Harvard Square Infill and Small Developments

DBM

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At least I and thousands of others had many outstanding experiences there in the 1960's and 70's. Time moves on, and Central and Davis now carry the mantle.

Harvard Square itself has morphed into something corporate and dull, a sign of the times nationwide.
As I've noted upthread, I couldn't disagree more--there's still so much that's unique and captivating about Harvard Sq. in terms of restaurants/nightlife/general ambiance and I don't think it's lost a thread of "authenticity," however one wishes to define it.

As for "outstanding experiences of the 1960s and 70s": my mother was at school there from 1964-68. You know what she likes to talk about when she remembers the scene from back then? Just how much misplaced nostalgia there is for that time. According to her, all of those fabled diners were shabby and the whole scene was rather dingy. (Mind you, she was coming from LA, where so much of the built environment had just been built...). She's not a curmudgeon and I'm quite sure she had a great time in school there--just being a realist. And, I hardly think she's alone among Baby Boomers in thinking there's way too much sentimentality attached to the Harvard Sq. of that time.
 

Charlie_mta

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As I've noted upthread, I couldn't disagree more--there's still so much that's unique and captivating about Harvard Sq. in terms of restaurants/nightlife/general ambiance and I don't think it's lost a thread of "authenticity," however one wishes to define it.

As for "outstanding experiences of the 1960s and 70s": my mother was at school there from 1964-68. You know what she likes to talk about when she remembers the scene from back then? Just how much misplaced nostalgia there is for that time. According to her, all of those fabled diners were shabby and the whole scene was rather dingy. (Mind you, she was coming from LA, where so much of the built environment had just been built...). She's not a curmudgeon and I'm quite sure she had a great time in school there--just being a realist. And, I hardly think she's alone among Baby Boomers in thinking there's way too much sentimentality attached to the Harvard Sq. of that time.
I agree it was dingy, but that's a big part of what made it so good, kind of an intellectual and creative urban grit. The corporate shininess of today doesn't have that. Another difference back then was the diversity of people of all ages and types: intellectuals, beatniks, hippies, and of course students. Now it's mainly just students and their visiting parents. Harvard Square now seems like an upscale mall catering to the students, and there's not much else in the way of people or life. I agree it's still a great place to walk through, but one dimensional compared to the way it was.
 

odurandina

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i sure liked it in the 80's....
Seems it was still (the place i so fondly remember) in the early 90's.
i never thought the dining was anything special.
Didn't all have to be perfect to still be great.
 
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Nakedi

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My own memory of Harvard Square also dates back to the 1980s and 90s, which seemed to me then and now to have been the sort of last gasps of the folky/beatnik scene that went back to the 1960s. Now, living in North Cambridge, I'm in the square more than I have been since I was a teenager. It's different, for sure. The center of gravity now seems to be over in Brattle Square, which attracts big crowds to its plaza; also Winthrop Square, where the little park is always crowded, and, perhaps less so than the other two, the plaza in front of the Holyoke Center. In the 80s and early 90s, the Pit behind Out of Town News seemed like the center of the square, where all the activity happened (maybe that's just because it was a spot for younger people to hang out). Somehow, that stretch today seems less inviting and less populated than it did twenty five years ago-- much more a space people pass through.

The stretch of sidewalk in front of the Coop and leading up to Church Street has always been a bit of a no man's land-- today, as was the case 25 years ago, it's where the homeless and addicted seem to camp out. This to me is the biggest change in Harvard Square over the last 25+ years-- there were always a fair number of marginal folks in the square, but the people along that stretch of sidewalk today-- out in front of the Bank of America and the old CVS-- are undergoing a slow mortification of their bodies under the influence of alcohol and possibly opioids. It's quite harrowing to watch on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis. Alcoholism and addiction are nothing new, but maybe it is the contrast of it against this shinier incarnation of Harvard Square that makes it so stark.

The parcel that to me has the most potential in the square is the old theater on Church Street. A huge building that blights not only that stretch of Church, but also that almost serves to repel foot traffic from that northern most quadrant of the square. I don't know what could succeed the theater, but almost any use would be better than the current mothballed structure.
 

bigpicture7

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^ I for the most part agree with Nakedi's analysis and would guess we are of a similar generation based on the timeframes given.

I would just add that we can't blame this all on developers and the square itself, as society has changed over time in parallel. I remember as a college student that college students actually used to a) browse for things in harvard square, like used records and clothes, and b) took random chances on diners/restaurants/bars.

With regard to a), I would guess fewer 19-25-y.o.'s "browse" for these things anymore; many of such are simply downloaded on-demand / ordered from Amazon. And in terms of b), I suspect most kids look up ratings on google maps or yelp in advance...there's much less trial-and-error. These, to me, are fundamental behavioral shifts that wouldn't have jibed with the old square (nostalgic as I am).

The point is not that Harv. Sq. is optimal as-is, but that we should envision a future unique in itself, rather than expecting to ever be able to resurrect the past exactly as it was.
 

Equilibria

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The parcel that to me has the most potential in the square is the old theater on Church Street. A huge building that blights not only that stretch of Church, but also that almost serves to repel foot traffic from that northern most quadrant of the square. I don't know what could succeed the theater, but almost any use would be better than the current mothballed structure.
The theater is owned by Gerald Chan, generous Harvard donor and notorious Cambridge landbanker. He buys properties, prices out the tenants, than camps in them vacant except for shiny toy restaurant failures owned by his kids.

In the case of the theater, the City has been threatening to take it by eminent domain unless he does something with it. In response, Chan has been proposing crazy architectural statements to bait the City into rejecting them. Here's the latest:




 

cca

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But not what it could have been ... even in their own proposals the first iteration was much more exciting AND much more contextual at the same time. Why is that not a win win (I guess it did not meet the proforma)
 

Johnnyrocket891

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1st Time Poster --Here

Anybody been to Cabot Street in Beverly? Reminds me of Harvard Square in the late 80's to early 90's.
 

Nakedi

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The copper on that elevator head house is going to look great once it weathers.

Anyone know what's happening above Cardullo's, etc.?
 

Charlie_mta

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Harvard Square's transformation into Rodeo Drive is complete with the copper-clad elevator and kiosk.
 

stellarfun

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Farewell to Out of Town News.

...They’re selling Harvard insignia or whatever that you can purchase at the Coop and [Harvard] Student Agencies or elsewhere in the Square, and cigarettes, and lottery tickets, and, frankly, pornography,” Jillson said. “Those three things… if people want to buy it, there are other places to buy.”

Jillson [Executive Director of the Harvard Square Business Association Denise A. Jillson] said she is “really pleased” that Out of Town News’ purpose in Harvard Square has reached its expiration date.

“It’s time to move on,” she said. “It’s going to be wonderful.”
 

Shepard

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1st Time Poster --Here

Anybody been to Cabot Street in Beverly? Reminds me of Harvard Square in the late 80's to early 90's.
Just gave myself a streetview tour - I'm not very familiar with the North Shore other than touristy Salem. Cool street.
 

George_Apley

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The Abbot construction project (straddling the Brattle/JFK block) has been moved to its own thread here.
 

etik

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A new Harvard Square zoning petition was discussed at the planning board today. It's main goals are to:
  • Transition to form-based codes
  • Loosen restrictions on retail, specifically encouraging smaller retail
  • Reconfigure parking requirements
  • Restrict frontage for banks and marijuana retail to 20', effectively discouraging both
  • Increase FAR to reduce need to get expensive retail tenants to recoup costs
This proposal was a joint effort between a local developer and some neighborhood association leaders. They seem to have identified that overregulation through zoning has led to undesired outcomes (banks and empty storefronts), and are hoping to fix it through this. Hopefully it inspires some introspection.

An extensive Twitter thread documenting the meeting (EDIT: not me):
 
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#bancars

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A new Harvard Square zoning petition was discussed at the planning board today. It's main goals are to:
  • Transition to form-based codes
  • Loosen restrictions on retail, specifically encouraging smaller retail
  • Reconfigure parking requirements
  • Restrict frontage for banks and marijuana retail to 20', effectively discouraging both
  • Increase FAR to reduce need to get expensive retail tenants to recoup costs
This proposal was a joint effort between a local developer and some neighborhood association leaders. They seem to have identified that overregulation through zoning has led to undesired outcomes (banks and empty storefronts), and are hoping to fix it through this. Hopefully it inspires some introspection.

An extensive Twitter thread documenting the meeting:
Thanks for the summary and Twitter thread!
 

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