Friday, July 19, 2024

The East Cambridge Riverfront Plan created a vision in 1978 for a mixed-use community gathering place, combining pedestrian and commercial uses and creating a core of activity in and around the canal and the Charles River. This vision was realized in 1990 with the construction of the CambridgeSide Galleria. Today, it would be impossible to imagine East Cambridge without this great center that provides retail outlets, cafes, restaurants and recreational opportunities along the canal and river and, perhaps most importantly, a place to create and foster community.

But times change, and this area must be redesigned to meet the needs of a fast-changing neighborhood. While CambridgeSide is still a busy place, the evolution of shopping and recreation habits has left it behind the times. For example, since Sears has closed, that part of First Street has become a desolate and lonely area. Simply put, there are not enough businesses along First Street to attract pedestrians for retail and culinary opportunities.

New England Development is proposing to update this area, including changes that will meet the needs of East Cambridge residents, business owners and visitors to the neighborhood. In reviewing these plans, the City of Cambridge should keep in mind a number of important points.

bullet-gray-small Ambience, landscaping and aesthetics. As I understand the redevelopment plans, the proposal will reinvigorate First Street as well as side streets providing access to Canal Park and the river. The right mix of retail, office space and entertainment businesses (mainly cafes and restaurants) with attractive street side access would provide a dynamic atmosphere that would attract customers of all ages. A dead zone would become a lively center for residents and visitors to enjoy themselves. Based on published designs and models, the buildings will have attractive facades that fit with the historic brick customary in East Cambridge, creating a welcoming atmosphere for pedestrians.

bullet-gray-small Economics and housing. A major aspect of this redevelopment will be that a substantial part of the total floor space will be devoted to new housing, including affordable and middle-income units and units for families. With new and invigorated businesses, there will be increased employment opportunities for these and other local residents. The tax income for Cambridge will be substantial, forecast to increase to $7 million annually from $4 million.

bullet-gray-small Small-business development. This development’s active street life and additional housing will increase the opportunities for small businesses to succeed and expand, growing a diversity of enterprises. The revitalized ground-floor access to businesses will create a new vitality that is now missing.

If you speak with East Cambridge residents, the majority are anxious for this redevelopment to begin. It would be unimaginable for this area to remain in its present state. There is great anticipation of what CambridgeSide might become with these proposed and much-needed improvements. I urge the city to move ahead expeditiously with this project.

George Sommer, Otis Street