Cambridge seeks to rebrand Central Sq.

City Commission publishes plans to bring new enterprises to Central

4653 centraldelights
Central Square will see new delights and renovations in the coming year.
Andrea Fabre—The Tech

Venturing into the city? Ever think of heading just a few blocks down from campus to Central Square instead, the geographic “heart of Cambridge?” Former Cambridge mayor David Maher and his Red Ribbon Commission on the Delights and Concerns of Central Square, appointed in June 2010, think there is more potential in this title than just the location. Following 16 months of work, last December, they published a report covering new proposals and ideas for Central’s future revitalization and development.

According to the report, one major challenge lies in making Central Square a landmark of Greater Boston. The Commission summarizes its goals as creating a “brand” for Central, as Harvard Square and Boston’s North End sport, for example. This brand would highlight Central’s existing reputation of being “funky” and “eclectic,” from the vintage retailers it sports in lieu of department stores to the growing nightlife entertainment.

In terms of actual development, the Commission’s main plan is termed a “double program.” It aims to encourage the addition of buildings into Central — while maintaining the area’s diversity — by integrating sci-tech companies and various community development projects.

Similar to the trend in Kendall Square, an increasing number of sci-tech companies that have relocated to Cambridge have moved into Central Square (e.g. Genzyme Corp., Millennium Pharmaceuticals). The Commission believes that the influx is positive; more employees in Central equates to more retail patrons and daily activity. In addition, buildings like Novartis’ are setting a precedent for the design of future buildings that the Commission feels will increase Central’s tourist appeal.

The second half of the double program requires each sci-tech building to host a social project. Companies could facilitate this project by providing subsidies or floor space for their associated projects. Current ideas for these ventures include middle-class housing, a market hall, a day care center, and space for startups. Under the Commission’s vision, there could be up to 1000 new low-cost or limited-profit housing units, or an increase in arts, design, and media companies. The Commission decided on these proposals after input from Central residents about their development concerns.

Other additions the Committee hopes for include a full-service visitor information center, partnered with the Cambridge Office of Tourism, and more public special events to showcase what Central has to offer. The Committee is also considering minor improvements like more wayfinding signs, sidewalk resurfacing and street lighting changes.