MIT and the city of Cambridge, we like to think, generally have a beneficial effect on one another, and this happens best when we all work together. The Cambridge City Council is currently considering a re-zoning proposal presented by the MIT Investment Management Company that has the potential to transform Kendall Square more than any other project in decades. If done well, with a sensitivity to the various groups that will be affected, both in the neighborhoods and on your campus, this could be a terrific addition to the city and to the Institute.
However, there are questions about whether the academic mission of the university and the needs of the graduate students and junior staff are well-served by the current proposal. Without the participation of all affected groups in our civic process — to be specific, without the voices of your faculty, junior staff, and grad students — this project will not reach its potential.
Numerous faculty acquaintances have expressed very serious reservations about the construction of one million square feet of commercial office space on the traditional academic campus. I have read strong arguments against this idea in the MIT Faculty Newsletter. Yet, at the March 7 hearing of the MITIMCo proposal in City Hall, there was but one MIT lecturer who came to speak. Only one letter from a group of concerned faculty has been sent to the Planning Board and to the City Council. There are more than fifteen hundred professors and lecturers at the Institute, and only one came to this meeting. Does that mean you all agree that commercial space should be built on campus? Is that what the Councillors should presume?
Another crucial aspect of the discussion from the point of view of the neighborhoods is the need for more MIT housing for its graduate students, post docs, and other junior staff. Community groups in the city believe this is a vital issue. Yet, at that same meeting, apart from one lone representative from the Graduate Student Council, there was nobody from any of these groups. There is a population of more than 8,000 of you, with 5,500 living in the surrounding communities, and only one of you showed up for the City Council meeting. Would it be correct, then, for the Councillors to conclude that graduate students and junior staff do not believe there is any need for more housing?
The city government makes decisions that are of key importance to the MIT community. Our City Council could announce its decision in April. How can we expect our city officials to make informed decisions in the face of such apparent passivity at MIT? I could say that there are many ways in which the interests of the MIT community align with those of the citizens of Cambridge — except that you are citizens of Cambridge. You live in our neighborhoods and are part of our community.
C’mon, MIT people, stand up and be counted! Participate in our civil society! Check the city website at http://www2.cambridgema.gov/cityClerk/HearingSchedule.cfm for meetings, and write to the City Council (firstname.lastname@example.org, and please cc the City Clerk, email@example.com). And don’t forget to vote in city elections in November.
Gary Dmytryk is the President of the Association of Cambridge Neighborhoods.