Thursday, February 29, 2024

This is an open letter to members of the Cambridge Historical Commission.

From Susan Labandibar, president of the Tech Networks of Boston, Jan. 24, 2017: Equity One’s plan to create a shopping mall called “The Collection at Harvard Square” in the heart of Harvard Square is emblematic of the threats to historic preservation faced by many communities across our nation. In Harvard Square, and across the country, communities attempting to preserve historic commercial districts are at risk. Levels of wealth inequality unseen since the Gilded Age and the ongoing transfer of community resources to multinational corporations are contributing to this problem.

However, the Cambridge Historical Commission has a mandate to “promote the public welfare by preserving the distinctive characteristics of places and buildings that are significant for their history or architecture.” This includes irreplaceable Cambridge assets such as the Abbot building. The commission is equipped with powerful tools for this purpose, including binding review over demolition, new construction and publicly visible exterior alterations to existing buildings.

Equity One will present its revised plans for the new shopping mall at a special meeting to be held Feb. 16. The commission should use its power to prohibit demolition of 9-11 JFK St. and to prevent exterior modifications to the Abbot building, including large glass windows, roof decks and other design elements that are inconsonant with the historic Square. This course of action, consistent with the commission’s mandate, will help preserve our community while we grapple with the larger political, economic and environmental challenges that are a part of our new reality going forward.