The Foundry and More: June 22 Policy Update

2015-06-22 16.11.04

The Foundry

On Wednesday, I attended the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority’s tour of the Foundry building. Community stakeholders and prospective developers got a feel for the physical layout of the building, and some of its challenges and opportunities. I agree with others on the tour that the 1980s buildout is limiting and disrespectful of the Foundry’s unique and interesting architecture. It will require vision to accomplish a useful and interesting space, but it’s certainly possible to deliver an adaptive reuse that’s on the cutting edge, both architecturally and programmatically.

Here are the main points I see as essential for the Foundry redevelopment:

  • Careful and respectful restoration of the historic envelope of the building, and its intact historic elements.
  • An interior redesign that actively facilitates an environment of collaboration, innovation, and inclusiveness.
  • A program that integrates rich educational opportunities, entrepreneurialism, and equity of access across the socioeconomic spectrum.
  • Avoid enclosed, bureaucratic office uses, and encourage the flow of people through as much of the building as possible.

In any case, it’s important to recognize that the ideal physical layout changes may dramatically alter the current square footage assumptions, and thus I anticipate that the original calculations concerning the proportional division of space will become less useful. Moreover, I believe it would be wise not to preemptively limit the vision of a redeveloping entity by prescribing this square footage division, and instead review proposals through the spirit of the city’s goals for the building. The Foundry wants to be a cathedral-like, large, open space. The vision of a collaborative, inclusive working environment would flourish from a thoughtful restoration on this scale. The concealed, historic structural elements of the building do not belong behind partitions, and the added floor plates were for a different time and for a wholly different, almost opposite, vision for the use of the building. There’s a lot of hard thinking ahead, but for now I’m pulling for some great architectural concepts that “get it” when it comes to uniting the goals of historic restoration of the Foundry with the vision of a collaborative, interesting, and open workspace.

Car-sharing

Wednesday’s City Council ordinance committee meeting was on the topic of new proposed car-sharing zoning. Car-sharing (e.g., Zipcar) is already integrated into our urban and regional landscape, and continues to increase. A new frontier—which so far lacks meaningful regulation—is that of private residences and small condo associations hosting car-share vehicles on their property in residential neighborhoods. Concerns from residents were expressed about noise and stranger activity taking place on nearby properties. While there is some theoretical legitimacy to these concerns, the data does not bear out that users accessing car-shared vehicles (even on private residential lots) has substantially disturbed neighbors or caused significant problems.

However, the broader point is that the city ought to be proactively encouraging the expansion of car-sharing—whose use increases with close and easy access—and whose use tends to limit not only the number of privately owned vehicles driving or parking on the streets, but also the number of vehicle trips taken, as users become more acutely aware of the cost of driving and seek alternatives. I, and some others, expressed concerns at the ordinance committee meeting that suggested car-sharing language from the planning board, in this and another recent zoning proposal, appears to be conflicting and punitive: on the one hand, car-sharing is explicitly encouraged, but on the other hand, it’s given oddly severe, and even arbitrary, restrictions.

Monday’s regular City Council meeting considered several interesting policy orders.

  • Policy order #5, to explore private sponsorship of Hubway in Cambridge. As long as the advertisements/sponsorships are tasteful and aesthetically consistent with that of Hubway and a station’s physical surroundings, it’s worth the benefit of expanding (and healthily maintaining) the system. Proactive expansion is critical: one could easily rattle off a dozen new locations in Cambridge that could use a Hubway station. While something with such a direct public benefit shouldn’t need to turn a profit, the mission of expansion—the proliferation of access to healthy transportation options, to everyone in every part of the city—is worth some sacrifice of the all-publicly-funded ideal. I trust our city staff to be discerning and thoughtful with this.
  • Policy order #7, to allow bicycles to ride with concurrent walk signals a few seconds before the automobile green light. I do this anyway, and I think it’s a no-brainer as long as proper bicycle infrastructure continues to exist mostly in our dreams. While someone riding a bicycle is not on equal footing with someone walking/using a wheelchair, neither are they on equal footing with someone driving. However, they’re much closer to the former group as far as maneuverability, vulnerability, and their environmental experience (to the city; not through the city). I ride with the early walk phase to help avoid right-hook or fast straight-acceleration conflict with vehicles. This policy allows us protection of an already common practice. It ultimately can help us more acutely concentrate enforcement efforts.
  • Policy order #3, on beekeeping. This is a great step toward a better urbanism. Bees are essential and neighborly. I look forward to the chicken-keeping ordinance.

Coming up this week

Regular city council meeting, Monday, June 22, 2015, 5:30pm at City Hall.

  • Policy order #6, to create sidewalks and protected bike lanes on Huron Ave. The stretch of road in question is embarrassing. It’s unreal that it exists this way, in Cambridge. Every passing day should be a deadline to design and implement a complete Huron Ave., and beyond that, we should make it great. It’s totally unacceptable that lack of action has persisted this long. The planned Cambridge-Watertown Greenway, depending on how the plans progress, may involve an access point at Huron Ave., which along with interim, necessary improvements, could transform this stretch of road to one of the worst for walking and biking, to an exemplary multi-modal juncture. Here are the comments I delivered on Huron Ave. at the June 22 City Council meeting.
  • Policy order #2, adopting the Net Zero Action Plan. This falls into the “urgent” category.
    • That the City Council go on record adopting the Net Zero Action Plan which includes key actions to reduce emissions as follows:
      • Retrofits to existing buildings
      • Net Zero new construction
      • Energy supply
      • Local carbon fund
      • Engagement and capacity building and endorsing the recommended process that engages stakeholders. 

Kendall Square Mobility Task Force meeting, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, 4:00-6:00pm at the Cambridge Innovation Center (1 Broadway). Bring photo ID to get into the building.

I’m on the task force, and look forward to promoting Kendall Square as a model for paradigm shift: a realignment of our mobility and placemaking priorities; allowing automobiles in Kendall Square only when absolutely needed; doing everything possible to make transit effective and ubiquitous–ten minutes to a bus or train seat, tops; and making the neighborhood the most walkable and bikeable live-and work-place in the nation. Ambitious, sure. But, if there’s anywhere in the country that can do it, it’s here, and it’s urgent that we make an enormous effort to do so (ref: climate change).

Board of Zoning Appeals, Thursday, June 25, 2015, 7:00pm, Citywide Senior Center. 

There are a few interesting BZA cases on the Thursday agenda, including the extensive Holyoke aka Smith Center renovation/expansion at Harvard, and a proposed residential development at 209 Broadway. The former, in particular, will be transformative for Harvard Square and the city, so it’s important that it’s done well (it will be; the architectural team is incredible). My request, which I’ve forwarded a few times now, is that the project scope goes across the Holyoke-Dunster block of Mount Auburn Street (to the other side of the street) instead of forcibly directing people to the corners of the near side of the street. I.e., to anticipate and plan for mid-block crossings, which will happen no matter what. The original concept of the Holyoke Center was to be an extension of the on-foot experience of Harvard University, from Radcliffe to the River Houses. Mount Auburn Street in this area is a mess, and this major project presents an opportunity to make it slightly less messy.

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The Foundry and More: June 22 Policy Update