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, 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 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

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.