On Monday night, the Cambridge City Council voted to approve MIT’s petition to transform 26 acres of property it owns around Kendall Square. The vote caps a three-year process by which MIT sought alignment, both within the Institute and between the Institute and Cambridge, on the question of how best to bring greater vibrancy to Kendall Square through new housing, retail, lab, commercial and open space.
MIT began its efforts to consider new possibilities for its Kendall Square property in 2010, with broad discussions within the MIT and Cambridge communities. MIT filed its first rezoning petition in April 2011, but allowed that petition to lapse later that year because it determined that it would be beneficial to gain further input from a wide range of people and groups before proceeding.
The revised petition, filed in December 2012, included significant changes resulting from the input of a faculty task force charged by Provost Chris Kaiser to examine MIT’s proposal, as well as from an urban-planning study conducted by the city. Changes included a significant increase in the proposed amount of new housing; a plan for conceiving a new “gateway” between MIT’s east campus and the city; and the inclusion of a “community living room,” for public cultural and educational programming, as part of the proposal.
Most new construction will take place on underused MIT-owned parking lots, and an important goal will be to enliven the area and better connect the campus to the neighborhood and business district in five ways:
- Transform Main Street to include new pedestrian-oriented retail, restaurants and entertainment;
- Create a new gateway area around the Kendall Square MBTA station to promote interaction between the square and the MIT campus;
- Strengthen the connection between the square and the Charles River by working with others to improve Point Park, enliven Wadsworth Street, and draw people to a safe, signaled crossing toward the river;
- Create an outdoor extension of MIT’s Infinite Corridor by linking MIT’s Medical Center with the MIT Sloan School with space that sees programmed activities and features MIT attractions;
- Enhance Broad Canal Way to create a residential and innovation community with a two-sided retail street and more-engaging public space.
“I am thrilled by this vote and grateful to the City Council and the people of Cambridge,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “Kendall Square is one of the world’s most impressive innovation ecosystems. This decision will allow MIT to do its part to make this place as lively and energizing on the ground floor as it is in the laboratories and offices above. I believe it will also strengthen the vital ties between MIT and the City of Cambridge — and that can only be for the good.”
The petition preserves MIT’s existing rights to build 800,000 square feet of academic capacity, and MIT’s 2030 planning process will continue to examine academic demands on an ongoing basis.
In addition to having the support of the Cambridge City Council, MIT’s petition is also supported by the senior administration, the deans of all five of MIT’s schools, and the faculty task force. The task force has recommended two efforts that are now under way: a review of graduate-student housing needs and a comprehensive urban-planning process for a prospective east campus/Kendall Square gateway.
MIT’s Graduate Student Council passed a resolution on April 3 that expresses its support for the petition, provided MIT meets two criteria prior to the project’s implementation: first, that MIT provide a long-term plan for preserving affordable housing for graduate students on or near campus; and second, that representatives of the graduate-student community be included in the development and planning process of the project.
Associate Provost Martin Schmidt, in his comments before the City Council, said: “The Institute will be pleased to embrace these productive suggestions which are in keeping with the spirit of our relationship with the graduate student community.”
The petition is also widely supported in the Cambridge community: the Kendall Square Association, the Central Square Business Association, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, and A Better Cambridge Neighborhood Association have all expressed support.
“MIT has done an outstanding job of listening to the Planning Board, the Council, and the community and drafting a petition that reflects that,” said City Councilor and Ordinance Committee Chair David Maher, who remarked that the new petition was “very different” from the one first submitted by MIT. “What is going on today is a direct result of what we have expressed and collective work to reshape Kendall Square and what it can be.”
At Monday night’s hearing, leading MIT faculty members expressed their support for the petition. Speakers included Schmidt; Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute; Tyler Jacks, director of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research; Sam Allen, chair of the faculty; Christine Ortiz, dean for graduate education; and Tom Kochan, co-director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research.
Governor Deval Patrick’s administration was represented at the hearing by Gregory Bialecki, the state secretary of housing and economic development. He urged the City Council to approve the petition, saying that Massachusetts must always champion its innovation-based economy.
In consideration of its receipt of rezoning approval, MIT has agreed to offer $14 million of community support to the City of Cambridge; about $4.3 million to the City’s Affordable Housing Trust; and $20,000 annually for 10 years to an Apprentice Pathways Program to train Cambridge residents for construction jobs.
MIT estimates that its proposal will allow development that adds about $10 million annually in new tax revenue for Cambridge, as well as $9 million in new permit fees. It further estimates the creation of 2,500 permanent new jobs, and about 1,300 construction jobs for the project.
MIT has stated a commitment to small and independent retailers, with an emphasis on needed neighborhood amenities such as an urban grocer and a drug store. It has also stated its intention of establishing a sense of place through wayfinding, sharing information through cutting-edge technology, and active programming of open space.
Steve Marsh, MIT’s managing director of real estate, called the approval "very good for MIT and for the city.” He continued, “What we saw last night was the product of a long process that can be summed up in one word: collaboration. This petition is as strong as it is precisely because it was shaped by the hands of its stakeholders. MIT and Cambridge are now poised to create a truly special place.”