Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cambridgeport History: Magaret Fuller

This Memorial Day weekend, as the neighborhood pauses to remember those who have served to defend our country, we might also spare a thought for a giant among C-port's native sons and daughters: women's rights advocate, pioneering journalist, leading Transcendentalist and literary critic Sarah Margaret Fuller.

May 23rd marked the 200th anniversary of Fuller's birth in 1810 in what was then Cambridgeport (now the Area IV neighborhood of Cambridge), just a few short blocks from Central Square on Cherry Street. Dina Harris penned a great column in the Cape Cod Times to mark the occassion, unearthing Fuller's amazing legacy, which has not diminished but has faded in the 160 years since her death. (An amazing life ended in dramatic fashion in an 1850 shipwreck off of Fire Island, NY.) Her account adds to numerous others in summarizing Fuller's contributions to journalism, to feminism, to philosophy, and to much else. Harris captures the unique blend of qualities in Fuller by quoting Edgar Allen Poe: "Humanity is divided into Men, Women, and Margaret Fuller."

Her childhood house on Cherry Street is now a National Historic Landmark, and since 1902 has served the city's most vulnerable residents by providing needed shelter and services. Today the Margaret Fuller House is a community institution with a "busy food pantry, an out of school time program for children, summer camp, outreach to young adults at risk, heath related programs for seniors and men of color, community organizing, and an open computer center and free technology classes. We host community-wide events, financial, exercise, poetry writing, drumming and other classes and welcome the Area IV community to meetings and local gatherings." (from the MFH website) The organization is marking 2010 with a year-long celebration of Fuller's legacy.
Image of Fuller from Wikipedia.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gardening in the City

Cambridge is full of lots of public spaces that are too small to be properly accounted for in budget and maintenance, but too large to just be ignored. So, often we end up with bare patches of dirt and empty tree boxes in places with far more potential.

Enter some active neighbors and their green thumbs, aka the Pick-a-Pocket Gardeners. Last year, these folks volunteered to adopt several City-owned pocket-gardens and maintainted them throughout the growing season. DPW kicked in some training and landscape materials.

This year, the group wants to expand, and so DPW is hosting a kickoff meeting next Wednesday (6/2) at 6:30pm at the DPW offices at 147 Hampshire Street.

From an invitation email from the aptly named Kathy Gardner:

[Last year, w]e all enjoyed the fresh air, interesting conversations, and exercise and we were greatly appreciated by passersby and businesses. We also improved our own and our neighbor's quality of life by promoting beauty in our environment. Can you beat that for a free activity?

This year the program is expanding to include more parks and more people. You may already have noticed a spot you would like to take care of -- we'll help you get started. At the meeting we will match volunteers with garden spaces in their neighborhood...

Please contact Ellen Coppinger,
ecoppinger@cambridgema.gov for more information or to express interest.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is C-port Safe? (Part II)

I suppose it was tempting fate to write a post like last week's, where I noted the decrease in C-port's already low crime rates. It would figure there would be a rash of incidents to follow, and they did:

Two men stabbed in dispute over beer near Granite Street.

A woman assaulted, who thankfully managed to escape, on Pleasant Street.

A man breaks into a Fairmont Street home, threatening to kill or shoot the female inhabitant.

All harrowing incidents, for sure, and hopefully CPD makes real progress finding and arresting the assailants.

This rash of incidents doesn't reverse the trends noted in the CPD report discussed last week. But one violent crime is too many, and anecdotal evidence is waaaaaay more colorful and convincing than statistical evidence in instilling uneasyness in the neighborhood. As the weather warms up and crime starts to be more prevelent, please take care (and remind your neighbors) to be vigilent against property crime and to be aware of their surroundings at all times. Let's keep C-port safe!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Magazine Pedestrian Bridge Meeting Thursday

MassDOT is hosting a public meeting this Thursday (May 20th) at 7pm at the Morse School to discuss the construction plans and anticipated traffic and pedestrian impacts for the Magazine Beach Pedestrian Bridge Replacement Project. The Magazine crossing is an important part of three larger efforts: the state's Accelerated Bridges Program, the ongoing Magazine Beach transformation, and Cambridge CDD's effort to better connect the neighborhoods with the riverside parks.

Some more background on the project, per MassDOT:

As part of Patrick-Murray Administration’s $3 billion Accelerated Bridge Program, aimed at quickly repairing the Commonwealth’s most neglected bridges, MassDOT recently awarded a contract to S & R Corporation of Lowell for the replacement of the Magazine Beach Pedestrian Bridge. This project consists of the demolition and replacement of the existing pedestrian bridge over Memorial Drive. The new structure will have ADA compliant ramps and code compliant handrails. The project also includes the installation an over height detection system and temporary signals as well as site restoration.

Image of the Magazine Beach Pedestrian Bridge from the MassDOT ABP presentation on March 2.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Is Cambridgeport Safe?

At the most recent Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association meeting, Dep. Superintendent Paul Ames and Sgt Leon Lashley of CPD were on the agenda to discuss neighborhood policing and the most recent crime statistics for the neighborhood. The officers are two of our current officers focused specifically on C-port in CPD's Neighborhood Sergeants Program.

First, an interesting note on the nature of community perceptions of safety: having lived in a variety of neighborhoods of different safety levels around the country, I have noticed it is not the amount of offenses that concerns residents as much as the crime rates trends. In other words, people have very different thresholds for what an "acceptable" level of crime, and generally won't live in a neighborhood that doesn't meet that individual threshold. Once someone has settled in a place and adopted the appropriate level of vigilence against crime, if the crime rate changes, it can make a big difference. As an example, Cambridgeport is a far safer place--by any measure--than my old neighborhood in DC, where I was quite content. But if the crime rate here were to increase significantly, I would be very concerned--even if the rates stayed well below my old neighborhood's.

Having said that, we can almost universally declare that yes, C-port is a safe neighborhood, even compared to the broader City of Cambridge--a place without a single murder in the first quarter of 2010. Just this week, CPD released the official Crime Report for the first quarter of the year Below is a chart showing crimes by type for all the Cambridge neighborhoods east of Harvard Square.

Two things jump out at me: first, that East Cambridge, C-port, Area 4, and Riverside had very similar crime profiles early this year, noticably more than Inman, Midcambridge and Aggasiz. Second, however, if you park your car in Midcambridge, lock up.

But to my earlier point, what about C-port itself? Is it getting more safe? Here's another chart based on data from the CPD report showing the first quarter of the last 5 years, grouped by crime type. Compared to last year, every category of crime shows a decrease except for "malicious destruction," which as Deputy Ames pointed out, is a little misleading, since that crime covers everything from graffiti to more serious property crime. A lot of this is statistical noise from the small sample size, but certainly the neighborhood is not seeing the kind of uptick in crime you might expect in this economy, rather, it has gotten noticably quieter over the past two years.

Check out the full report for yourself, or as always, C-port's consistently updated Crime Log.

Thanks to Deputy Ames, Sgt Kathleen Murphy, and Rebecca Burbank for their help and responsiveness.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Economy Hardware Files for Bankruptcy

Per the CentralSquare.com blog, the owners of Economy Hardware filed for bankruptcy protection in late April. The Central Square store, along with another store in Brookline, have been a fixture for more than a generation. From the CS post:

In a phone interview Tuesday, owner Larry Friedman said the
company “ran into some challenging years” that ultimately prompted the filing. He is the second-generation owner of the family business that has been in Greater Boston for over 61 years.

“We have no intention of winding down,” Friedman said. “I expect to have the stores as they exist now.”


Photo from Yelp.com

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Green Builidng Ordinance Nearing Approval

The work over the past couple of years to develop a citywide Green Building standard has almost reached fruition. The goal is something similar to Boston's Article 37 (one of the first and most progressive zoning standards in the country), but adding a few interesting incentives for Green Roofs and other measures. There are a few Hearings upcoming--one this Thursday--on the proposed standards (details at bottom).

Here are some of the highlights of the proposed standards, paraphrased from a memo from the City Manager to the community:

  • All major new construction (and significant rehabs) would be required, at a minimum, to meet LEED green building criteria at the following levels: 25,000-49,999 sf (think small office buildings, drugstore-sized retail) would be required to meet LEED ‘Certified’ level, while 50,000 sq. ft. and larger would meet LEED ‘Silver’
  • Formal certification from US Green Building Council (USGBC)/ Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) would not be required.
  • Green roofs would be excluded from the calculation of gross floor area, allowing buildings to be slightly larger (with increased income potential) in exchange for the expense of installing a green roof. As an incentive to create green roofs, decks or patios less than or equal to 15% of the green roof area and set back 10’ from all building edges may also be excluded from the calculation of GFA in certain zoning districts.
    Other green building elements that may reduce a building’s energy consumption and improve indoor environmental quality would be excluded from the calculation of GFA, including extensive wall insulation and shading devices.
  • Building mounted solar energy systems (such as MIT's proposed Solar Air Conditioning System) would be defined as mechanical equipment in the zoning ordinance and hence would not be subject to FAR and height restrictions. Installation of solar systems would require a building permit and new development projects adjacent to existing solar systems would be encouraged to minimize shadow impacts on those solar systems.

Here is the info on the two upcoming meetings, per CDD's Iram Farooq, a city planner:

  1. At the Ordinance Committee, May 6, 6 pm (Sullivan Chamber, City Hall, 795 Mass Ave
  2. At the Planning Board, May 18, 7:20 pm (2nd Floor Meeting Room, at City Hall Annex, 344 Broadway)

Monday, May 3, 2010

MIT's Solar Air Conditioning System Research

MIT is planning on installing a Solar Air Conditioning System on the roof of their Mail Facility building at 350 Brookline St (between Henry and Waverly Streets in lower C-port). Solar cooling has a lot of potential to help buildings get closer to zero net energy use, so this is exciting research. These systems have a ton of variants, however, and the neighborly details (size of system, energy impact, efficiency, etc) is in each installations particular details.

Sarah Gallop, MIT's Co-Director of Government and Community Relations (and no stranger to the neighborhood), passed along a flyer for a public meeting on Thursday 5/13 at the Mail where some of these questions can be answered.

Full flyer with details (including location) below.
Solar AC Flyer

Friday, April 30, 2010

Let's Go to the Beach!

With what's looking like a great weekend of weather coming up, it will be a great opportunity to head down the the Charles and see the newly reopened Magazine Beach park. The reconstruction by DCR is part of a massive, ongoing transformation of the Mag Beach area that has been underway for years (with some aspects coming under a good deal of local criticism).

At Wednesday's CNA meeting, Cathie Zusy passed along some of the park's key summer dates:
  • Magazine Beach is open. The big fence is down and Cambridge Youth Soccer is already using the fields. Only the large drainage basin has a fence around it; they are still seeding this area.
  • The Magazine Beach pool will be open from Saturday, June 26 to Sunday, August 29th this summer.
  • There will be a meeting on the imminent rehabilitation of the Memorial Drive pedestrian bridge at Magazine Street soon, details forthcoming.

Also at the CNA meeting, some folks from CDD presented a draft report as an update on the City's effort to improve our relationship with the river and the reservation parkland. Have a look at the report here.

Image from the 2002 DCR Charles River Masterplan of an initial idea of the reconstruction.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spring Cleaning

Local businesses and active Cantabridgeons take to the streets this Saturday in the Second Annual Central Square Cleanup. Looks like the weather will cooperate nicely, too.

Start 8:30 am at Clear Conscience Café (581 Mass Ave) for tea and coffee. Finish up at 11:30 am at Toscanini (899 Main Street) with ice cream and big thanks!!

h/t to Minka vanBeuzekom; Photo by Flickr user meeralee, used under Creative Commons.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Big Week for C-Port Meetings

UPDATE: 24 Decatur Street has been removed from Thursday's BZA agenda (and moved to June's meeting) at the owners' request.

Here is their reasoning:
Because we have made some last-minute changes to rearrange parking and further reduce the footprint and volume of the proposed building in the back of the lot, we will be asking the Board of Zoning Appeals for a Continuance of our case. This means that it will be a waste of time if you were planning on attending the meeting to support or oppose our plans (or simply hear more about them). We regret any inconvenience this change may cause. When the Board instructs us about the new date we will spread the word.

Lots of actvity in the neighborhood lately, and there are several meetings this week to gather info and give feedback:

Monday (4/26): Western Ave Community Walk
6pm, beginning at Andala Cafe at 286 Franklin St.
The third of the ongoing series of community walking tours to inform the planned Western Avenue reconstruction, this walk will focus on traffic, signals and stop signs. Over 20 people turned out for last Monday's walk. Per the City: "These informal walks are led by city staff with occasional outside guests. The walks provide opportunities for neighbors to learn more about the project, and provide input to city staff. The walks are free and open to the public. Each walk will start near Central Square, go down Western Avenue to the Charles River, and back. All walks are on RAIN or SHINE."

Tuesday (4/27): Neighborhood Meeting for LBJ Apartments revitalization
7pm, Morse School auditorium at 40 Granite St.
The second of two public meetings to discuss the CHA's planned revitalization of the 178-unit LBJ Apartment complex on Erie Street. Spurred by a $10 million Federal stimulus grant,
the CHA and Tise Design Associates have been working to develop plans to renovate the building exterior, core buildings systems such as heating and ventilation, as well as significant improvements to unit interiors and common spaces. The meeting will provide an overview of the first meeting and also present new plans for the landscape design and site work.


Wednesday (4/28): C-Port Neighborhood Association meeting
7pm, Woodrow Wilson Court community room off of Fairmont St.
The regular CNA meeting, with a full and interesting agenda.

Thursday (4/29): BZA Hearing on 24 Decatur Street proposal
8pm, Cambridge Senior Center, 806 Mass Ave.
Come hear about a relatively small project that has garnered a large amount of neighborhood attention lately. Come especially if you have useful input for the BZA to make an informed decision on the proposed variances.

Friday, April 23, 2010

It's the Little Things

Every generation or so, a really huge, transformational change comes to a neighborhood like Cambridgeport, sparking endless discussion, heated argument, and immediate and obvious impact. The redevelopment of the University Park is an example of one such change, masterplanned and debated to the Nth degree. But really it's the little decisions made by each of us, repeated hundreds of times across the years, that shape C-port's physical and social makeup. I've often wondered while walking through the neighborhood if we really grasp how our decisions on our own property affect others, just by adding or altering our daily routines, from using a garish new color of housepaint, to planting a beautiful flowering pear tree, to keeping junk in our front yard. These decisions--and how we react to them as a community--are a big part of what makes up our daily lives.

I've been fascinated to watch this interaction play out in recent weeks in sidewalk conversations and over the CNA listserv as neighbors discuss one single decision by C-port homeowners to build an accessory unit that requires special permission from the city (variances from city zoning laws, but fairly common ones). Some reacted to the physical constraints the new structure would impose on the block and on abutters, reducing light, open space, privacy, and parking in a block with little of each. In contrast, others saw a family following the right process with the city and their abutters, on their own property, to pursue a decision with plenty of local precedent. Some of these observers wondered how they would feel about others opposing a similar decision of their own.

First, from the owners themselves:
We know that there has been considerable development in the area in the recent past, and not all of it has had a positive impact on the neighborhood.We think our project will have a positive impact, for we are renovating (and slightly reducing the size of) an existing structure that's in very bad shape and building a new home in the back of a lot that's also in rough shape. Where no one could live before, two families will be able to reside—in buildings very much in keeping with the character of the neighborhood.
...and selections from the ongoing dialogue:

"several of us in the neighborhood oppose this new construction as it would destroy the privacy and open space currently in place between 15, 21, 23 valentine st, 20, 22 decatur st, and other abutting properties. adding another single family house on the small lot would ruin green space, crowd the neighborhood, and increase the number of cars parked on decatur st. we feel that renovations and an addition to the existing structure would suffice, and see no reason to grant the variances."

"We would much prefer a new unit and a renovated unit on that lot to the existing run-down building. The large number of run-down buildings in our neighborhood is certainly a much greater drag on our neighborhood’s property values than adding a unit in the back half of that large lot would be."

"The privacy and open space enjoyed by the properties adjoining no 24, in Decatur St, Valentine Place and Valentine St, will be lost forever; increasing the density of housing by allowing a second house to be built on a very small lot will alter the character of the neighbourhood for the worse and devalue the existing properties."

"It makes sense for all to work in a cooperative manner if possible - for those who are building to have some consideration for the neighbors and for the neighbors not to raise objections based on their preference of having space they don't own stay vacant."

To me, this is exactly how these things should be done. Reasoned commentary from neighbors leading to a public meeting next week where City planning and zoning officials can make an informed decision based on letters and comments from the public.

Have an opinion? Join the meeting: the Board of Zoning Appeals will be holding a hearing on the variance application on Thursday April 29 at 8:00 PM at the Cambridge Senior Center, 806 Massachusetts Avenue.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Next CNA Meeting on Wednesday the 28th

Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association meeting announcement, per Carolyn Shipley:
Wednesday, April 28th at 7 p.m.
(Community Room of Woodrow Wilson Court, enter on Fairmont St. off Magazine St.)

There will be two presentations on proposals for future use of the land bordering the Charles River, principally on the Cambridge side. Representatives from Livable Streets Alliance and the City of Cambridge will present their riverside concepts.

Other items of discussion or update: Magazine Beach openings, Memorial Drive pedestrian overpass, crime stats.Also a brief report on planned Western Avenue reconstruction, upcoming community events, and the proposed middle schools.

Monday, April 12, 2010

LBJ Apartments to be Renovated this Summer

The Cambridge Housing Authority held a meeting last night to review plans to renovate LBJ Apartments on Erie Street. Construction is anticipated to begin in August of this year. Having been out of town, we missed the meeting, but here's some information from the flier sent to abutters:

The Cambridge Housing Authority, residents of L. B. Johnson Apartments and Tise Design Associates have been working to develop plans for a renovated LBJ including the building exterior, core buildings systems such as heating and ventilation, as well as significant improvements to unit interiors and common spaces. A main focus has been to improve the energy efficiency of the building.

The Cambridge Housing Authority received a $10 million Federal Stimulus Grant that completed the funding necessary to proceed with modernization at L. B. Johnson Apartments.


For more information, call (617-520-6259) or email Allison Lynch in the Planning and Development for the Cambridge Housing Authority.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rodney's Bookstore Closing

More Central Square retail news, via CentralSquare.com. From the post:

Ken Reeves announced Monday at the city council meeting that Rodney’s used bookstore is closing as the owner wants to retire. He said there was some good news that the space may become a nightclub. Rodney’s book store is located at 689 Massachusetts Ave in Central Square.
Photo of Rodneys from yelp.com

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Improving Central Square through Neighbor Input

Spurred on by lots of recent and impending changes to Central Square--including store closings and news of restaurant openings--the City is tackling the oft-maligned Square's public image head on. The first step is to move through a process that encourages a broad public dialogue in the Square's problems, its strengths and its potential. That dialogue will next take the form of specific, topical conversations held over the next few weeks. Join any or all of the groups below (listed in order of meeting date):

Retail Mix & Vacancies
Discussing the need for more, affordable family apparel stores, better general merchandise stores, vacancies that fit needs, anchor tenants, potential math tutoring venue, a home-style, affordable diner, kid-friendly stores, especially bookstores, and business condos.
April 5th, 344 Broadway, 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m, 4th Floor Conf. Room

Human Service Issues
This group will tackle some of the trickiest issues for the Square and ways to address homelessness, public intoxication and drug enforcement, discourage unruly hangout locations, and discourace panhandling, improve the physical ambiance, and to increase police facilities.
April 6th, 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., 344 Broadway, 4th Floor Conf. Room

Public Relations & Marketing
This group focuses on perceptions of Central Square, including a potential marketing and branding campaign, better communications, creating more positive press and a clear identity for the Square.
April 12th, 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., 344 Broadway, 3rd Floor Conf. Room

Event Programming
A group that will discuss expanding Central Square's capacity to host events, that support save, vibrant, lively nightlife venues, including ideas to extend stores onto sidewalks, produce more outdoor entertainment, and to take a look at long-term planning operational support.
April 13th, 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm, 344 Broadway, 4th Floor Conf. Room

Street and Sidewalk Appearance and Cleanliness
This group will tackle another of Central Square's most stubborn problems related to its often dingy appearance. Some initial topics include more bike racks and moped parking, improved facades and window art, incorporating the backstreets of the Square into the retail environment, examining recycling and public toilet options, pedestrian safety, lighting, and benches, and improving snow removal.
April 15th, 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., 344 Broadway, 4th Floor Conf. Room

For more info on the broader effort by the City, contact Estella Johnson, the Director of Economic Development, at estellaj@cambridgema.gov or at 617-349-4616.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Recession Got You Down?

Rethinking your career path in light of the ongoing economic blues? How about a job in a new line of work that combines "a populist blend of satire, performance art, and adult entertainment"? This weekend the world of Burlesque descends on the Cambridgeport Hyatt, in the form of The Great Burlesque Exposition.

The Expo will feature dozens of classes (including some free drop-in classes), with fabulous titles such as Hula Hands and Flirting Eyes with Vivienne Vavoom" and "Planning a Comedy Striptease," as well as a costume exhibit and art show. The weekend promises to give us some fascinating people watching in the neighborhood.

Photo of noted 1930's Burlesque performer Ann Corio from the Expo website.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Public Meeting about Western Ave on Wednesday

Per an email blast from the city:

Community-wide Public Meeting
Wednesday, March 31, 2010, 7:00 P. M. - 9:00 P. M.Cambridge Citywide Senior Center, 806 Mass Ave., Central Square (map). We are currently at the very beginning stages of design. The purpose of this initial community-wide meeting is to give residents an opportunity to learn about the scope of the project and provide initial input as to what they like and don’t like about Western Avenue, what works and what doesn’t work. If you cannot attend the meeting, be sure to fill out our quick survey to give us some feedback.

For more information about the project, please visit our website.
On the website, you will find some great maps and other resources that help us better understand the corridor. Copies of the committee presentations and meeting notes are also available.

Community walks of Western Avenue corridor
These informal walks are led by city staff with occasional outside guests. The walks provide opportunities for neighbors to learn more about the project, and provide input to city staff. The walks are free and open to the public. Each walk will start near Central Square, go down Western Avenue to the Charles River, and back.
  1. Project Overview walk: Monday April 5, 2010, 6:00pm – 7:30pm (meet at Andala Café, map): Led by Jeff Rosenblum, Project Manager for Western Ave. surface design, CDD.
  2. Human Centered Design, Design for persons w/ Disabilities walk: Monday April 12, 2010, 6:00pm – 7:30pm (meet at Au Bon Pain, 684 Mass Ave, Central Square, map): Led by Chris Hart, Institute for Human Centered Design and Michael Muehe, Cambridge Commission for Persons with Disabilities
  3. Traffic, Signals, and Stop Signs walk: Monday April 26, 2010, 6:00pm – 7:30pm (meet at Andala Café, map): Led by Jeff Parenti, City Traffic Engineer

All walks are on RAIN or SHINE.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Turkish Night on Saturday

It's Turkish Night tonight down at the Morse School, a fundraiser for the CRLS students headed on a trip there. Food, music, and crafts...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

DPW Comes Through

Though one could find some humor in the Brookline Street sinkholes blogged about on Monday, the situation was probably more than a little dangerous for cars and pedestrians alike. DPW's reaction was commendable: warning signage and traffic barrels were put up during the rain Sunday. The water-filled holes were filled (again, in the rain) with gravel on Monday. By Tuesday, the two main sinkholes were asphalt patched and driver-ready. Nice work.

Now count me among those who are ready for Brookline Street to be resurfaced, the project completed and leaves to appear on all the new trees!

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Thought Exercise

Start with a not-yet-completed street improvement project.

Add days of unrelenting, saturating rain, which causes sinkholes in the unfinished roadway. Fill the sinkholes with more rain, disguising the sinkholes as mere puddles.

Throw in some speeding cars that run into the sinkholes with a great deal of force, jarring anything not bolted to the car loose.

What do you get?


A) C-port's newest public art project;

B) a new mom-and-pop auto body shop; or

C) a severely value-engineered traffic calming installation for CDD

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Walk for Haiti on March 27

Not technically in Cambridgeport, but on a rainy weekend you can't help but daydream about springtime strolls on the Charles... especially those that also raise funds and awareness for an extremely worthy cause. The annual Walk for Haiti, organized by Partners in Health (PIH), is Saturday, March 27th. PIH is the Boston-based organization started by Dr. Paul Farmer (featured in Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains) that has worked for decades to bring health care to places the international community has forgotten, especially to Haiti--making this year an especially poignant year for the walk. From the website:

Now in its seventh year, the Walk has brought together students, activists, religious organizations, high schools, colleges, and others for a three-mile scenic walk around the Charles River and an afternoon of Haitian music, culture and crafts. All funds raised directly support the health initiatives of the world-renowned Dr. Paul Farmer in various sites throughout Haiti, specifically in Boucan Carré and Cange. Since its inception, the Walk has helped equip operating rooms, provide community health education and schooling (including scholarships for over 800 students), supply medicine, construct reliable shelter, improve and expand water/food programs and raise the standard of living for thousands of Haitians through PIH with nearly $250,000 in funds raised.
For more info, see the Walk's press release and website.

Image courtesy Walk for Haiti

Friday, March 5, 2010

Cambridge: Bad for Renters

Not really news for those of us that have had the experience of scouring the city for a meager but pricey pad, but some entertaining Friday survey results, per the Chronicle:

Looks like Cambridge might not be the best place for apartment renters, according to ApartmentRatings.com, which released rankings of renter satisfaction for the largest college towns and college cities in the country.

At the bottom of the list, along with Cambridge, were West Lafayette, Ind., San Antonio, Texas, University Park, Pa., Northridge, Calif. and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Central Square Retail Tide Turning?

Every few weeks in the past year, you notice another one. Another Central Square retailer, here one week, gone the next, replaced by brown packing paper blocking the windows and a phone number to inquire about leasing. The AT&T store on the corner of Mass Ave and Magazine St. A printer supply store. The Gap. The Attic. A florist. Pearl Art.

This week, some good news comes to us via Gus Rancatore of Toscanini's via his blog:
It's interesting (and wholly unsurprising) that many of the closed stores were national tenants with corporate decisionmakers far from Cambridge, and many of those filling the void are ventures with local or regional bases. Come out and support the new business--as well as some of our favorite, more established ones!

Image of Central Bottle, 196 Mass Ave, courtesy their website.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Western & River Bridges Meeting March 9th

Following a meeting in Allston-Brighton last month, MassDOT comes to the Cambridgeport side of the Charles for a second meeting on the River/Western Bridges rehabilitation. If you have questions about the bridges project or the state's Accelerated Bridge Program, please come; this C-port meeting only came about because Rep. Marty Walz and others stuck up for our neighborhood.

Here's the announcement:

MassDOT will sponsor a Public Information Meeting for the River Street/Western Avenue Bridges Rehabilitation Project on Tuesday, March 9, 2010, from 6:30 – 8:30 PM, at the Morse Elementary School Auditorium, Cambridge, MA. The purpose of this meeting is to provide an overview of the proposed rehabilitation of the historic River Street and Western Avenue Bridges, introduce MassDOT’s design team, answer questions, and gather comments. If you have any questions on the meeting, please contact
Toni Whitmore Assistant Director of Community Affairs, MassDOT (617.973.8454).For news and updates, check MassDOT's website or Transportation Blog. For the tweaters among us: www.twitter.com/massdot.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Forest City Selling Stake in University Park

From the Globe, a report that Ohio-based Forest City Enterprises is selling a stake in University Park in Cambridgeport. Because of the UP project, Forest City has been a major developer and owner in our community for almost 20 years. Their bringing in another investor (Health Care REIT, Inc) means little in the day-to-day effect on the neighborhood, but could be interesting for other neighborhoods in Boston. According to the article, Boston has been and will remain a core market for Forest City. Some other details from the article:

As part of the deal disclosed yesterday, Forest City will retain 51 percent ownership of seven buildings involved in yesterday's transaction. University Park is a 2.3 million square foot development near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Central Square. The complex includes 10 buildings for biotechnology research, 674 residences, a 210-room hotel, and several stores.
(h/t to rwinters.com; image of University Park courtesy Forest City)

CNA Board Election Results

Congrats to incumbants Elizabeth Torrey, Drew Phelps, and Leslie Greis on their re-election and to Cathie Zusy, a new Board member (but who served previously in 2005).

Thanks to the neighbors who turned out for the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association annual meeting, and to the Board Members who put in extra time on behalf of all of us! (Special thanks to Bill August for the efforts he put into preparation for last night's meeting.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Maher is Mayor

Though I've enjoyed a month or two of ribbing, the City Council finally got around to selecting a Mayor from their ranks in David Maher. Henrietta Davis was selected as Vice-Chair.

Congrats to the new Mayor.

Image from the invaluable Cambridge Civic Journal.

Time to Vote for CNA Board of Directors!

From Bill August, below are the self-submitted bios for the five candidates who have been nominated for the four open slots on the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association Board of Directors. Meeting info and the agenda are in the posts below.
_____________________________________________________

Bios are in alphabetical order of last name.

Jeffrey Beam
Born in Kentucky, but with Somerville and Wimington roots, Jeff Beam has been a Cambridgeport resident for two and a half years. During that time he has been a renter, an owner, a graduate student, and now a Boston commuter. He works as an affordable housing developer in Boston and is a licensed Architect. Most neighbors know him by the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Blog (
http://c-portneighborhood.blogspot.com/), which he created in 2009 to help facilitate greater communication and understanding in C-port. Others know him by his dog, Gilbert, with whom he regularly patrols the neighborhood. He is looking forward to life's next big step: he and his wife Sara are expecting their first child in the late summer.

Leslie E. Greis
I live on Pleasant Street between Putnam and Allston and I’m running for reelection to the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association board -- and I’m writing for your vote. During my tenure as a director, I have helped the neighborhood and the Association in variety of ways, big and small. I have served as the unofficial liaison between the Association and the Police Department trying to forge better communication and to reduce crime in the neighborhood. Among other things, I organized a crime walk, printed and posted crime alerts and arranged several meetings with the police, including an early meeting with the Police Commissioner soon after he arrived in Cambridge. As time went on, my involvement shifted to housing and other issues. When the new Radisson owners had plans to erect a tall condo project attached to the hotel, our Association, with extra help from Bill August, pushed through zoning changes to constrain building along the river. As a director, I spoke at the city hearing against the development plan. I also help the Association in smaller ways by reserving meeting space, printing flyers for our meetings (before the city cracked down on flyers) and cleaning up after parties. Over time, I have talked with various city officials about a variety of issues and have attended park, tree, crime, zoning and other meetings.

My interest in serving on the board of the Association comes from a strong desire to see our neighborhood thrive. I would like to see an Association that is able to “get a seat at the table” when city issues affecting our neighborhood are decided. As a person who enjoys living here, I want the Association to pursue initiatives that provide needed services to our area and encourage cooperative attention from city representatives.

For those of you who don’t know me or haven’t bumped into me at the Y or around the neighborhood, I’ve lived in Cambridge 18 years of my life. Professionally, much of my last ten years has been spent as an investment consultant/advisor to non-profits of all kinds, first with a medium-sized firm and now with my own firm. I have also volunteered considerable time to various organizations having served on over 20 non-profit committees or boards. Also, driven by my interest in improving science education in the schools, I serve as a Trustee at the Museum of Science.


Thanks for letting me serve the past few years. I ask for your vote and for the privilege of serving as an officer of the Association for another term. I bring a commitment to the neighborhood, a sense of responsibility, experience in community issues and practical skills to the role.

Drew Phelps

Drew Phelps is the Command Center Director, overseeing all aspects of NWN’s 24x7 network operations center located in Waltham, MA. Mr. Phelps also serves as the Practice Manager for nCare, which includes all remote monitoring and IT support delivered by NWN in New England, Philadelphia, North Carolina, and Texas. Mr. Phelps has served on the NWN Corporation Board of Directors since 2001. He also serves on the Cambridge Montessori School Board of Trustees and the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association Board of Directors.

Mr. Phelps has over 10 years experience in information technology, operations, and customer support. He joined NWN in 2003 from yet2.com, an Intellectual Property (IP) broker and consultant, where he was the Director of Operations. At yet2.com, Mr. Phelps and his team increased the company’s annual introduction rate of IP buyers to sellers by over 5,000%. Prior to yet2.com, Mr. Phelps published business research at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture). He was also the Manager of Information Systems for Logal Software, an Israeli-based educational software company. Mr. Phelps has a Bachelors degree in International Relations and French Literature from Tufts University where he captained the Soccer and Squash teams.

Elizabeth Torrey
Elizabeth Torrey has lived in Cambridgeport since 1985 and currently lives on Pearl Street with her family. Her daughters attended public school in Cambridge and Elizabeth was active in school issues during that time. She would like to be on the board of the CNA for a second term to continue working on the issues that were beginning to be addressed over the past two years such as preservation of open space along the river and working to improve conditions at the Magazine Beach pool. She is also interested in making sure that MIT listens to the concerns of the neighborhood as it continues to expand. In addition, Elizabeth would like the CNA to expand its outreach to all of the neighbors in Cambridgeport to bring a greater diversity into discussions of what is important to those who live here. Professionally, Elizabeth is a speech and language pathologist working with children age 3-6 at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown.

Cathie Zusy
Cathie Zusy, who’s lived in C-port about 14 years, would like to be back on the board of the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association. She was on the board for CNA in 2002 and 2003 and co-founded, with Cynthia Kamishlian, the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Group (the group that preceded it) in 1999. The CNG organized neighborhood crime walks, clean ups, meetings with members of the Cambridge Police Department and parties at Dana Park. For several years Cathie was on the Cambridge Police Department Leadership Task Force. For her contributions to the community she received an award from the Cambridge Police Department in 2000. More recently, Cathie has organized a number of street parties on Hamilton Street, a spaghetti dinner for local Scout Troop 56, and, just this past October, “If This House Could Talk…,” a history-awareness-raising-event for the neighborhood. A museum curator and educator by training, Cathie is eager to work with neighbors to 1) think about what it is about our neighborhood (e.g., buildings and open space) that make it special and then work to preserve these things; 2) study Magazine Street churches, to better understand the health of these buildings and communities; 3) create a stronger sense of community.


Zusy lives on Hamilton Street with her husband Sam and son Ben.
____________________________________________

(Yes, full disclosure, that first one is me...) See everyone at the meeting Wednesday night!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Seriously. Come to the Annual Meeting.

From Bill August [links added]:

Agenda for February 24, 2010
Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association Annual Meeting

> Election of directors for four expiring seats on Board of Directors

Other Agenda subjects/speakers include:
  1. Western Avenue Reconstruction (potentially very important to whole area), Jeff Rosenblum, Community Development Dept. discussing community interests and community input in planning process;
  2. Cambridge Community Television community media services, Nilagia McCoy, CCTV 3. Elaine Thorne, Aging in Cambridge (discussion of various senior issues City is working on)
  3. Charles River Long Term Vision and Plan/City representatives seek community input regarding important city planning study.
  4. Open Agenda for discussion of any new or old business.

We now have formal confirmation that the location of the Wednesday, February 24, 7 p.m. Annual Meeting has been confirmed, and will be at the community room at Woodrow Wilson Court, entrance on Fairmont Street, between Magazine & Pleasant St.

To the many who have worked with the neighborhood association on so many issues that have made a difference to Cambridgeport, we thank you but urge you the Neighborhood Association needs a good turnout for Annual Meetings, and to continue to accomplish so much for the neighborhood. Only through your participation has the the neighborhood association been on the City's radar screen, enabling the neighborhood association to accomplish some good things:

  • a long list of significant repairs at MDC pool;
  • the petition that brought about the Dana Park upgrade;
  • increased police presence on several occasions;
  • close contact with police on behalf of community requests;
  • successfully amending the zoning ordinance to preserve certain open spaces along the Charles River within Cport;
  • incubating other community projects (earliest organizational support for GreenPort);
  • providing large and audible forums when development issues come up, like Blessed Sacrament, Urban Ring and many more;
  • and much more

Anyhoo, we have an Annual Meeting with elections coming up (and a great agenda), but I fear we need more attendance and participation to keep the neighborhood association vibrant and effective, so this is a longwinded reminder we once again welcome and need all your attendance at this upcoming Feb. 24, 7 p.m. and/or other community meetings.

And it's a fun way to learn a lot about so many on-going Cambridge (city of international significance) issues.

-Bill August

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Be there.

CAMBRIDGEPORT
NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION
ANNUAL MEETING


Board Elections & great agenda with speakers about Charles River and Western Ave improvements, CCTV community media services, senior services/aging in Cambridge & more

******WE NEED YOU******
GET INVOLVED HELPING YOUR CAMBRIDGEPORT COMMUNITY
**************************
FEBRUARY 24, 2010
Wednesday,7 PM
At 8 WOODROW WILSON COURT
(regular and handicap entrance on Fairmont Street, between Magazine & Pleasant Streets, and meeting is in community room )
For more info email
Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association c/o billaugustUSA@aol.com

Thursday, February 18, 2010

BU Bridge Closed Next Week

Passing along this announcement from MassDOT (h/t to Councilor Henrietta Davis):

Evening/Overnight Bridge Closure: Boston University Bridge

On Sunday, February 21, 2010 through Thursday, March 4, 2010 the Boston University Bridge, which carries traffic over the Charles River between Cambridge and Boston, will be closed to traffic from 9 PM to 5 AM each week (Sunday to Thursday.) The upstream sidewalk will remain open during the bridge closure for bicycle and pedestrian access. Drivers are encouraged to plan ahead and seek alternative routes during the closures. MassDOT crews will be completing demolition work as part of the first phase of construction on the Boston University Bridge Rehabilitation Project. All Cambridge-to-Boston traffic and Boston-to-Cambridge traffic will be detoured to the Massachusetts Avenue Bridge. Buses and emergency vehicles will be permitted to cross the bridge.

For transportation news and updates visit the MassDOT website at www.mass.gov/massdot, the MassDOT blog at www.mass.gov/blog/transportation or
follow MassDOT on twitter at
www.twitter.com/massdot.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

BZA Cries Fowl

The Chronicle reports on the reaction to the Board of Zoning Appeals ruling last week denying the C-port residents' appeal of a fine for keeping chickens at their Putnam Street home.

[O]n Thursday the board voted 4-1 against the appeal filed in response to a citation issued by the Inspectional Services Department against a Putnam Avenue residence in October, claiming that growing livestock/fowl is not permitted in Cambridge and is not considered an "accessory use" under the city's zoning ordinance.

“Cambridge has evolved,” said zoning board chairman Constantine Alexander. “It’s now an urban environment. I can’t be convinced that this is customarily incidental to the principal use of the land.”
Reactions, support and criticism throughout the neighborhood is mentioned in the story.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

DOT's Western & River Bridge Proposal

As mentioned here before, there's a significant amount of reconstruction in planning for Cambridgeport infrastructure. The city (with citizen help) is scheming to reconstruct Western Avenue. At the same time, Mass DOT is planning the reconstruction of the River Street and Western Avenue bridges. Thanks to Rep. Marty Walz, we'll soon have a public meeting in Cambridgeport to hear about the DOT plans and ask questions. (The meeting details will be posted here, but interested readers can also keep an eye out for an announcement on the Mass DOT calendar.)

In the meantime, I wanted to pass along two documents to help get the neighborhood thinking about what's involved in the reconstruction. First, Livable Streets (a great org based on Sidney Street) put together a flyer with a list of topics that will be useful for the neighborhood to consider in the upcoming discussion. Second, I've inserted the presentation DOT gave on the Allston-Brighton side of the bridge earlier this month. The original can be accessed via the link below.

RiverSt WesternAve Pres 020310

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snowed In

Here's an idea: let's make good use of today's snow emergency and get all the City Councilors in a room for its duration. They can use the downtime to, you know, pick a Mayor, now that they "have a plan"?

But seriously, move your car off of any snow emergency route before the City's noon deadline today.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Bridge to Nowhere

Some feel that Mass DOT is overlooking Cambridgeport's interests and opinions in the rehabilitation of the Western and River bridges.

While the City of Cambridge is doing some significant outreach on the future reconstruction of Western Ave, Mass DOT is holding public meetings of their own regarding the parallel effort to complete significant infrastructure work on the Western Ave and River Street bridges. Many in Cambridgeport, however, feel the discussion on the bridges is one-sided. As in, there's not enough outreach on the Cambridge side of the bridges.

One of these observers is State Representative Marty Walz, who sent an email on the day of the scheduled meeting:
I am writing to let you know that I have been in touch with the state Department of Transportation about holding a meeting in Cambridge about the River Street Bridge and Western Avenue Bridge projects. DOT is of the view that a meeting in Allston Brighton is sufficient outreach to Cambridge residents. I have made it clear that this is unacceptable and that meetings must be held at times and places that are convenient to Cambridge residents. Representative Alice Wolf has made the same point on behalf of her constituents. I will continue to work with DOT to ensure that you and your neighbors are properly included in the community outreach process.

Here's hoping the rehabilitation of the bridges can tie pretty seemlessly into the larger Western Ave reconstruction. If and when a meeting is scheduled on the bridges for our side of the Charles, I'll pass along that info. Thanks to Rep. Walz for keeping the neighborhood in the loop.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Central Square: Phoenix Rising, Pearl Shutting

Not really news to those who frequent Mass Ave shops, but CentralSquare.com notes two changes to longtime establishments:

First, Cambridge’s Pearl Art & Craft Supplies to close, and the place has been a zoo for a few weeks as art students clear the shelves with severe discounts. Pearl has been there 20 years, but is one of 10 "underperforming" stores owned by the Florida arts supply company. Artist & Craftsman and Utrect are still available for those in dire need of a new tube of yellow ochre.

Second, more positively, Phoenix Landing has finished their renovations and CS.com posted some photos (including the one above). This is part of an ongoing effort to spruce up the place, long known as a haven for English football (soccer) fans and, at night, dancing.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Good Grief.

Via the Chronicle: After fifth try, councilors fail to select Cambridge mayor

City Councilors agreed Monday night that voting for the next mayor of Cambridge can be "messy." And after completing the fourth and fifth round of voting, no one has been chosen to fill the seat just yet.

Councilor David Maher still leads the pack with four votes — one from himself and three more from Councilors Leland Cheung, Sam Seidel and Tim Toomey. Councilor Henrietta Davis inched closer to the top with three votes - one from herself, and two more Denise Simmons and Craig Kelley, who switched his vote from Ken Reeves. Reeves, whose seniority on the Council allows him to serve as interim mayor for the time being, earned a total of two votes.

Councilors will have a chance to vote again during their next meeting on Feb. 8.

For round-by-round recaps, go here, here and here. For another viewpoint, you can read former Council candidate Minka vanBeuzekom's advice to blow up the mayoral selection process in her open letter to the Chronicle.

Nominate Someone for the CNA Board!

The deadline for nominations to the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association Board of Directors is on Wednesday, February 10th, two weeks prior to the CNA annual meeting on the 24th. Please consider tossing your hat in the ring, or nominating a motivated neighbor!

Some of the initial, potential nominees include Leslie Greis, Cathie Zusy, Elizabeth Torrey, Drew Phelps and myself (Jeff Beam). Here are the rest of the details:
The CNA annual meeting and election for four expiring Board of Directors seats will be Feb. 24, 7 pm at usual meeting place at community room of Woodrow Wilson Court, on Fairmont St., off of Magazine St. Anyone interested in being on the Board must be nominated and seconded by Feb. 10 (14 days prior to Feb. 24). Nominations and seconds of nominations can be sent to billaugustUSA@aol.com

Also on the agenda for the annual meeting:
Lastly, an appeal in the name of fun from Bill August: "Any ideas for fun Annual Meeting stuff, we could use it (music, food, awards--annual meetings are supposed to be fun)!"