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Lafayette Sq. Will Be Public Plaza By 2002

Abutters Have Mixed Reactions To Plan

By Mike Hall


A construction project promising to transform Lafayette Square into a pocket of pedestrian-friendly green space has been welcomed by neighboring MIT residences and some businesses. Others, however, question the utility of the plan, claiming it will benefit MIT and a few residents while causing a hassle for everyone.

The new plaza will be located on the intersection of Main Street and Massachusetts Avenue across from the MIT-owned University Park development. Amenities include outdoor seating, greenery, and an open space for community events in Cambridge. Additionally, sidewalks running alongside the plaza will be widened and will offer new streetlights for nighttime pedestrians.

The transformation of Lafayette Square is part of a large collection of construction projects all along Mass. Ave. and Memorial Drive. Before building the plaza, developers will finish construction on underground sewer and drainage work. Construction of the plaza will begin next spring.

The force behind the new plaza is Forest City Enterprises, a firm selected in 1983 by MIT to design University Park.

The plaza will substantially alter the traffic pattern in the area. Forest City plans to incorporate the intersection of Mass. Ave. and Main St. into the body of the park. To offer access to Mass. Ave. from Main and Columbia Streets, Sidney Street will be extended to intersect with Main (see diagram below).

In an Aug. 23 interview with the Cambridge Chronicle, Forest City director of government and community affairs Jay Kiely said that the proposal will improve traffic flow and increase green space along Mass. Ave.

MIT residents support plaza

The new plaza will affect the Women’s Independent Living Group the most of all MIT residences.

Currently, the northwest side of WILG faces an empty gas station. Following construction, the expanded Sidney Street will run parallel to the northwest side, increasing noise for rooms housing one-third of WILG’s residents.

However, WILG President Mandy L. Hess ’01 said that the new traffic program will not have “a substantial negative impact” on quality of life in those rooms. “Having Sidney there will increase noise, but it will not be to the same level as [rooms facing] Mass. Ave.,” Hess said. She noted that many of WILG’s senior rooms face Mass. Ave. and that noise in those rooms is not a substantial problem.

Hess added that WILG members are more concerned with noise levels during construction than noise levels after construction. She expressed hope that construction work would begin late in the morning rather than starting before house members were awake.

Jamie C. Rasmussen ’01, rush chair for Alpha Delta Phi, which also abuts the area, praised the plan, saying that the plaza will be “a lot nicer than a deserted gas station.” To avoid noise pollution during rush for ADP and WILG, Rasmussen spoke with the city this summer about scheduling construction around rush.

“We would love for [Cambridge] not to have construction during rush,” Hess said.

Additionally, both ADP and WILG praised the plan for improving traffic flow around Lafayette Square.

Businesses offer mixed reviews

While the two MIT houses offered their support, local businesses offered mixed views about the plaza’s benefit to the community.

Marty G. George, general manager of the Bertucci’s on Main Street, said the plaza will improve the atmosphere around the Central Square area. “If we can green up Central, it would be a big help,” he said.

George added that the plaza would not hurt his business nor cause traffic headaches. “New England ingenuity will find a way,” he said. “There’s nothing we can’t work around.

Cinderella’s owner Antonio C. Barros also expressed support for the plan. Barros said that Cinderella’s, a pizza shop located near the intersection of Main Street and Mass. Ave., would gain business following the completion of the project. “Business will increase a lot, especially in spring and summertime,” he said. “People can grab their food, sit outside [in the park], and eat.” Barros also said that the flow of pedestrians will increase with safer pedestrian crossing areas.

Next door to Cinderella’s, however, response to the plaza has been decidedly different. Ben G. Dryer, operations manager for the Toscanini’s ice cream chain, said that the Main Street Tosci’s, located next to Cinderella’s, could lose business after the intersection is closed. “Most people who come to [the Main Street Tosci’s] are either MIT students walking or people driving,” Dryer said. “This plan cuts us off from Mass. Ave ... [and] creates bizarre traffic patterns in general.” He added that the Sidney Street extension will terminate in front of Tosci’s, costing the shop parking spaces.

Dryer also questioned the community benefit of the plan, saying that it will separate Tosci’s and other businesses from Central Square. “The park only makes it easier to get into Forest City [developments],” Dryer said. “It doesn’t serve anyone but them.”

Cambridge resident Julia Gregory concurred, saying that the plaza would create excessive congestion and traffic. Gregory, who participated in the city’s development process, also questioned the intelligence of placing the plaza right next to a high-traffic area. She noted that she would not be enthusiastic at the prospect of “entering public space amidst the fumes of cars.”

Gregory added that she believes the plaza is part of a larger problem with University Park development. She said MIT and its subsidiaries are eating up land beyond traditional Institute boundaries and suggested that the University Park area could instead have been made into public space. She criticized Cambridge for agreeing to development deals like University Park.