Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Timeline. Kendall Square - 1963 to 1982

Below is a timeline of the history of Kendall Square and the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority (CRA) from 1963 to 1982.  It was an era that laid the groundwork for the "modern" Kendall Square.  Indeed it is impossible to understand today's successes outside of the context from which they arose.  Today's enthusiasm must have seemed like a distant dream in the early 1970s when NASA left Cambridge.

The dates of the timeline are significant because they span from the beginning of the "Redevelopment Era" when governmental bodies were created with wide-ranging power to radically reshape cities, to the arrival of the current executive director of the CRA, Joe Tulimieri. 

Timeline of activities and decisions in Kendall Square, 1963-1982

All of the information contained in the timeline comes from a wonderful history of the time by Thad Tercyak, a planner who worked at the CRA from 1968 to 1990.  Here is Thad in his own words:
In 1968, as an economist-urban planner specializing in urban redevelopment projects and completing seven years as a director of two major urban renewal projects with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, I was hired by the CRA as an Associate Director. I left the CRA in 1990. I participated in virtually all of the events described in this narrative which occurred during my 22 years with the CRA, 1968 to 1990. Descriptions of the events which occurred between 1963 and 1968 before I joined the CRA and descriptions of the events after I left the CRA in 1990 are based on CRA records and reports, and conversations with CRA staff.
Thad decided to write this account after a call put out by Cambridge's own Robert Winters in 2011 asking for any additional information about the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority.

You can read the full text of Thad's article at Robert's website: http://cambridgecivic.com/?p=2102.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Two cartoons about Britain after the war.

Here are two cartoons from 1948 featuring Charley, archetypal British post-war chap, adjusting to his new world.

The first deals with town planning. "Charley in New Town" addresses the post-war desire to rethink the city.  Of course, in America, this was the period of massive suburbanization.

Here's the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iraX8Aznccg

Next is "Charley's March of Time" about the British post-war national insurance plans.


Both are very interesting and amusing and worth taking a look.

And I will add this interesting video about the English town:


This last video comes from this rather fascinating collection of videos from the British Council Film Collection, which can be found here:


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Boris Johnson Wins The Gold!

Welcome to the London Olympics, 2012.  Let the Games Begin!
Boris Johnson's Olympic Welcome

(also at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEDFMKjhLRw)

Though I was hoping it was an in-house job, I stand now corrected -- it's crafty editing by someone known as cassetteboy.

I'd prefer it be the "Official Welcome" but we'll take it nonetheless -- it fits the man starring in it.

See it here!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

More Michael Herr. More Vietnam.

Last night, I watched the Marines retake Hue.  It was 1968 all over again.

It was one of those television war shows with a You Are There quality to it.  It came complete with computer graphics showing the ancient city with its 100 ft. thick walls, its layout, the relative positions of the battling forces, American, South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese, and their movements.  It also came with plenty of footage, grainy video that nevertheless conveyed the fear and the chaos while never losing the morality tale of Hue and the larger Tet Offensive of which it was a part -- in war, a defeat on the battlefield can constitute a victory in the larger conflict when people's attitudes and their morale are the actual thing being fought over. 

More telling than those doing the fighting and dying (not to mention the killing) were the news reporters.  They were part farce, part undeniable bravery -- interviews were done, cameras rolling, at the front lines.  One reporter managed to interrupt a Marine reloading his weapon long enough to get him to say "This sucks" -- referring to the mayhem -- before he returned to firing indiscriminately over a wall taller than him, rifle aloft in his outstretched arms, jangling away.  Such scenes may be common in war, but they are no longer common on a television screen.

CUT.  Cue Michael Herr.  Herr catches the vibe exactly right when he comments in Dispatches:

Conventional journalism could no more reveal this war than conventional firepower could win it ...

What he says about writing and war could be said about the 1960s in general.  Everything was going to need a rethinking.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Interview. Quinton Zondervan, biotech entrepreneur, environmentalist, writer

Quinton Zondervan, the Cambridge-based biotech entrepreneur, environmentalist and playwright sat down with me recently to answer this simple question: How does a 41-year-old father of two with a masters degree from MIT do it all -- start a company to invent new drugs to combat infectious diseases; save the world from our looming environmental crisis; and adapt a Shakespeare play to the issues and concerns of our 21st century?  Here is what he told me, about himself, about this question and about his summer plans:

Tell us about yourself and your background.
I was born in the Netherlands.  My family was from Suriname in South America, and they moved back when I was 2 years old.  So I grew up in Suriname in the tropics and that’s where a lot of my environmental sense was actually born.  I really lived in the environment more than I do here.  I came to the United States when I was 15 and went to high school here, went to college here in Florida and then I moved to Massachusetts to go to MIT and settled down here.  I got married, and I'm raising kids and started my own company.  I'm an entrepreneur.  That's where I am now. 

What did you study as an undergraduate?
Undergraduate was at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.  I studied computer science and mathematics there, and then computer science at MIT for a masters.

What is your day job?
Currently I run a biotech company. We are working on cloning human antibodies against infectious disease targets and using the antibodies as medicine but in a new way. All the antibody drugs that exist today are single antibodies -- one antibody per disease, but for infectious diseases that doesn't work because the disease is too complicated to attack it with a single antibody clone.  So what you really need is a diverse set of antibodies which is more how our own immune system responds to an infection. What we're trying to do is to harness that innate response but we pick the best of the best antibodies from different people and combine them together into a super drug that is more powerful than any individual's immune response could be and is resistant to the bacteria's own evolution so if you attack it with one antibody it can evolve around it, but if you have a diverse set of antibodies that is challenging the bacteria in so many ways, it can't easily evolve around it.

Tell me about the history of the company?
As an undergraduate, I met this fellow student who happened to be Dutch and who happened to have an interest in chess which is how we met and he and I became fast friends.  He was studying biochemistry and I was in computer science so we had very different academic interests, but I've always had a broad interest in science in general.  He and I kept in touch and we've been friends all our lives since then.  About six years ago, he had been working at another company where he had been exploring some of these ideas and that didn't really work out for him so he contacted me and said he still had all these ideas but he couldn't really deploy them at his current company and I was transitioning out of having a steady job in software and really looking for starting my own company and so I said "Let's get together and do this".  So it was his idea and my entrepreneurial spirit and that's how we got together and started the company.

Where did you start the company?
It was in Cambridge.  He was living in Denmark at the time, so he moved back to Cambridge and we started the company in Cambridge.

Tell us about the early formation stage of the company, where did the money come from, and how did you choose where to locate?
Starting a company is all about money, especially in a capital-intensive industry like ours where we don't expect to actually make a profit until 10 years down the road.

In our particular case, for various reasons, most people said, "No, I'm not really interested in this."  I happened to have a friend who got very rich in the Dot Com era.  He was very early at Google and he also started his own company that he sold to Yahoo so he was able to step up and fund the company.  So he funded us a little bit at the beginning, like $250,000, which gave us enough time to do full-time fundraising.  We weren't able to raise money elsewhere, so we went back to him and said "either you fund it or we can't do it" so at that point he gave us $2 million and that was enough to get the company off the ground to rent a laboratory, start hiring some scientists and really start doing the work.  In terms of fundraising, we've raised $25 million so far, which in terms of spending takes us out to the end of next year.

Have you told us the name of the company yet?

In terms of location, we rented our lab space in West Cambridge.  Both co-founders were living in Cambridge, so we wanted to build it close to home, but it turned out not to be the ideal location for us.  One of the [reasons] was cost, not just absolute cost, but the quality of the space for the amount of rent that you pay.  It is just more expensive in Cambridge to get high quality laboratory and office space compared to 128.  So that was one consideration and the other one was that although we live in Cambridge, most of the people we end up hiring don't and so for them it is actually more convenient for them to be out there.  And we anticipated growth, and so as you need more space, it becomes an even bigger problem because the expense goes up, so for all those reasons it just made more sense to move out once we had started the company.  After 2 years we moved out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Ceiling Tile that Killed Milena Del Valle

Six years ago today, Milena Del Valle was killed while driving through Boston's Big Dig when a large section of the tunnel's concrete ceiling tile crashed down on the car she was in. 

In 2007, I worked on a piece for The Next American City about her death, and about the Big Dig.  The piece was never published -- indeed, it was still in the process of further editing when I put it down.

I stumbled across it the other day and I decided to post it below unchanged from the time I stopped working on it in 2007.  In that way, the article stands as a time capsule from a half-decade ago to some of those attitudes about the project.

What strikes me most in re-reading it is the ambivalence expressed in it about the value of the Big Dig as a public infrastructure investment.

While further reporting would have delved into the interconnection between the almost $15 billion of public money spent and the hoped-for impact on the city of Boston and the region, in 2007 it seems the jury was still out as to whether this had been all just been a colossal waste of time and dollars.

Fast-forward to 2012, and it is clear to me now that the catalytic impact of the Big Dig is real and is happening.  Moreover, it is in full swing.  A short walk around the waterfront in the Seaport District on July 4th weekend -- or a visit to a Boston Society of Architects presentation about the 2.6 million square feet of office, retail and residential space soon to be built -- tells me that this zone is poised to explode with people and with activity.  Here is Boston's great expansion, happening in our time before our eyes.

I make no particular claim about the writing -- either its style or its flow. With further work, I feel it would have pulled itself together nicely, but it did not receive further work, so it is as it stands -- perhaps imperfect, certainly unfinished.  Its substance however is solid, and it hindsight, more emphasis should have been given to potential boom that the Big Dig was supposed to unlock.  Therein may lie a follow-on article, better written and up-to-date looking at all that had been made possible by this much debated and much maligned tunnel.  As the intervening five plus years have told us, the dreams of a few are becoming the reality of many.

The story reiterates the point I have felt for many years now -- timelines are long in urban contexts.  To change a city requires a strategic vision, a broad perspective and a deep patience.  It simply doesn't happen any other way.


Article written by Sam Seidel in 2007, not published 

On July 10, 2006 support bolts gave way in the multi-billion dollar tunnel snaking through Boston’s downtown, the Big Dig, causing 12 tons of concrete ceiling paneling to fall on a passing automobile, crushing it but leaving the driver’s side untouched. Unfortunately, the passenger, Milena Del Valle, was not so lucky. She was killed instantly.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On call. On the phone.

I am standing with a friend on a dirt road in the pitch black of a country night.  We stand in darkness because of the heavy canopy of leaves over our heads, but down the hill, the moon's blue-green glow bathes a neighbor's treeless suburban lawn in iridescent light.

Yet I can still see my friend's face from the glow of his iPhone screen.  He's talking to his higher-up, explaining that the report of the plane crash was a false alarm.  A police officer already went to the beach to check it out.  What he found was a lot of Chinese lanterns floating in the water, candles still flickering.  From a distance, they easily could be mistaken for the windows of an airplane floating on the surface.  There is no need for further action.  We feel confident that we know what happened.

The next morning, it's the phone again. A guy has jumped off a bridge.  Dead on impact and the body was recovered. This case is closed now too.  Cup of coffee?