MIT 2030: Concerns for the Future
On October 1, 2010, the MIT Corporation was presented with a perspective on MIT’s future planning and development, “MIT 2030.” The MIT 2030 proposal is breathtaking in a number of ways, but it raises some serious questions about the future of MIT that bear closer scrutiny by the faculty, and the larger MIT community. [See M.I.T. Numbers for a schematic of MIT 2030.]
What is MIT 2030? It was presented as “a process to analyze and integrate the condition of the campus and building renovation needs and measure the development capacity of MIT land holdings for academic growth.” Most important, it introduced a new role for the MIT Investment Management Company’s (MITIMCo) real estate division, a role which put it on an equal footing, if not in the dominant position, as a competitor for the use of MIT’s land resources, resources which were assembled, over many years, to ensure there would be an inventory of land available, at a reasonable cost, to meet the future needs of MIT academic departments, laboratories, Schools, housing, and support services.
This shift in responsibilities represents a sea change in policies that have guided the land acquisition and land management strategies for MIT academic and investment real estate initiatives for 95 years. It is a shift that has occurred quietly over the past decade, but until now has not been explicitly stated for all to see.
In summary, MIT 2030 appears to rest on several key assumptions that will have long-term implications for MIT as well as the City of Cambridge.
The plan assumes that the Institute’s facilities needs will grow at a sharply reduced rate during the next 20 years; 50 percent slower than it has during the past 50 years. It assumes that the principle focus within the academic campus will be the renovation and restoration of existing buildings, and that only a very limited number of new facilities for the Schools of Engineering and Science in areas of materials science and energy will be supported in the next 20 years. There appears to be no indication that the housing, teaching and other service needs of the MIT community will receive attention during this period. There is also little discussion of how new opportunities, not yet envisioned, will be accommodated.
Instead, it appears that the MIT Management Company’s real estate division has been given a significant role in shaping the future MIT campus. They have been empowered to either lease for long terms to private corporations, or develop for commercial uses, most of the land and building areas previously earmarked for near- and long-term academic needs.
Their vision for the MIT campus and surrounding neighborhood is one in which they would add new office and laboratory buildings for industrial clients to the existing concentration of commercial real estate, with a goal of maximizing investment returns. For example, they have leased to the Novartis Company, four acres of MIT land on Massachusetts Avenue for a period of 60 years. They have announced a new building for the Pfizer Company on land south of Main Street. They propose to build – in the Kendall Square East Campus area – an additional one million square feet of commercial space, including a modest addition of retail space (50,000 sq. ft. over the current 48,000 sq. ft. that exists south of Main Street). This is largely in response to President Hockfield’s urging for a more humane and congenial environment. Only under Cambridge community pressure have they agreed to include in their developments 120 units of housing, up from an original proposal for 60 housing units.
This vision of the MIT campus and surrounding neighborhood raises many questions that would profit from a full airing. The 2030 vision makes no note of how long-term Cambridge land use policies and the zoning ordinance could encourage or impinge on the development of the campus. There is no reflection on the commitments MIT has made in the past to Cambridge and other public agencies with respect to both campus development and economic development. There is no analysis of the long-term financial, political, and social implications of the plan, save the estimated cost of $2 billion to renovate and restore existing buildings and the issuance of taxable bonds that will provide $750 million in capital to undertake a variety of institutional and investment projects.
In its description of the campus today, MIT 2030 does not indicate the cost and implications of MIT’s current leasing of over 400,000 square feet of space for MIT departments in privately owned commercial buildings adjacent to the campus. It does not take note of the several buildings within the campus district, controlled by the MIT investment real estate group, which have been allowed to remain empty and non-productive for many years. These are buildings that are almost equal in size to the amount of space that MIT rents in the private market at commercial rates.
In addition, the 2030 plan presents an inventory of MIT buildings classified by building quality and by historic value. There is no indication, except by age, of the criteria used to classify so-called “Historic and Iconic” buildings. There is no information provided about the implications of such classification. In years past, in lieu of a comprehensive agreement with MIT on all of its campus and investment properties, the Cambridge Historic Commission has sought to label most of MIT’s property as having historic interest. The implications of these designations suggested by the 2030 plan need to be thoroughly understood, as they could mean significant limitations on the utility of buildings built for industrial purposes but which now have little value for MIT’s educational purposes. Over 30 years ago, one of the countries most distinguished architectural historians, Professor Albert Bush-Brown, was asked by MIT to lead a team to evaluate MIT buildings to determine which ones had true historic value. Their report is still a valuable resource for MIT planning. It concluded that only a limited number of buildings merited such protection and did not include many of those currently in the 2030 plan.
There is no reference in the 2030 plan to the long-range implications of the creation of high value real estate in areas earmarked for ultimate academic use; implications that would include the cost to the academic budget to buy from the MIT Investment Management Company buildings needed for academic use at market prices, and the parallel implications of the loss of tax revenue to the City of Cambridge.
Current “payment in lieu of taxes” agreements require that the Institute continue to pay the taxes on property removed from the tax roles for a number of years. Under the present conditions, those costs would presumably fall on the academic budget. One might ask if the capital cost and taxes might make the cost of acquisition of this space insurmountable for the academic budgets at the time of need.
In view of the absence of a context for evaluating MIT 2030, it may be of value to review briefly the policies and procedures that have guided MIT’s land acquisition and development policies in the past (click here for “A Brief History of MIT’s Land Acquisition Policies”).
Troubling though many aspects of MIT 2030 may be, more fundamental is the matter of the Institute’s integrity. In 1965 and 1967 MIT made promises and formal commitments to the federal government and the City of Cambridge in exchange for $6.2 million dollars of federal aid, as detailed in the “Brief History” section “Kendall Square Urban Renewal Project.” MIT does not make promises or commitments that affect its future casually. Several of MIT’s most distinguished leaders – James Killian, Julius Stratton, Howard Johnson, Jerome Wiesner – who authorized these Kendall Square Urban Renewal commitments and supported them vigorously both here in Cambridge and with our congressional delegations in Washington – were fully aware of what they were promising. They were keenly cognizant of the need for a long view with respect to land resources for MIT’s future, and thoughtfully directed our academic and commercial energies to appropriate locations. Their wise decisions are now under attack from within, from those who seek short-term gain rather than long-term institutional value.
It is for this generation of MIT leaders and faculty to consider if those who have profited from the prudence of prior generations, which provided the land resources for reasonable and economic growth for institutional development in their time, will leave the same opportunities for future generations of young faculty and their students who follow.