City Council Approval of MITIMCo Petition
Only Beginning of MIT 2030 Review
The Cambridge City Council's approval of MIT's controversial up-zoning petition at its meeting of April 8, satisfied some, but disappointed others. The approval allows MITIMCo (the MIT Investment Management Corporation) to build two 250-foot commercial office towers in the heart of East Campus. No housing for graduate students or postdoctoral fellows was included, though there will be a 300-foot tower with market-rate units on the corner of Broadway and 3rd Street. Even the pro-development Boston Globe ran an editorial (May 8) calling for MIT to build additional housing for graduate students.
Just about the only point of agreement on campus was that the faculty Task Force on Community Engagement with 2030 Planning did good work, and wrote a sound report last fall. We note, though, that an ad hoc committee appointed by and reporting to the Provost does not substitute for the establishment of a full-scale Campus Planning Committee with elected faculty representation and reporting to the faculty.
Going forward, it would be easy to glide over important points in the Task Force report. The Task Force recommended taking several key steps before moving ahead [emphasis added]:
1. A comprehensive urban design plan for East Campus be conducted and completed after the petition is approved but before anything is built in the area covered by the petition. The plan needs to consider alternatives to the current MITIMCo diagram for commercial building sites, floor plates, priority uses heights, and scale of development, keeping in mind the findings described above.
2. This Task Force or a similarly constituted faculty group participate directly in the East Campus planning process and design of the Kendall Square project.
3. The work of preparing and deliberating a plan for East Campus, and subsequent development of the area, including Kendall Square, is to be guided by a set of design principles reflecting MIT’s educational and research missions, and institutional traditions.
The Task Force report should be thoughtfully read in its entirety by anyone interested in the future of our East Campus. Without careful adherence to these provisions, our campus in the future could be dominated by a substantial fraction of heavy office buildings that will lose us flexibility and campus character.
A positive step forward is the appointment of a Graduate Student Housing Working Group chaired by former Chancellor Phillip Clay, to assess the need for graduate student housing. Prof. Clay’s plan for the committee is described in this issue. We look forward to an authentic and transparent effort to assess pressing housing needs of the more than 4000 graduate students who have to secure housing off campus.
We emphasize the need to implement the provision in the Task Force’s report that asks for a serious exploration of alternatives to the MITIMCo plan. The proposed plan presented to the City Council was not much changed from what was offered by MITIMCo before the Task Force was constituted: a design produced by financially-oriented real-estate executives, with limited input from our world-class Department of Urban Studies and Planning. The MIT community and campus deserve better.