Public input urged for Harvard Square redesign plans
CAMBRIDGE — City councilors and residents Thursday called for more public input on a plan to redesign open spaces in Harvard Square.
“We’ve got to challenge ourselves to do better on the outreach and engagement,” Cambridge Councilor Nadeem Mazen said during a meeting at City Hall.
Mazen spoke during a meeting of the council’s Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts, and Celebration Committee, which is overseeing the plan to reshape parts of the square.
Planning for the ambitious project has been in the works for nearly three years.
The goal is to make public spaces in the square more amenable to gatherings, art exhibits, performances, relaxation, and even simple people watching. Officials also envision a setup where pedestrians can find information about the city’s cultural offerings and services.
Among the landmarks targeted for refurbishing is the square’s iconic Out of Town News Kiosk, which offered international publications in its heyday and has long served as a meeting spot for students, residents, and others.
Members of the public proposed in prior meetings that the kiosk and surrounding plaza should support “meet-ups, free time sitting, and immersion within the Square’s culture & offerings,” according to a public document circulated at the meeting.
Stuart Dash, the city’s community planning director, said officials and stakeholders have come to view the plan as “a little bit of a large living room for Harvard Square” to accommodate many activities.
Councilor Dennis Carlone echoed Mazen’s call for more public participation and noted that people can submit proposals to City Hall.
“People can send in ideas,” he said. “They can send in sketches.”
Officials did not provide a specific timeline for when renovations in the square would begin.
Funding for the project has included a $600,000 city outlay in fiscal 2016 for the design of the kiosk and plaza, as well as $2 million in fiscal 2017 for reconstruction, according to a written summary made available at the meeting.
Few specifics were proposed for revitalizing the square Thursday, though officials and residents hammered the themes of preserving the diversity of the square and including community members in the process.
Jane Hirschi, executive director of CitySprouts, a school gardening program in Cambridge and Boston, said during a public comment period that she hopes the redesign will yield “an open, welcoming gathering place in the heart of Harvard Square.”
Caroline James, an alumna of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, proposed adding interactive screens to provide information about the city’s housing, food, and health services for vulnerable populations, as well as cultural offerings.
James also said she envisioned spots in the square where passersby can make donations to area nonprofits.
She urged planners to consider the “amazing crossroads of empathy, creativity, and intelligence” that exist in Cambridge.
During the next planning phase, the city will form a working group of stakeholders including residents, design experts, and business owners to craft “a framework for the continued governance, curatorship, programming, and maintenance of the Kiosk and [Harvard Square] Plaza,” the meeting document said.