Report on the 2/17 Red Ribbon Commission Meeting

2/28/2011

Notes provided by Vision Central Square By Cathie Zusy

Report on the 2/17 Red Ribbon Commission Meeting re

“The Delights & Concerns of Central Square”

The meeting was very well attended. About 70 or 80 people were there including City Councilors Ken Reeves, Denise Simmons, Sam Siedel and Leland Cheung.

1. Subcommittee reports:

Infrastructure, Safety & Security: Dan Goldstein reported that the committee was looking into improving the lighting, removing graffiti and doing a spring clean up. They’re looking into removing some of the free publication boxes and they will be reconditioning the parking signs. They are hoping to add more P signs to direct drivers to parking areas. They are also working with DPW to fill tree-wells and put up floral baskets this spring. Over a million dollars will be spent to refurbish the sidewalks. They’re also working to improve the MBTA elevator.

Identity: Catherine Carr Kelly talked about how people think of Central Square as a place of the arts, churches, ethnic diversity and ethnic restaurants.

Communications: Joan Squeri reported that the Communications committee is working with the Identity committee to better market Central Square. They’ve reviewed the current website: it is well structured but needs to be updated. They are also working to brand Central Square. They’ve come up with two symbols: a jazz saxophonist and a dancer. The idea is come up with something that shows the vibrance of Central Sq. The slogan may be “Have you seen Central Square lately?” The City will engage a communication firm to assist with this.

Landowners: Michael Simon noted that Cambridge may become an NEA Our Town (http://www.rooseveltcampusnetwork.org/blog/neas-proposed-our-town-program). This would make it so the City can hire a master planner and to involve everyone in the planning process. The question is how best to involve people in this process? Central Square needs an anchor tenant. There are also parking issues to solve.

2. The program focused on Lynn Sagalyn’s Times Square Roulette: Remaking the City Icon (Lynn taught at MIT. She now teaches at Columbia.) Jay Wichersham, a lawyer, architect, professor at the JFK School of Gov’t and Partner at Noble & Wichersham, LLP summarized the book. The idea was to draw from the revitalization of Times Square lessons for Central Square.

What makes or changes a city? How does change happen?

Zoning, politics, the real estate market, money and economics, etc.

Once change happens, you can’t control it. There are many, many pieces in this dynamic process.

What can government do or not do? Send signals to management via zoning and regulation.

Times Square underwent many plans. Planning is improvisational. Planning is a contact sport. Through debate one gets the best results.

Times Square, 42nd St. between 7th-8th Avenues had sex shops and porn theatres. These were lucrative businesses but not acceptable to the middle class. In the  1970s and 1980s the NY Times building was knocked down, along with three historic theatres and the Hyatt, now Marriott was built—this huge tower had no reference to the street. The outcry and lawsuits from these mistakes resulted in more planning in the 1980s and 1990s. 25 theatres became historic landmarks, inside and out, and new zoning laws were enacted calling for slimmer towers, with the first 150 sq. ft. covered with neon signs. In the 1990s the local business community created a business improvement district between 40th and 53 Ave. and 6th-8th Streets. They put energy into removing the trash and improving the signage and wayfinding. They added security guards, w/o firearms, and actively marketed Times Square. They changed the perception of the place. Non-profits were forged on W. 42nd St., including a children’s theatre. Disney came in and w/ other major NY developers were given additional height and density options in exchange for $ to restore theatres and rebuild subway stations. Now Times Square cares about sidewalks and the pedestrian experience.

Jane Jacobs (http://isrworkinggroup.posterous.com/the-need-for-old-buildings-a-word-from-jane-j) wrote about how incremental is OK. Old buildings influence development. Reuse existing buildings. Value the current building stock!

When working to revitalize an area, consider zoning. Is it necessary to change the zoning to revitalize the area? Identify vacancies. Retail must round out the other services available. We need to create an environment where people can coexist.  It must serve many different uses.

3. Questions/Answers/Thoughts from Panelists from the Police Department (Eric Helberg and Evelyn Kantor-Lugo), CASPAR (Rick Riccio),  Cambridge Health Alliance/Homeless (Mark McGovern, Spaulding Rehab (Oswell Monjear), Clear Conscious Cafe (Daniel Goldstein), Jay Wichersham, and Citizens (Richard Murrell, Julia Connell & Lynette Le Vaux). City Councilor Ken Reeves and Deputy City Manager Richard Rossi moderated.

-Discussion of homeless at Central Square

-Rossi noted that the police can’t force people off the street or to go to services.

-Mark M. noted that 650 homeless are seen at Central Square. There are many homeless centers there. People congregate there for services: shelter, work, cheap food, daycare, Homestart, liquor, medical care and banking.

-Eric noted the square is a social center for the homeless and that most of them are quiet and lawful.

-Evelyn noted that Central Sq. looks so busy because it is a transportation hub.

-Oswell was concerned that so many storefronts were closed. How do we fill the storefronts? Bring in incubator businesses? Pedestrians are key. We need to keep the streets and sidewalks cleaner.

-Julia said that kids avoid Central Sq. because of all the intoxicated people.

-Ken Reeves asked how to use signage and buildings to make Central Square more dynamic.

-Jay W. noted that it was most important at the ground level.

-Larry Atkins talked about how walking through the square on the way to church had been a rite of passage in his youth.

-Terry Smith of the Chamber of Commerce talked about how it was important to raise expectations of conduct. It is not OK to leave trash and cigarette butts on the ground.

-Joseph talked about how Central Square needed fewer homeless people and less garbage.

-We need to reconsider the zoning and permitting process to encourage positive incremental change.

-We need to look at what we’ve got and redesign the pedestrian experience to change the perception of the place.

-Central Sq. is different from other squares in Cambridge. Kendall Sq. was planned by the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority. Harvard Sq. has always been there, since the 1600s. Central Sq. was a hopping place in the 1940s and 1950s. It was downtown and a cultural and religious center.

Lunch was served at Indian Pavilion.

Next meeting: March 24, 2010 at the First Baptist Church.

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