Volpe Transportation Center Development | Kendall Sq | Cambridge

Equilibria

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I’d love to know the rationale.
DOT has another research facility at Turner-Fairbank in Virginia. It's possible that without the prime Kendall location, they'd just say screw it and relocate the Volpe functions there for efficiency.

Lincoln Laboratory is on DOD land, not GSA land. Big difference.
 

JumboBuc

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They could have dumped the new Volpe near the MIT Lincoln Labs campus. It has space and plenty of security.
We've been over this a bunch of times in this thread. Volpe employees didn't want to move out to Hanscom, and Volpe management didn't want to have to recruit employees out to Hanscom. The GSA evaluated a suburban move, and decided against it. Volpe sees value in staying in Cambridge for the exact same reason every other Kendall employer sees value in staying in Cambridge. It's all about agglomeration and access to labor.

And while ideally there would be no security buffer here, the one that's being included really isn't that bad in the grand scheme of things. I take more issue with the requisite green strips included around all the non-GSA buildings.
 

erom

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I worked for a company at one point that moved out of Kendal to Burlington. They lost 70% of their engineering talent in the move, and it tanked the company. Don't underestimate how many tech workers will just say "nah" if asked to commute out of the city.
 

bigpicture7

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Not disputing the strong history of NIMBYism in Cambridge in general....but, honest question, has anyone seriously observed any substantive NIMBY pushback on this particular development, either the GSA portion or broader MITIMCO proposals? Because I have not. Granted, I've not been 100% plugged-in, but I have been following this for years and have watched some of the virtual public meetings. The 500' zoning variance was approved by the city fairly easily about 5 years ago, and the overall density doesn't seem to have been combatted much at all by the locals. This parcel doesn't really have much in terms of old-school residential abutters. Kendall Sq. shields it on one side, and the Binney St. corridor shields it on the other. It's not really getting in anyone's way.

That said, do the plans seem a bit preemptively defensive to begin with, and could/should they be bolder? Yes. But in this particular case, I do not think we've seen much, if any, real NIMBY activism thwarting things here.
 

Equilibria

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Not disputing the strong history of NIMBYism in Cambridge in general....but, honest question, has anyone seriously observed any substantive NIMBY pushback on this particular development, either the GSA portion or broader MITIMCO proposals? Because I have not. Granted, I've not been 100% plugged-in, but I have been following this for years and have watched some of the virtual public meetings. The 500' zoning variance was approved by the city fairly easily about 5 years ago, and the overall density doesn't seem to have been combatted much at all by the locals. This parcel doesn't really have much in terms of old-school residential abutters. Kendall Sq. shields it on one side, and the Binney St. corridor shields it on the other. It's not really getting in anyone's way.

That said, do the plans seem a bit preemptively defensive to begin with, and could/should they be bolder? Yes. But in this particular case, I do not think we've seen much, if any, real NIMBY activism thwarting things here.
MITIMCO has been going through an extensive equity/outreach effort over the past few months. Not sure whether that will address issues/build consensus or bring people out of the woodwork.

Also, the new consideration of 500' height after not initially proposing it may be in response to the lack of an initial NIMBY backlash. Alternatively, it could be to avoid the shock factor. Cambridge also pretty thoroughly hashed on the issue of Volpe height during the Thousand-Foot-Tower era, so the neighborhood might see it as a settled question.

That's a NIMBY argument.
Not necessarily. We supported the FBI moving to Chelsea on similar grounds and I'm sure that if GSA proposed to sell/redevelop O'Neill or JFK and move those functions to the suburbs it would win lots of supporters around here. The argument is that the suburban setting is better suited to the security/buffer requirements of the facility, not that "I get that we need this somewhere, but I don't want it near me".
 

RandomWalk

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Sorry if my pithiness led to misunderstanding. I don’t object to the DOT in Kendall. I object to the GSA security requirements leading to anti-urban designs.

What parts of the Volpe program require such security?
 

JumboBuc

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Sorry if my pithiness led to misunderstanding. I don’t object to the DOT in Kendall. I object to the GSA security requirements leading to anti-urban designs.

What parts of the Volpe program require such security?
Certain security measures are required for Federal building regardless of the use of the building. So it's not a specific Volpe program that requires it, just the fact that it's a Federal building. These are the same Federal rules that, for the last 2+ decades, have been turning the fine city of Washington DC into the scenery for one massive security theater production.

It's overkill and out-of-date and anti-human and born entirely out of illogical and over-reactive fear, but it is what it is.
 

Equilibria

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Certain security measures are required for Federal building regardless of the use of the building. So it's not a specific Volpe program that requires it, just the fact that it's a Federal building. These are the same Federal rules that, for the last 2+ decades, have been turning the fine city of Washington DC into the scenery for one massive security theater production.

It's overkill and out-of-date and anti-human and born entirely out of illogical and over-reactive fear, but it is what it is.
It's in response to Oklahoma City and the IRA bombings in the UK. Those were real events, and the measures were designed to withstand/harden against known threats.

You can say "but DOT isn't the CIA", but McVeigh chose his agencies based on twisted grievance. Any agency could theoretically end up a target, and often Federal buildings house many agencies (as the building in OKC did).
 

JumboBuc

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It's in response to Oklahoma City and the IRA bombings in the UK. Those were real events, and the measures were designed to withstand/harden against known threats.

You can say "but DOT isn't the CIA", but McVeigh chose his agencies based on twisted grievance. Any agency could theoretically end up a target, and often Federal buildings house many agencies (as the building in OKC did).
Sure, but that's an outdated model of terrorism.

Terrorist attacks in "the West" since 9/11 have overwhelmingly targeted "soft" targets, not government buildings. And terrorists' weapons of choice have overwhelmingly been small arms and backpack explosives and motor vehicles driven into crowds, not car bombs.

There was a time when attacking a government building as a symbol of power was the goal of terrorists, but that was decades ago. Post-9/11 terrorists have sought to inflict loss of civilian life (not property damage) on unprotected (not hardened) populations. So we see events like the Boston Marathon Bombing and the 2015 Paris attacks and the 2016 Nice truck attack. The only Western government building terrorist attack since 9/11 that I can think of is the 2011 Norway attack, but the initial car bomb component of that was not the devastating event, the subsequent firearm attack on civilians at a summer camp was.

Government buildings are never going to be "risk free," but I think just about everyone would agree that a DOT research facility in Cambridge has a much lower likelihood of being attacked than any public gathering of civilians in the 21st century. Even the 2020 Nashville bombing, which was a car bombing, targeted an AT&T network facility of all things, not a government building. But that isn't how GSA handles terrorist threats, and we end up with strange security overkill as a result.

(Obviously the 2021 Storming of the US Capitol jumps to mind in this conversation, but that too--demonstrably so--wasn't something that a "government security buffer" could have prevented.)
 

Equilibria

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(Obviously the 2021 Storming of the US Capitol jumps to mind in this conversation, but that too--demonstrably so--wasn't something that a "government security buffer" could have prevented.
This is a bit of a tangent, but (1) it wasn't just the US Capitol - similar stormings have either occurred or been discussed at state capitols and other state and federal agencies and (2) while the US Capitol has a wide buffer, it also has a TON of unsecured or undersecured entrances into the complex. The mode of storming it was not to overwhelm a hardened entrance, but rather to gain entrance at less defended doors and windows to the point that the USCP gave up trying to hold the hardened ones and fell back to protect chambers and legislators. If the Capitol were as hardened as the current Volpe is, it might have done a lot better.

Of course, one could argue that private offices are hypothetical targets, too - Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc. all have big profiles. It's a risk tradeoff and the Feds have made a different choice than the tech firms.
 

JumboBuc

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My concern with Federal security guidelines with respect to buildings in urban environments is 100% the required "buffer zone."

This is a bit of a tangent, but (1) it wasn't just the US Capitol - similar stormings have either occurred or been discussed at state capitols and other state and federal agencies and (2) while the US Capitol has a wide buffer, it also has a TON of unsecured or undersecured entrances into the complex. The mode of storming it was not to overwhelm a hardened entrance, but rather to gain entrance at less defended doors and windows to the point that the USCP gave up trying to hold the hardened ones and fell back to protect chambers and legislators. If the Capitol were as hardened as the current Volpe is, it might have done a lot better.
Fair enough, but that's about securing entrances, not establishing "buffer zones." I'm all for doors that lock! But doors that lock don't require green space buffers separating people from buildings. If Volpe were indeed able to dispel an insurrectionist crowd, it wouldn't be the empty greenspace that did it.

...and what about this one (2010):
I wasn't aware of that one. But once again, that's not something a "security buffer" could have prevented.
 

Equilibria

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My concern with Federal security guidelines with respect to buildings in urban environments is 100% the required "buffer zone."
Fair enough, but the buffer is about protecting against truck bombs, and I don't think Oklahoma City being 25 years ago is enough to say that's an "outdated threat". It's happened.
 

JumboBuc

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Fair enough, but the buffer is about protecting against truck bombs, and I don't think Oklahoma City being 25 years ago is enough to say that's an "outdated threat". It's happened.
Tying this into the Boston Fed Discussion, if you are gonna mandate car bomb buffers you can do also design them in a more permeable, human-scale manner. Even something like this manages to separate a secured building from the street while still keeping the street level alive.

It doesn't have to be all just bollards and grass.
 
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Equilibria

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Tying this into the Boston Fed Discussion, if you are gonna mandate car bomb buffers you can do also design them in a more permeable, human-scale manor. Even something like this manages to separate a secured building from the street while still keeping the street level alive.

It doesn't have to be all just bollards and grass.
But it won't be at Volpe - sounds a lot like the Fed's strategy.

In order to achieve this sense of openness and connectivity, the GSA and MIT engaged artist Maya Lin, known for her large-scale, site-specific outdoor earthworks, in coordination with landscape architecture firm Reed Hilderbrand, to create an engaging and inviting public landscape. Central to the open space will be Lin’s landscape-integrated art piece — a physical and visual representation of the Doppler effect, manifested in undulating grassy mounds that depict sound waves.

The incorporation of a Maya Lin art piece within the site is part of the Federal government’s Art in Architecture program which commissions artworks for new buildings nationwide.
This doesn't look that different from the Fed lawn:

1617822004383.png
 

shmessy

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........Maybe all this development will pave the way for a statement building in Kendall, similar to the way London has The Shard across the river from the main city skyline.

THIS is where the BU Stack o' Books building should have gone! (Except for the BU part....)
 

Blackbird

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Certain security measures are required for Federal building regardless of the use of the building.
I wonder what kind of attack the ring of grass around the building would actually protect against. Will there be a big fence, or...?

Edit: Ah. Just read the comment about truck bombs. Why not forget the grass and pedestrianize the surrounding blocks? No need to worry about unauthorized trucks then?
 

Stlin

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I wonder what kind of attack the ring of grass around the building would actually protect against. Will there be a big fence, or...?

Edit: Ah. Just read the comment about truck bombs. Why not forget the grass and pedestrianize the surrounding blocks? No need to worry about unauthorized trucks then?
That could probably sustain arguments that thats worse. You can't fully block it because deliveries, and then what you've created is a prime target for vehicle ramming attacks. I imagine that there's a reason most streets that head toward DTX do so at right angles or on very narrow streets to maximally reduce speed potential.
 

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