City Council Ordinance Committee meeting public comments, October 3, 2017

I’m speaking as a member and cofounder of the Friends of the Grand Junction Path, in general acknowledgement and support of MIT’s commitment to working with the city, and this generous commitment to fund the design and construction of parts of the Grand Junction Path.

I would urge us to change the focus of the metric away from the simple monetary contribution and, even staying within the same agreed upon budget, instead hold both MIT and the City responsible for committing to specific geographic aims for path construction within a specific timeframe.

A couple of reasons for this. First, I think we want more than a least-resistance level of participation from MIT. It’s a real opportunity to include the wide array of talent and perspective from within the Institute, to make the Grand Junction Path something ultimately more innovative in design and approach – also, to increase the level of ownership and sense of place, with regard to the uniqueness of this corridor as relates to MIT and its students, faculty, and community. Second, to make this a more collaborative project and vision beyond the landownership in question, and keep and include MIT at the table for the completion north to Somerville and joining the Somerville Community Path, and south to the Charles River Paths on the Boston side.

Further, I would request the convening of a focused transit study group including the City, MIT, and the MBTA, and perhaps a spin-off of the Allston Task Force, specifically to identify the most feasible way to begin light rail service in the short-term between West Station, Kendall Square, and North Station, as well as eventually beyond to Somerville, Chelsea, and the Airport, all via the Grand Junction railroad.

These are important results that should come out of the Volpe rezoning process, and it goes without saying the benefits that the utilization of the Grand Junction brings to MIT, Kendall Square, and the City of Cambridge, as well as regional connectivity, and, moreover, the necessity of utilization of the corridor – for walking, biking, and transit – in order to make the intensity of development in Allston and Cambridge, and points beyond throughout the urban core, to make these places even functional as we add thousands of jobs, residents, and daily trips in a concentrated way – and with little to no other means of conveyance between and among them really identifiable – not to mention enjoyable, communal, and thriving.

Now to speak a little to overall site plan and design, a few suggestions on context (and some of this goes off of Councilor Kelly’s comment about MIT not necessarily just doing what any developer could do): 1, the historic Broad Canal (which brings to mind questions of water/climate change resilience infrastructurally, and, perhaps, ecology), 2, the presence and prominence of biotech specifically along Binney Street and perhaps consistency with that when arranging the site, 3, Third Square (which may not have been ideally designed from the beginning, but we might deal with some sense of the relation of that element more than just treating it as a black hole on the map), 4, the sense of this being a unique, large, contiguous parcel, and being continually mindful of not just integrating with the grid so to speak, but what can be done monumentally (interesting and even iconic architecture) and the seemingly somewhat diminished concept of a grand-scale open space, 5, the very particular history of this site for the last four or five decades as a place for transportation research – and so transportation planning in and around the site ought to be innovative and a hallmark rather than simply meeting parking requirements and making vague bus route shifts, and 6, being acutely mindful about reflecting the soul of MIT itself, which among its peers is quite distinctly global, and maintains, through careful effort and allegiance to values, a notable and pronounced socioeconomic diversity.

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City Council Ordinance Committee meeting public comments, October 3, 2017