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Old 04-06-2009, 02:54 PM   #1
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Kendall Square and NASA history?

From wikipedia on Kendall Square:

In a footnote of history Kendall Square's existence as a hub of technology can be laid (at least accidentally) at JFK's feet. During the JFK administration Kennedy had decided that Kendall Sq would be a great place for NASA Headquarters. Many if not most local businesses and residents were relocated, paving the way for NASA's ground headquarters for space flight. After JFK's assassination, Lyndon Johnson relocated the future complex to Houston, thus creating a massive void of any developed property in Kendall Square. Forty-five years after JFK's death the Kendall Square area is truly a technological hub, just not quite the way Kennedy imagined it. If not for Kennedy's death the phrase "Cambridge, We have a Problem" would have been in the lexicon.
Not that I would ever think of questioning the great Wikipedia... but, if someone were to have the gall to question this article's veracity, would such an unnecessarily incredulous person find any truth in - or better yet a source for - this assertion?
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Old 04-06-2009, 03:00 PM   #2
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Re: Kendall Square and NASA history?

The Department of Transportation research center is now on the site that was intended for NASA. I don't think many "residents" were displaced or relocated, just businesses (some of them already vacant).

A quick Google search for

NASA "Kendall Square"

brings up this 1985 article from MIT's student newspaper:

So yes -- it could have been "Cambridge, we have a problem".
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Old 04-06-2009, 04:41 PM   #3
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Re: Kendall Square and NASA history?

Originally Posted by Shepard View Post
Not that I would ever think of questioning the great Wikipedia... but, if someone were to have the gall to question this article's veracity, would such an unnecessarily incredulous person find any truth in - or better yet a source for - this assertion?
I don't know, but it's a good story.

Isn't history as it comes down to us mostly a collection of good stories?
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Old 04-06-2009, 11:00 PM   #4
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Re: Kendall Square and NASA history?

Originally Posted by ablarc View Post
Isn't history as it comes down to us mostly a collection of good stories?
Great question. I've always thought that good stories come to us as good stories - and rarely are these straight history. Think Homer, or the Biblical exodus. History, by contrast, is an iterative processes of selective forgetting. Power, in our imagined communities, our Society of Narratives, is held by those who wield the largest erasers.

It's been a while since reading Borges, but "Funes the Memorious" comes to mind.

Then again, I've also heard that history always repeats itself twice: first time as Kendall (tragedy?), second time as Seaport (farce?)

Sorry... getting late!
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Old 04-07-2009, 01:50 AM   #5
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Re: Kendall Square and NASA history?

If mission control was in Cambridge, there wouldn't have been a problem in the first place...
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Old 04-07-2009, 09:42 AM   #6
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Re: Kendall Square and NASA history?

Originally Posted by unterbau View Post
If mission control was in Cambridge, there wouldn't have been a problem in the first place...
So it is mistakes that make good history/stories.
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Old 02-05-2014, 07:41 PM   #7
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Re: Kendall Square and NASA history?

Making better use of parcel in Kendall Square
by Scott Kirsner

Before it was home to Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, before Johnson & Johnson arrived, before Biogen and Genzyme, before the Cambridge Innovation Center and the venture capital firms, Kendall Square was a vast wasteland.

“It was really a blighted area,” recalls Thad Tercyak, who joined the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority in the 1960s. “There was no private investment going on. Manufacturing in Kendall had deteriorated — you had all these old factories that hadn’t been modernized — and businesses were going out to the suburbs.”

So when NASA announced it would plant a research center in Kendall, most people were ecstatic. Not only would Cambridge be home to hundreds or thousands of NASA employees, but the city also would play a supporting role in the space race. In 1966, the federal government bought its first acre of land in Kendall, for $81,000. The government eventually purchased about 15 acres for a total of $1.6 million.

Today, that property is home to a different federal agency — the Department of Transportation’s Volpe Research Center, which employs about 1,000 people. But as Kendall Square has grown into the East Coast’s innovation hub, it has become obvious that the sprawling Volpe Center campus is a void at the heart of it.

This is some of the most valuable real estate in Massachusetts — easily worth north of $100 million, by some estimates — and much of it is used for parking lots and lawns that are untrammeled by human feet. Politicians have tried to pry the underused property from the feds since at least the era of Tip O’Neill, the late speaker of the US House. But with Kendall Square becoming too pricey for young companies or their workers, it’s time to finally move things forward.

We need to better integrate the Volpe Center itself into the fabric of Kendall, and make better use of the approximately 10 acres of land that insulate it from the neighborhood like layers of bubble wrap. Most of the Volpe campus is surrounded by tall hedges, Jersey barriers, guard posts, or chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.

First, a correction. A popular story about Kendall’s history is retold regularly: that it was intended to be NASA’s Mission Control until President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, at which point, Houston won out because the next president, Lyndon Johnson, hailed from Texas. Johnson did play a role in making sure that Houston had a major part in the space program, but the Texas city was picked as the site of the Manned Spacecraft Center while Kennedy was still alive.

Cambridge was chosen to get NASA’s Electronics Research Center. (MIT’s Draper Laboratory was already working on guidance computers for the Apollo spacecraft, and several NASA officials had ties to MIT and Harvard.) The Electronics Research Center opened in 1964, focusing on developing systems for communications, information display, and automated spacecraft landings.

But five years after it opened, President Nixon announced that the Kendall Square center would shut down, amid other budget cuts at NASA. (It remains the only NASA site ever to be closed.) NASA built only six of 14 planned buildings, and never occupied the additional dozen or so acres that had been set aside for it.

After several months of hand-wringing, the Department of Transportation took over the site, and hired many of the former NASA researchers. (The red brick Cambridge Center buildings near the Kendall Square T, including the Marriott Hotel, were eventually built on that surplus land set aside for NASA.)

Today, the Volpe Center is basically a contract research group for various arms of the federal government. It works on important topics like air traffic control systems, automobile emissions standards, safer railroad crossings, and technologies to help cars avoid collisions. But it sits on a campus designed for a time when land was cheap and neighbors were few. And it occupies a huge chunk of Kendall. When I walked the perimeter of the property last Thursday, it took 15 minutes.

The opportunity is to use Volpe’s wasted space — parking lots, lawn, and low-lying buildings — to build on Kendall’s strengths and solve some of its problems. Kendall is attractive right now to large companies like Shell, Google, Facebook, and Samsung that want to set up engineering or R&D outposts to tap local talent. And it’s attractive to biopharma companies that like the proximity to MIT, Harvard, and one another.

But it’s an expensive place to start and grow a company, and it’s an expensive place to live. (A one-bedroom, one-bath apartment in a new building like the Watermark rents for $3,500 a month.) There’s no grocery or pharmacy, and no park that people actually use.

The best case scenario would involve the Department of Transportation selling much of its land, under the supervision of Cambridge’s Community Development Department, and using the proceeds to build a new facility on a small part of it, with underground parking for employees. The Transportation Department said in a statement that it is examining options for site.

In December, the Cambridge Community Development Department issued a report that lays out a vision for the future of Kendall Square, including the Volpe Center. The city’s plan for the Volpe site involves a large park and housing. I’d like to see some of the housing geared to the needs of the postcollegiate set: the twentysomethings who are starting companies and working for startups. Think of it as apres-dorm, with communal lounges or kitchens, and perhaps some workspace for late-night coding sessions.

The new park ought to have spots for food and retail trucks (which occasionally grow into brick-and-mortar stores and restaurants). This corner of Kendall also needs office space for businesses with fewer than 50 employees. And it ought to be a requirement that any retailers who operate on the site use the stores as testing grounds for new technologies.

If there’s a Walgreens, for instance, it should be one that collaborates with local entrepreneurs working on iPad cash registers or new kinds of digital signage. Kendall should aspire to be a magnet for the world’s smartest, most creative entrepreneurs, and this enormous “innovation block” can play a major part in that strategy. I think it has the potential to become the heart of Kendall Square.

What it lacks is a leader. There are plenty of folks trying to move the ball forward, including Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung, Tim Rowe of the Cambridge Innovation Center, and Tom Evans at the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority. But we need someone like a US senator or Governor Deval Patrick to take this over the goal line. US Representative Michael Capuano of Somerville has worked the issue in the past, but it doesn’t seem to be a high priority for him now.

Redeveloping the Volpe Center campus “isn’t a new idea,” says Brian Murphy, head of Cambridge’s Community Development Department. “But when you look at the revenue needs of the federal government, and the untapped development potential in this white-hot real estate market, my hope is that the stars are aligned this time.”

The federal government helped make Kendall Square what it is today, by investing in the neighborhood almost 50 years ago. But to help the area continue cranking out scientific breakthroughs, new technologies, and fast-growing companies, we need just the opposite: We need the government to divest.
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Old 02-05-2014, 07:43 PM   #8
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Re: Kendall Square and NASA history?

What to do with 15 acres in Kendall Square?

What could you do with the land? The Globe asked a city planner, a venture capitalist, an entrepreneur, and a hacker for their ideas.

Dennis Frenchman | The city planner

The Volpe block is the last remaining major parcel in Kendall Square, and in many ways the missing link. At 14 acres, it is large enough to activate and connect the entire area, creating a more complete urban fabric. For this to happen, it’s crucial that the site not be developed as a private enclave, but rather with public streets and blocks.

As the centerpiece of the Volpe site, I see a major open space framed by a dense mix of uses. My vision is less the Cambridge Common and more like Washington Square Park in New York City, a leafy urban room focused on a landmark — its wonderful arch. This is a space shared and loved by residents, office workers, and students alike, connected by streets into the fabric of its neighborhood.

At the Volpe site, housing should be an important component of the mix, populating the public realm. Also important would be more high-tech and lab development, which is central to the life and image of Kendall Square, where space for such uses is running out.

I envision restaurants and shops on the ground floors of these projects, lining the streets and public space. A supermarket should be among these. It is sorely needed. Finally, a jazz club and entertainment would be good, to attract young people.

After studying the block for many years with students at MIT’s Center for Real Estate, I’m convinced that all of the above is achievable. But to accommodate all these uses and make room for a great public space on the ground, it will require somewhat denser, taller buildings than we currently see in Kendall Square.

We shouldn’t be afraid of these. After all, the Volpe block sits virtually on top of the Kendall Square T Station. It’s already a global destination for creative minds and the high-tech culture. What better place for a vibrant and visible new landmark in our city?

Dennis Frenchman, an architect and city planner, is Leventhal Professor of Urban Design and Planning at MIT.

Dan Nowiszewski | The venture capitalist

Should the acreage surrounding the Volpe Center in Kendall Square become available for redevelopment, the residents of East Cambridge, first and foremost, need to be the ultimate decision makers. Too often, the interests of state, county, and city governments, corporations, and developers have trumped the desires of residents.

Former Boston mayor Thomas M. Menino’s insistence that the people of East Boston have a unique, unilateral vote regarding casino development in their neighborhood was a bold move and the right call. Unfortunately, when redevelopment opportunities have arisen for prime real estate in and near Kendall Square, East Cambridge residents have usually received a courteous voice at the table, only to be pushed aside as tax revenues and corporate profits guide final decisions.

Most of the prime real estate in Kendall Square is gone, but it’s not too late for Cambridge officials to follow the lead of Mayor Menino. If the Volpe site is to be redeveloped, the residents of East Cambridge should get the same decision-making authority granted to the people of East Boston.

As someone who grew up in East Cambridge and now works in Kendall Square, I would encourage city planners to be bold in their vision. The city is blessed with a vibrant local economy and robust tax collections, putting it on strong financial footing for the foreseeable future. That should allow for creative, visionary planning that could redefine this soulless acreage for future generations.

The quality of life for residents should be paramount. Specifically, the neighborhood does not need more bland biotech boxes. The majority of the site should include multiuse, contiguous open space that could uniquely position Kendall Square as a desirable place to work and live. I would encourage residents and city officials to learn from the experiences of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway and create a green landscape that is usable, inviting, and similar to other great urban landscapes.

Imagine the equivalent of the Boston Public Garden, featuring sculpted gardens, leisurely water flows, original art, and engaging recreational opportunities, sitting in the middle of Kendall Square.

The remaining property should include low-rise affordable housing, designated entrepreneurial office space, and much-needed retail. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a grocery store and pharmacy in Kendall Square?

This is just one vision, which may or may not be right. Ultimately, the right vision will come from the people most affected, the residents of East Cambridge.

Dan Nowiszewski (a.k.a. Nova) is an East Cambridge native and general partner with Highland Capital Partners, a venture capital firm located in Kendall Square.

Bill Jacobson | The entrepreneur

The Volpe site has 14 acres, smack in the middle of one of the world’s greatest centers of innovation, but much of that property is lying fallow. To make better use of it, and add to the community, culture, and character of Kendall Square, here are a few ideas:

■ Create a public magnet high school focused on technology, design, and entrepreneurship and do it with the support of MIT, Harvard, Microsoft, Facebook, Biogen, Novartis, Google, Akamai, and other organizations. The new school would take a campus approach, with a relatively small physical building to be used as a central gathering place and core teaching facility. Meanwhile, many more kids would be accommodated by the supporting companies holding regular classes at their local offices. This would make it easy for professionals to get involved — as easy as going to a meeting in the conference room down the hall.

■ Turn a good amount of the space into a four-season urban farm cooperative supported by area restaurants and markets. It would including a greenhouse, some livestock, and vegetable gardens. Primo Restaurant, which serves food grown on its own farm in Rockland, Maine, is a model.

■ Set aside a parcel as the Kendall XPark. It would largely be a public park, but also include a smallish (about 10,000 square feet) structure to serve as a residence and work center. Every year, through a public-private partnership, there would be competition to pick 10 or so people to live and work out of this space and compete for an Energy & Environment Xprize, a large cash prize awarded for breakthroughs in energy, climate change, and water resource management.

The park would double as testing grounds for the group’s inventions and experiments. The winner of the Xprize would kick some of the money back into the XPark to help support operational cost.

■ Remember man’s best friend. Leave room for a co-working dog park, complete with fenced-in lawn and shaded charging station tables and chairs for working while your dog runs around like a maniac. We could call it Workbarks!

Bill Jacobson is the chief executive of Workbar, a membership-based network of collaborative workspaces with main hubs in Boston and Cambridge.

Abby Fichtner | The hacker

Why do we have land sitting empty in Massachusetts’ center of innovation while all of the entrepreneurs are being forced out around it by ever-increasing rents? Why not use it instead for providing:

1. Education, resources, and community to keep innovation in Kendall Square. We could build or sponsor a community makerspace, a place where people can share tools and ideas, make connections, and build electronics, robotics, and more. Think innovation-themed community center where anyone can come to learn, build, and collaborate with others in a culture of invention and creation. There’s no reason that Boston, home to MIT and over 100 robotics companies, shouldn’t be a leader in robotics and the emerging hardware revolution.

2. Affordable housing to keep students here after graduation. Why can’t we provide options for graduating students who want to try their hand at creating the next big thing but can’t afford the rent? One model we could look to is Krash, a network of shared living spaces in Boston, New York, Chicago, and Washington. Krash offers shared housing for young entrepreneurs while immersing them in a culture of innovation and connecting them with the Greater Boston startup community.

3. Training to address the skills gap. If we build an innovation-themed community center with training space, we could host organizations like Startup Institute, which train people with the skills emerging companies need (e.g., design, development . . . ) and help our local companies find talent by connecting them with their graduates. Or we could start even younger — why shouldn’t Boston lead the way in STEM elementary schools? And what better place to do that than next to MIT?
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Old 02-05-2014, 09:25 PM   #9
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Re: Kendall Square and NASA history?

Gah, that insane urban agriculture idea ... an unstoppable zombie idea!
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Old 11-29-2014, 10:57 AM   #10
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Re: Kendall Square and NASA history?

What to do with 15 acres in Kendall Square currently occupied by the Volpe Transportation Research Center?

What could you do with the land? The Globe asked a city planner, a venture capitalist, an entrepreneur, and a hacker for their ideas.

Let's make this an active ArchBoston Thread -- as sooner of later this will need to be addressed

Today the Volpe is a large moderate height building surrounded mostly by emptiness

I suggest we invert it -- Build a Kendall version of the PO Square Park on the surface with water, trees, benches, sculpture, etc. -- with a giant underground parking garage to replace all the surface lots and all of the above ground garages in the immediate vicinity

Surround the park with a P.O. Sq. kind of wall of taller and thinner than the Volpe buildings to about double the total usable floor area

Challenge all of the near-by owners with open parking to develop it into buildings of all types and sizes to accommodate people and the necessities of life as well as for more office / R&D spaces
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