Friday, February 23, 2024

The City Council and others regularly condemn Kendall Square as the polar opposite of a vibrant neighborhood. It has been described as sterile, a wasteland, not happening and not in danger of ever happening, bleak, a sea of concrete. Untold hours have been spent by high-priced design talent and in meetings and hearings talking about what can be done to reverse this, to make Kendall Square the happening place that would, not coincidentally, increase property values by making it even more desirable to locate businesses there. This rooftop garden is the one place that defies that stereotype. It is an oasis, an Eden, a marvel, something Boston Properties should be incredibly proud of because of the stellar job they did and do creating and maintaining it. Destroying it should be the last thing on their minds. It brings people out of their cubicles and restores their psyches. It brings people together. In short, it does everything we say we want in Kendall Square, so what should be happening is figuring out how to do more of it, not less. This is confoundingly stupid, shortsighted and counterproductive, but too many people just see the name Google and imagine dollar signs without understanding that eventually you kill the goose that lays the golden eggs if you quit feeding it.

Google has the power to do this right. Steve Vinter talked about how highly Google values collaboration, but he didn’t address the fact that Boston Properties and City Manager Robert W. Healy tried to ram this through with no public notice or hearings. The materials became available to the public and the city council on Thursday night, Feb. 23, and the vote was scheduled for the regular council meeting the following Monday, Feb. 27. Google may not have run that show, but did it never occur to anyone to ask about public involvement, if Google really does value collaboration and want to expand in and work with our community? Forgive my skepticism, but they’re going to have to do a far better job convincing me those are anything but hollow words.

As the manager’s letter pointed out, Cambridge city ordinances require a public process involving community hearings, Planning Board hearings and council hearings to dispose of city property, in this case, the restrictive covenants that create this public park. Despite the value thousands of people who work in Kendall Square, visit it or live near it see in this incredible public resource, the manager has asked the council to declare it “of such little significance that the [full] process would be unduly burdensome.” That is what this vote is, not the wisdom of this proposal but whether what is being given up is significant or not and thus worthy of actual public process before it’s given away to Boston Properties and Google.

At this point, it’s important to consider Boston Properties’ recent history. A year ago, they came to the council with a zoning amendment to increase the MXD District cap by 300,000 square feet because the Broad Institute had to have a new building of that size. Even though the Broad representative said very clearly in public meetings that the Broad would not leave Cambridge if this building weren’t built, Boston Properties led people to think otherwise, and enough councillors were happy to buy that story so they could once again give away the store. Fast forward to today and darned if Broad doesn’t need all of that space after all, so there’s 40,000 or 50,000 square feet available for Google. That’s why they didn’t have to ask you for another zoning amendment to build all of this space; they already got it from you for another purpose and they’re using it to destroy our public rooftop garden.

What are we losing by caving in to Boston Properties once more? Well, we’re kicking the housing down the road again, so all of you who go on about housing should ask yourselves why we should believe you really care about it. We’re losing a green roof, so all of you who go on about how important it is for Cambridge to be environmentally conscious should ask yourselves why we should believe you really care about it. We’re losing the one happening place in Kendall Square, so all of you who decry the sterility and deadness of Kendall Square should ask yourselves why we should believe you really care about it. We’re losing a valuable piece of public property, so all of you who vote for shutting the public and the Planning Board out of this process need to explain why this is “of … little significance.” There is a solution out there, but we won’t find it if you prevent us from looking for it.

Heather Hoffman, East Cambridge