The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s plans for remaking Kendall Square in Cambridge are stuffed full of huge numbers and huge ambition. The 10-year, $1 billion plan covers 26 acres, and would allow the school to construct nearly 1.4 million square feet of commercial, retail, and residential space. The plans speak of remaking the face of Kendall Square and creating a new gateway into both the school and the city. But more than anything, they present a microcosm of the Boston economy — a place where nonprofits spew profit-making potential, where cash-poor start-ups dictate the decisions made by multinational giants, and where housing is the last thing anyone thinks of.
Boston punches above its weight because its economy is built around huge institutions that don’t ride business cycles. The region’s universities and hospitals feed off proximity to one another, and, just as importantly, they’re not the kinds of operations that get poached by North Carolina or Texas in bottom-seeking tax deals. MIT is the most important institution in a region full of highly important institutions: It’s a hub of advanced research, a training ground for entrepreneurs, and a source of talent that forces important companies to set up shop nearby, or risk losing out on new hires.