Cambridge officials utter dark warnings over Google's dark windows

Cambridge Day reports the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority is miffed that changes to Google buildings in Kendall Square have dramatically strayed from the designs board members had earlier approved.

Born said Wednesday that designs for the two-story connector building have "strayed further from the initial rendering that the council and CRA approved every time we’ve seen it," with a grand staircase shrinking to a "piddly" size and the latest design including walls she deemed a “revolting mustard" color.

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    In two words

    By on

    So what. In three words (to the Cambridge asthetics mafia) Get a Life. It's a building, and people will get used to the appearance.

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    In three words

    "Hot pink building." The reason that there are bureaucracies dedicated to overseeing these issues is that one landlord's crappy design choices can adversely affect abutters' property values. Regardless of whether you agree with the aesthetic choices involved, the company agreed they would do one thing, and then they did something else. Any agency that wants its authority respected has to enforce those agreements.

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    Seriously?

    one landlord's crappy design choices can adversely affect abutters' property values

    You know what area we are talking about, right? One where landlords are jacking rents right and left and getting the money.

    Obsession with "my property values mean I can be nosy and intrusive and demanding about what you do with your property" has always mystified me (outside of places with historic restrictions written on deeds that predate ownership).

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    I don't know: are you a property owner?

    I don't agree with the people that move in from the suburbs and want to change urban neighborhoods into versions of the little towns they just left, like the rich assholes on Upton Street who decided three years after moving there that the nearby halfway houses that had been helping people for fifty years suddenly no longer fit the character of the neighborhood. If it was there when you bought, you can't really squawk.

    But I am in favor of municipal organizations that hold new development and modifications of existing buildings to some community standards (e.g., historical preservation) to protect the broader community's interests, both in commercial terms and in quality-of-life terms. Having a local bureaucracy define and enforce such standards is a more efficient, fairer way of achieving this.

    Sometimes a government action really is for the greater good, not just about trying to take away yer FREEDOM.

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    Yes I am

    And when my neighbor put up a fence, my MIL was all nuts because "he didn't ask our permission" etc. etc.

    Yes, it is a stupid and ugly fence. No, I don't care because it is on his property and no worry of mine.

    We would do a lot better for basic housing in this region if anybody and everybody didn't constantly sue over things that really aren't their business due to an imagined interest in superficial stuff like paint color.

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    That is exactly the point of having a muni bureaucracy

    in charge of setting and enforcing standards: it obviates private lawsuits to settle disputes, takes it out of the realm of one owner simply not liking what his neighbor is doing.

    Paint color is trivial, until your neighbor finds a great deal on a truckload of fluorescent purple at Spanky's Paint Depot, and suddenly you have trouble finding rental tenants because nobody wants to look at that awfulness out their window all day long.

    But you're still ignoring the earlier point. Google agreed to one design, then reneged.

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    Nice anecdote there

    But it's just that: one isolated story, and apparently unrelated in that their residential house color was not subject to the same commercial redevelopment oversight as Google's building.

    When did that happen? By any chance, in the recent overheated real estate market, with demand far outstripping inventory?

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    Fine then

    Would you care to show some statistical information on exactly how much these superficial things like how a building looks architecturally or what color it is painted actually impact property values?

    Because all you have come up with here so far are "just so stories" that "everybody just knows" about how these issues "simply must" impact property values, and not a shred of information supporting your contention that paint color or window tint matter much at all. You simply declare the property values argument to be true by absolute fiat.

    Please demonstrate that "it will hurt property values" regarding superficial appearance issues is anything beyond a flimsy justification for interfering with property rights of others.

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    I don't have any such statistics

    I'm no urban planner, but I think there's an obvious common-sense argument that I've already laid out, and a long history of the such standards being maintained on commercial redevelopment in cities all over the country, not just Cambridge and Boston.

    All you've got is your off-topic stories about your neighbors' residential homes, and a habit of ducking simple questions.

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    Why?

    Why should certain standards be forced upon any developer, be it a home owner or a mega-developer? Sounds like the kind of stuff which will either cause a) the area to not see any reinvestment or pride, or b) put more pressure to gentrify at an excessive rate.

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    You're looking for a justification of urban planning

    That's a thesis, but a short version: commercial developers have a nasty habit of running roughshod over community interests. Urban planning bureaucracies are a protection mechanism to ensure that the community's interests aren't utterly subordinated to the developer's pursuit of profits. Does the building make sense in the overall context of the neighborhood? Does it preserve adequate open spaces and green spaces? Is it environmentally friendly? Does it relate architecturally to what's around it? These and other questions are what they try to find sensible answers to. Mostly, I think it works.

    There's a ton of history and example to show that without some level of planning and oversight, commercial development ends up ugly, overly dense, doesn't include enough parking, doesn't do the kind of street-level development that makes an area safe and attractive for pedestrians, and so on and on. The kind of planning and oversight that the CRA provides is one function that government is uniquely positioned to serve, as by definition it represents the community, not any individual citizen or business. I'm sure there's an extreme of the continuum, too much central control that ultimately repels development and hurts the community in a different way, like a control-freak condo board. But it's hard for me as a longtime city-dweller who has been engaged in neighborhood issues to be anything but strongly philosophically in favor of urban planning in general.

    What this issue is decidedly *not* about: residential neighbors telling other neighbors what kind of fence or house color to choose. This is a city agency vs. a commercial developer spat, and it looks to me like Google lied about its plans and is being called out for it. It's not just an issue of paint color, but preserving open space as part of a long-established master plan for Kendall Square redevelopment that Google doubtless became intimate with before they chose to site their facilities there. The CRA is just doing the job the citizens installed it to do.

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    Because dark windows

    By on

    and bright paint should be avoided at all cost, right? Pro tip - neither of these things affect the structural integrity, safety, or functionailty of the building, and have nothing to do with density or parking. Demanding clear windows, certian paint colors, or that the structure "relates architecturally" to others or "fits within the context" of the neighborhood, are purely arbitrary standards that reflects nothing more than people's subjective opinions.

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    Bingo

    That is my complaint. I'm not talking about zoning, or sanitation.

    I'm talking about that all-too-common practice of demanding a say so for things that don't matter and aren't anybody but the property owner's business.

    The real problem being, of course, that such behavior and demands add a lot of cost and time to the building process, and result in nothing but luxury apartments and other premium space being built.

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    But if Google was aware of the specs of the Kendall Square

    redevelopment master plan (and there's no way they weren't), and made certain commitments about its changes to the building, it seems to me that it should be required to live up to them.

    Anyone with more than a passing familiarity with urban planning recognizes that these rules are not just something somebody dreamed up because of their personal preferences. There's a careful rationale for them; they're not arbitrary, even if the typical layman doesn't know enough about architecture, environmental issues, etc. to understand them.

    Regardless of whether you agree with the rules, it's Google that signed up for them, and it should play by them.

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    I don't need statistics

    In Provincetown where I own a house the Historic District Commission has a lot of control over what people do within the large district. Everything from windows, fences, additions, tear downs, you name it - any changes to whatever can be seen from a public way. Not sure if my property values are higher or lower because of its existence, though my guess would be that they are higher. If not for the HDC the nearly intact 18/19th century quaint seaside fishing village and artists colony that draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year would not exist as we know it. And since virtually all of the similar villages of that era in the US have long since burned to the ground I think we are lucky we have the HDC to preserve for future generations what some may take for granted. The shortsighted folks who tore down historic artist residences and studios there to build McMansions more appropriate to the suburbs certainly can't be trusted. Since tourism is the life's blood of the Provincetown I think the Town would be derelict in its duties if did not protect these assets of the town with heavy oversight. At my main residence in JP I'm less concerned with these things, though I see the value in maintaining standards and preserving a certain character as the law allows.

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    Point taken on historic districts

    Much of what a historic district does, in reality, is ensure that property is kept up by being specific about what that means. That, in turn, prevents health/safety issues (fires, garbage piles, rats). It also pushes the financial balance from "tear down = gain" to "restoration = gain".

    However, does it really matter if your house is pepto-bismol pink or uranium oxide orange?

    I remember some folks in Central Square were upset when a townhouse got the painted lady treatment, but the owner won simply because it was historically appropriate: the Victorian era went there with wild abandon! Paint analyses has also shown that Colonial-era homes were far more vivid than earlier believed.

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    It's really too bad the

    By on

    It's really too bad the Native American's didn't have a Historic District Commission to keep those pesky pilgrims in place.

    Change happens, get used to it.

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    Huh?

    Just wondering what makes you say that, seeing as regulation seems to result in car-oriented cities, roads with excessive capacity, setbacks, etc. Which, even if you ENJOY those things, that doesn't mean it's more efficient. Would a retail site not want to have an attractive store front? Would a residential building not want to ensure a resident's ease of access to close-by amenities? Are you going to claim that cities function better today than, say, the 1910's? Sure, maybe some things are better -- as in, we don't have horse manure in the streets -- but I wouldn't attribute that to some sort of psychopathic desire to control what others can do.

    Urban planning isn't about holding up progress

    And the only psychopathy is the paranoid delusion that sinister legions of people are out to *control your life*, and that, RAARR, all regulation BAD! Urban planning is a multi-disciplinary science, and science evolves to accommodate new data, new observations, new theories.

    At one point, the Central Artery looked like a good idea, and in fact it worked, for a while. In retrospect, it was short-sighted. Nobody envisioned auto traffic swelling to the kind of levels that made it an all-day bottleneck. The impact of cutting off the Waterfront from the rest of the city with an elevated highway was misunderstood or underestimated. Current urban planning theory spends a lot of time worrying about how to minimize the impact of auto traffic.

    You might think that developers would always do the right thing to balance their needs with that of citizens. In practice, that's laughably naive. It only happens with the assiduous encouragement (positive and negative incentives) of government. But wealthy industrialists have spent a ton of money convincing a lot of gullible citizens that all regulation is harmful, job killing, TAKIN' AWAY YER FREEDUM. It's true: it will put a dent in their profits. But take the reins off completely, and you end up looking like Shenzen: not pretty. In fact, given the air quality, you can barely see it at all.

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    Did it impact the

    By on

    Did it impact the functionality? No, so therefore it should be irrelevant. Fenway is the same color, do you have an issue with that too?

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    What?

    I didn't say people are out to control my life. I said people are out for control, period. So you can cut your "MUH FREEDUM" crap, because I don't feel personally threatened. I think it's WRONG that people seek to micromanage at the detriment of others and of society.

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    I'd argue that urban planning is the opposite of micromanagement

    It's not about telling you, "Use this color palette". (Note the usage, Original SoBo Yuppie.) It's about nudging development strategically, so that city blocks and neighborhoods that are developed over a period of many years end up fitting together in a rational way that balances commercial goals with the public interest.

    The mistake some folks are making here, I think, is that the grand plan is made up of some little things -- the CRA board member's comment about the ugly paint color is a big red herring -- but in general, agencies like the CRA aren't forcing those kind of micro decisions on developers. Kendall Square doesn't look entirely uniform: there are still buildings from the 1930s, and the 50s, and the 70s, etc., right up through this year, with differing architectural styles, materials and so on. Rather, urban planners focus on big-picture issues, like environmental impact and open space management (the big thorn in the Google issue).

    I just find the knee-jerk negativity to anything government does to be childish, screaming about bogeymen where there are none. But it's a useful myth for the Koch Brothers to promote.

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    "open space management (the

    By on

    "open space management (the big thorn in the Google issue)." It's not an open space, it's enclosed in glass as approved. You're talking in circles.

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    Clearly, the concept is difficult for some people to grasp

    but a glass structure with a big open staircase and largely empty of interior walled rooms is better at preserving the feel of open space than one with a smaller open staircase and more, smaller interior rooms.

    I'm guessing another reason for the CRA's sensitivity here is that Google and its landlord clearly tried to steamroll the approval process the first time around. One of the things the new structure did is take away 40% of a public rooftop garden. Without the CRA acting, that would simply have gone away, whereas with their intervention, Google agreed to build a public park nearby to replace the lost public space.

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    Actually, the CRA

    By on

    extorted a public park from Google. Fixed that for you.

    And, if a design requirement of a PRIVATE office building is that it preserve the feel of open space, then we seriously need to re-evaluate the design standards that these government fiefdoms are imposing on us all.

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    Perfect example of protecting public interest over private greed

    Google bought a building that was originally premised on providing a public rooftop park. Their plan reduced that public park space by almost half. Do you really believe that asking Google to replace public space that they were overtaking for their own private, for-profit use counts as *extortion*? What kind of a gullible corporate stooge are you?

    Let private interests have their own way with development without a bare minimum of citizen advocacy in the form of urban planning, and what scant public spaces are left will become high-rise condos, office space, and other enterprises which will profit a handful of private interests at the expense of people that actually live their lives in the community. That's a terrible, stupid sacrifice to make without asking something in return.

    Gonna guess you don't live in Cambridge, which would explain how you could be so cavalier and dismissive about quality-of-life trade-offs that don't remotely affect you.

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    Nobody expected traffic swelling on Central Artery????

    At one point, the Central Artery looked like a good idea, and in fact it worked, for a while. In retrospect, it was short-sighted. Nobody envisioned auto traffic swelling to the kind of levels that made it an all-day bottleneck. The impact of cutting off the Waterfront from the rest of the city with an elevated highway was misunderstood or underestimated.

    Wrong: The Inner belt planned in the 1950's would have taken traffic off of the central artery. Short sighted was cancelling it and other projects in 1970, just as increasingly many women were no longer staying at home but buying cars and going to work.

    Elevated roads and underground roads allow much easier crossing than competing all at one (ground) level. There is a huge cost difference between going over vs. under, and you may have heard that the Big Dig is the most expensive US road project EVER. Given that the central artery was built in the early 1950's, putting a long, wide tunnel under a city wasn't even a remote possibility. The alternative of not building a central artery would have stagnated growth in Boston long ago. Access to the waterfront was not much of an issue as shipping had been leaving Boston and there was still rail access. So, planning was done, but then undone by politicians.

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    Thanks

    That is a helpful link. Even though it is limited to historic districts, it does compare those districts with similar control areas.

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    Where there is an established

    Where there is an established design review process, there are higher property values. Another good comparison would be Reston, Virginia and a surrounding community. Which area has higher property values/higher rate of property value growth?

    Aesthetics and property values

    By on

    Compare Nantucket and Hyannis.

    Compare Charleston, SC, and Charleston, WV

    Your rights end where mine begin. My rights end where yours begin. If we can't compromise, the State steps in.

    Not a good comparison

    By on

    You can get to Hyannis a variety of way.

    Nantucket is isolated.

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    The issue isn't that they put

    By on

    The issue isn't that they put up a fence though.

    The issue is that they said they were going to put up a mahogany fence, got permission for mahogany from you and the neighborhood, and instead bought chain link with multi-colored louvers.

    In short, they lied.

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    Well , Cambridge better be

    By on

    Well , Cambridge better be careful or Google might just pick up all its collaborations and buy , I mean , move to a more collaborating tolerant town , like Hudson , or Maynard , and do all their collaborating their way. Then they will have to wue back some other industries , like maybe boilers or woven rubber hoses , something real chic . . Maybe even lure a brewery operation back to Cambridge , now that Budweiser has gone international . They could make a killing on the real estate and deflate the esprit de corps of the area .

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    Unlikely

    Google's choice of Cambridge reflects a broader trend in high tech of locating big facilities in dense urban areas. The younger workers they want to attract want to live in cities, not the Hudsons and Maynards of the world. Suburban flight is going the other way these days.

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    I really doubt that the hip,

    I really doubt that the hip, urban crowd who works at a place like Google would really like to schlep out to Maynard or Hudson every day.

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    M towns

    By on

    We've all heard the names...methuen, malden, medway, yuck-medford!! but no one knows (or cares) where they are.

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    W Towns

    By on

    I remember those - they were all big Camaro habitat in the late 80s - Woburn, Waltham, Winthrop, etc.

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    i dunno...

    By on

    monster.com was in maynard, and seemed to have no problem attracting workers. granted, they are moving to weston now, but still not the big city. and 38 studios was out here as well, until we lost them to rhode island. and we all know how that one turned out.

    and intel had no problems getting folks to hudson.

    i realize all my examples are companies that either left or are leaving. crud. but my point still stands -- it's no schlep if you live out here, which a lot of people do. and we have no problem attracting smart, educated, staff to the boonies.

    Give it a few years

    Give it a few years for a hipster workforce in a company reach their 30's and want to have families. Many of these workers will want to have cars, yards and good, safe public schools. However, if these companies put workers out to pasture when hitting 30, Cambridge may well suit them, other than the rents.

    Another way it might go

    is that those people will want to continue to enjoy the advantages of urban living, and will apply themselves to improving the amenities that suburbanites historically enjoyed: better/safer public schools, more public parks and playgrounds, improved alternatives to automobiles: better public transportation, more car/ride sharing and taxis, friendliness to bikes.

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    Because everybody who works at google is 25 years old

    Right. Except for all the people in their 30s who work at that very location, who have families, and who take the Red Line from East Arlington, or bike in from Somerville, etc.

    Like the people I know who work there who are in their 40s or early 50s who take the Red Line or bike there.

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    Go easy on Mark

    By on

    He has no experience in the current workforce, which is why he thinks everyone working in Kendall is an under-30s hipster.

    U.S.A.

    By on

    America is great isn't it!? Land of the free! Unless you don't pay your taxes on the land you "own", then the government will take it from you. And you can make changes to your home and property, but just as long as the government approves, otherwise the government will take it from you. Or you can paint your building a "revolting mustard" color, then the neighbors will bitch and complain, and try and make the government get it change for you, or else next time it won't get approved {fist shaking} . But our troops are overseas fighting two third world countries to defend this freedom so let's all get on our knees, right guys??

    If you don't want to feel the impacts of the changes your neighbors make maybe you should move to a rural area where you can have plenty of land to buffer yourself from said neighbors. In an urban environments there shouldn't be any expectation to have a say in what the land owners of a nearby property do as long as it isn't a public safety issue.

    In many parts of this country

    By on

    In many parts of this country (including Massachusetts) you can do all of the above so I'm not sure what your point is. Just because you don't like it doesn't mean I shouldn't.

    No neighbors complained about a paint color

    Google made a commitment to certain changes with the city agency authorized to oversee such issues, and then didn't live up to it. The paranoid fantasies of libertarian loons notwithstanding, not every action by a government agency comes down to the Central Committee crushing the dreams of democracy-loving freedom fighters because it wants to *control your lives*.

    If you want to live in a city where commercial interests are allowed to pursue whatever the hell unfettered development they want, the quality of life of the citizens be damned, try moving to Beijing. Most Americans are smart enough, and sane enough, to embrace some level of urban planning.

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    What difference does an

    By on

    What difference does an interior staircase or wall color make? It's not a structural issue or an issue of constructing a building on every inch of property space, so what difference does it make other than it annoys the (nosy) neighbors?

    It helps to read the article before objecting to a phantom issue

    Google presented and got approval for a plan to build a structure that connects two buildings, eliminating some open space. To mitigate the CRA's concerns about the loss of open space, it promised to build the exterior walls out of glass and keep it open inside. Instead, they're building something that is quite opaque, nothing like what they originally proposed and got approved. That kind of brazen bait-and-switch usually gets the planning authorities wound up.

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    But what difference does what

    By on

    But what difference does what happens inside make? The planning authorities approved the enclosure of the space, what does it matter if there is a grand staircase inside or a regular sized staircase? Is it really going to mess up your day to not be able to see all the way through and already enclosed structure? Sorry if these conference rooms help the company generate more money and therefore more tax dollars and that doesn't do anything for you aesthetically.

    You know what "transparent" and "opaque" mean, right?

    The proposed structure was see-through, mostly empty space enclosed by glass.. What they have built is not that. One preserves an illusion of open space. The other makes the two formerly distinct buildings separated by open space into one big solid building.

    Enclosed being the key word.

    By on

    Enclosed being the key word. The Hancock tower is enclosed in glass, it's still enclosed. Seriously answer the question, what difference does not being able to see through and enclosed structure, the interior staircase, or the interior pain color make to the abutter's or those who are just walking by? The footprint and structure have already been approved.

    You may have noticed that the Hancock

    is sheathed in reflective glass that effectively makes it an opaque structure in the daytime. Otherwise, it's a brilliant analogy.

    Let me try again. Picture a glass tumbler with ice cubes in it. Now picture an identical one half filled with milk. Now shine a light through both.

    "But they're both still ENCLOSED!", you say? You're right. But that doesn't make them equally transparent. If I'm not mistaken, that's the objection here: the approved plan was more transparent, which reduced the impact of the loss of open space between the two buildings. What they built is less transparent: less open space, filled with more stuff. Capice?

    THEY LIED

    By on

    That's what it comes down to. Jesus.

    Cambridge approved something REALLY SPECIFIC, Google said "okay, you got it!", and then did whatever the hell they wanted anyway. See also: Hotel Kenmore

    I'm surprised that with all

    By on

    I'm surprised that with all the planning bureaucracy that goes on in Cambridge, Microsoft was still able to install that huge TV screen facing the Kendall Square steaming globe, distracting drivers coming off the Longfellow Bridge.

    I Wish They Cared As Much About The Sidewalks

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    The aesthetic details of the buildings in Kendall Square are a matter of personal taste; they have little effect on most people who travel through the neighborhood. The sidewalks however, are used by thousands of people every day, yet they are constantly in a state of dangerous disrepair.

    It should a requirement for sidewalks to be paved with concrete or some other solid material that is suitable for New England weather. Currently, the property owners just throw down loose bricks, which invariably break and become dislodged. Also, because they're placed on sand instead of a solid surface, over time the bricks settle unevenly. Although the problem occurs all year long, it is most apparent in the winter when salt, snow removal, and freeze-thaw cycles take a heavy toll on the sidewalks. Right now, walking on Main Street requires navigating an obstacle course of ice, potholes, and deep puddles of water.

    As would be expected, the areas approaching the Kendall Square Ⓣ station are among the worst of all. Apparently, they've given up on trying to replace missing bricks, and instead have plugged some of the holes with cold-patch blacktop. It looks absolutely hideous, but for people who are visually and/or mobility impaired, it must also be treacherous!

    In front of some buildings, attempts are made to repair missing bricks, but it's a constant problem that requires daily maintenance, and not even the best maintained properties keep up with it. Plain, simple, concrete pavement has been proven to provide a safe walking surface that lasts for many years without requiring maintenance. Whoever thought that brick would be an acceptable pavement for crowded urban sidewalks, obviously never spent much time walking on them!

    Cambridge's current standard

    By on

    Cambridge's current standard for sidewalks in commercial districts is concrete for the main travel pathways, and wire-cut brick along the edges and around the street furniture.