restaurants and food options, Harvard Square isn’t the best, especially for low-income students like us. But we’re having the wrong conversation here. It’s true that there are few grocery stores in the Square itself, but let’s not forget the other neighborhoods nearby with plenty of food options. If you want a convenient and cheap grocery store, Market Basket is only a 15-minute bus ride away (10 minutes if you want to cycle). And, of course, there’s always the option to take the Red Line just one stop in either direction. Have our colleagues considered the Star Market in Porter Square or the Whole Foods in Central? The Targets near both?

Even if grocery stores abounded in Harvard Square, we doubt many of us are cooking every day in the limited kitchen space we have, given that we have a dining hall system that we can use. Then again, didn’t this Board reject hot breakfast, claiming “there’s no such thing as a free lunch?” The call to “let them eat toast” was dismissive and counterproductive to the conversation of expanding access to food options for Harvard students.

The Board discusses the amusing idea of subsidizing food in the Square, which reinforces the idea that Harvard students should never stray more than 5,000 feet from their dorms. How about the University subsidizes MBTA passes for its undergraduate students, following the leads of its neighbors like Boston University, Tufts, MIT — heck, even its own graduate schools?

No, the real issue with this Board’s reasoning isn’t just about food access. Instead, we should call out Harvard’s predatory relationship with the Square; the Board has already recognized how the University’s investment in the city is inadequate, and we should continue doing so.

Cambridge’s rising land and rent costs — which likely play a role in the Square’s makeup of mostly expensive shops — are largely a result of Harvard’s expansion and influence, and we need to be conscious of the University’s effects on both the unhoused community and the working-class people who live here.

We can’t just expect Harvard Square to transform into a prototypical college town in the middle of Cambridge. As much as we may want student-focused businesses in The Square, there’s no denying that they’re fighting an uphill battle against the tourism industry in a neighborhood with skyrocketing prices.

It’s time we asked ourselves, who’s really to blame for Harvard Square being so inaccessible: individual tourists or the multibillion-dollar university that created a local economy with 16 dessert shops, more than 10 banks, and an overpriced CVS in an effort to appeal to them?

So, as members of the Cambridge community new and old, what does resisting the physical dominance of the University mean for us all? It means we need to be more engaged with the community around us by supporting local businesses, not just familiar chains. It means getting to know our working-class neighbors and being conscious of our impact on the community. It means fighting modern investment models that usually result in generic, mind-numbing architecture and corporate sameness. We need to see our cities as “a container for human life,” as urban studies journalist Jane Jacobs put it.

And yes, there are still access barriers that we need to address, and it would certainly be nice to have affordable food options nearby. But let’s not act like a 15-minute walk or a bike ride is some insurmountable obstacle. It’s actually the goal.

We can be grateful for the resources we have — including the stores we live near — while also being aware of the broader issues creating mobility injustice. We don’t actually disagree with the Board’s conversation about zoning, and we think it’s good to reevaluate how we regulate business and housing development. But we can’t just focus on our own needs and wants; we need to be mindful of the needs and wants of the entire community.

So let’s pop the Harvard bubble, step outside a bit, and engage with them. Harvard Square is not the center of the universe.

Clyve Lawrence ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House. Joseph W. Hernandez ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a Government concentrator in Adams House. Prince A. Williams ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a History concentrator in Adams House.

Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.

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