Government picks MIT to redevelop 14-acre parcel in Kendall Square

Cambridge Day reports on the GSA's decision on the Volpe Center.



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    Opportunity, with risks

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    This could be an opportunity: MIT could devote a large portion of the site to graduate student housing: lots of people, not many cars, and pull some housing demand off of the local neighborhood. If done right, this could be the linchpin of basically a second downtown for the area, and coalesce Kendall as the top biotech cluster in the world. That's good for the regional economy.

    Having said that, the area is at saturation. Red Line ridership at Kendall (and adjacent stations) has doubled in the past 20 years, and the system is obviously strained under that capacity. (New cars will help somewhat, although not as much as the Orange Line, as there are structural reasons why headways can't decrease much, and the track and signals obviously need improvements as well.) There ain't any new roads being built in the area, and getting to Cambridge via the Pike or 93 or the river roads isn't peachy. There's an opportunity, of course: bus rapid transit, using the Grand Junction despite no-longer-two-timin'-Timmy's objections, perhaps even an infill station on the Red Line at Tech Square. Some of that is planning, a lot of it costs money. Maybe MIT will be in a position to invest some of this windfall in regional transit and access.

    Eh, probably not.

    Well said

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    Well said. Hopefully MIT *does* turn the Volpe property into grad student housing, in which case, it may not impact the Red Line ridership much as these folks wont generally need to hop on the dreaded subway to get to MIT, just anywhere else.

    my sekrit theory vindicated! (NSA fiber tap & intercept station)

    Gonna get silly for a bit ..

    The linked report states that the developer must rebuild the Volpe center in at least 400,000 square feet while being able to use the rest to develop on. This means that whatever is "there" now will persist ...

    Don't know why I fixated on this stuff and I've mentioned it before but it was striking how much subtle security was built around that property well before we got paranoid after 9/11

    There are steel cables woven into the shrub line that goes all around the property and they are solidly ground anchored every few feet. You can't really tell unless you look straight at the shrubs but that place has had stealth anti-vehicle barriers that could stop a truck for decade+ or longer.

    Plus every building has a huge offset from public rights of way - you can't get close at all on foot or in a vehicle And the giant green lawn sits right next to a significant collection of HVAC cooling towers. There is a lot of cooling stuff there.

    My pretend theory is that this place hosts one of the domestic NSA network intercept points where they tap phone and internet traffic. Big enough to do storage/analysis unlike the closet in the ATT building in San Fran where they found and showed pics of the NSA optical split that routed into a locked closet.

    This parcel is literally blocks away from Bent Street where major colos and telecom companies (Level3, Comcast, etc.) have outposts and massive amounts of internet and phone fiber pass through that area including international traffic. This is also near the route for all of the fibers that go to the big telco exchange/POP that is buried under the old Macys Building at One Summer street in downtown Boston -- many of those fibers run in conduit along the Red Line MBTA rails so they can get across the river to the exchange at One Summer.

    Anyway that is the pretend theory I made up while wondering why that nice transportation research building had thick steel cables hidden inside shrubbery. Course the real answer is likely less interesting ("Cambridge zoning frowns on big ugly barriers or fences ... " )

    I think they've spread

    I've got a standing invite for a tour (it's been years) and you've gotta be correct. They've expanded significantly and now host a ton of stuff there. Maybe the exchange/pop stuff is below ground.


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    That site was the NASA Electronics Research Center during the 1960s, courtesy of Pres. JFK. Pres. Johnson moved a lot of NASA work to Houston (from Cape Canaveral as well as Cambridge). Pres. Nixon moved to close it, and his DOT Sec., John Volpe, stepped up and saved it by making it a DOT research facility.

    The steel cables were put in after the bombing of the federal facility in Oklahoma City.

    And Furthermore ...

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    FYI, John Volpe, from Wikipedia
    "John Anthony Volpe (Republican) served as the 61st and 63rd Governor of Massachusetts from 1961 to 1963 and 1965 to 1969, as the United States Secretary of Transportation from 1969 to 1973 and as the United States Ambassador to Italy from 1973 to 1977."

    The current 'Volpe Center' was called the 'Transportation Systems Center ' from ABOUT 1972 to 1985, when the Volpe name was applied.

    About those anti-vehicle barriers...

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    To be fair, 9/11 wasn't really the triggering point for enhancing anti-vehicle barriers around government buildings; rather, the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City prompted the federal government to require far more robust security measures to prevent a similar future attack.

    Moreover, the Volpe Center was in that spot long before the Internet developed into the global communications fabric it has become. They probably weren't all that interested in eavesdropping on alt.swedish.chef.bork.bork.bork or IRC twenty years ago, and it's not as if they could predict the future locations of the colos in Cambridge & Boston. Plus, even if the site has been repurposed as a secret NSA facility, it would have been difficult to conceal heavy construction activity in a busy area like Kendall Square.