Innovation District scoops up another Cambridge company

The Globe reports Zipcar will move its headquarters from Cambridge to South Boston next year.

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What a shame. This is very

What a shame.

This is very simple. Boston rolls out the red carpet for expanding firms, offering generous incentives and actively wooing them. Cambridge, on the other hand, has city councilors who openly admit that they're not interested in further commercial development in their city.

So as demand continues to explode in Kendall, the rents spiral higher and higher, and even the comparatively cheap spaces that were once friendly to start-ups start to become prohibitively expensive. If ZipCar wanted to move into its own building, it'd face an expensive years-long process with a highly uncertain outcome - one of Cambridge's best employers, Millennium, just got shot down in the permitting process.

Why put up with that? Some firms have to, in order to gain access to technical talent. Some firms can afford to. ZipCar fits in neither category.

We're seeing a transition in Cambridge. It'll keep the early-stage start-ups. It'll keep the R&D divisions of multi-national firms. Those companies need the proximity to MIT, even at insane prices. But as companies mature, they'll move out. Over the long term, that'll be devastating to Cambridge. Thriving urban communities need locally-owned, mature businesses. And Cambridge is slowly squeezing them out.

On the other hand,

I work on the Boston waterfront that is now attracting these businesses and I am so glad to see acres of parking lots with spectacular water views being used more productively. Also, the more businesses that locate here, the more services come along. It would be great to be able to do some of my errands during the work day. Keep on coming, all you businesses that can no longer afford Cambridge!

What you describe is not new, and is not necessarily bad.

The phenomenon you describe is not anything new. This has been going since at least WWII.

Firms are started in close proximity to MIT. VCs fund some of them. Some of them make it, some of them don't. Some of them make it bigtime.

The firms that make it bigtime leave Cambridge for places where they can have more space at a reasonable rate. Heretofore, that has usually meant 128 or 495, but now the "Innovation District" is getting in on that too (which IMHO won't last long, because there just isn't enough space down there at reasonable rates - also, some firms just don't want to be in town because many of their key employees don't want to live in town, and don't want to deal with increasingly substandard public transit and astronomical parking rates and commuting times).

The Cambridge City Council might not be helping themselves (or maybe they are by preventing the area around Kendall from being overtaken by a few mega-firms that would suck up all the office space thereby preventing small start-ups from getting it), but they are not the main driver of this movement.

This phenomenon is also played out on a national and international scale. Massachusetts is great at developing the next big thing (again, it goes all the way back, think mutual funds). When that thing gets huge, it seeks lower-cost environments (generally, first the cheaper areas of the U.S., then the world, but we all know about the recent phenomenon of re-shoring or repatriation). Then the cycle starts again.

I don't worry about this phenomenon unless we start losing our innovative edge, which is driven by our great universities (if MIT starting talking about shuttering things in Cambridge and shifting many of its resources to Shanghai, we'd have something to worry about). AnnaLee Saxenian tried to tell us that we were dead because we lost all the computer stuff to Silicon Valley - well, our life sciences innovators filled the void, and here we go again. It's all a cycle, and unless we get a serious external shock, we'll cycle through as we have for a long time.

128 has easy highway access

128 has easy highway access and free parking.

Central, Kendall (if it's really Kendall and not One Kendall Square), and downtown have easy transit access, walkable amenities, and residential areas within walking distance.

The Innovation District has... poor road access, almost nothing you can walk to, and the Silver Line.