Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What's really important as Election Day approaches

As we approach Election Day next Tuesday, I thought it was worthwhile to remind us all what this city looked like not very long ago. The photograph is Kendall Square in 1981. The blocks and blocks of empty parking lots formed MIT’s boundary. On the other side, low industrial buildings bordered East Cambridge. In between sat an abandoned, aggressive urban wasteland.
That land has seen many transformations over the intervening years and it is the basis of our debates today. Still, as we make our way to the polls next Tuesday, we should remember that returning to the past of this photograph is not an option in any sense. Our communal discussion must rightly and importantly be focused on how we go forward, together, as one community, in this challenging but opportunity-filled time.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What Central Square are we trying to preserve?

Sometimes, it takes really looking to see.

Here are some photos of Central Square in Cambridge. It is the Central Square that I inherited when I moved to Cambridge in the 1990s. It's presumably the same Central Square that existed when a prior generation of middle-class, educated immigrants moved here in the 1980s, and no doubt the same Central Square that existed even back in the 1970s for yet another prior generation, if anyone can remember back that far. In other words, nothing has changed in 40 years.

Nevertheless, for whatever reason, this land is considered sacred to some, cannot be touched, should not be changed. In other words, we should saddle another two generations of Cantabrigians, native and immigrant alike, with as equally hostile an urban environment as we were blessed with ... lifeless, aggressive, uninviting, useless.

Um, by the way, it's basically all parking lots for blocks and blocks along Bishop Allen Drive near Prospect Street.

Essex Street, looking west

Norfolk Street, looking west

Norfolk Street, looking east

The Norfolk Street lots, together

Essex and Bishop Allen, looking south

Vail Court, parking lot joined to an empty building

Bishop Allen, looking north

Prospect Street (Lyndell's), oh, and btw, both buildings in this photo are unoccupied

Prospect Street, the old Cambridge College building (now empty)

Prospect Street - the Whole Foods lot

Temple Street, looking east

So I ask again, what Central Square are we trying to preserve? Honestly, why are we trying to preserve this? What sensibility says this is what we deserve? What design esthetic says we've arrived at some realization of our goal? What version of creativity says it can never be better? Nevermind that we don't need this much parking, we shouldn't have this much parking. Nevermind that each of these parking lots is less than a tenth of a mile from a T stop and many major bus lines.

Oh yes, and every photo in this post (except for the Whole Foods parking lot, which is just outside this map) was taken in this small area ...

Monday, October 26, 2015

More busking, less texting, please!

Halloween approaches and the ghouls are emerging from the crevices of the wooden houses throughout Cambridge.

Elbows are getting sharp as city councillors crawl over each other and everyone else to find those last votes as Election Day approaches.

So, let's talk about something completely unrelated.

Let's hear it for the buskers, the street musicians who entertain us for a passing moment here and there throughout our city streets and under our feets.  

I heard one the other day in the Porter Square T station, so good that I had to ask him for his card. He didn't have any handy but groped through his pockets to find an old dog-eared one as the train approached.

Here's a photo of the improbably named Kesnel Personnel, "Guitarist, Relaxation and Christian Music".  

He was truly gifted, as good as you're likely ever to hear anywhere, though as you'll see from the very very poor video I'm including below, the train was coming, so I didn't have enough time hearing him play.  

But if you ever get the chance, you should take a listen. (As it turns out, he has some YouTube recordings, which I will include below.)

Busker extraordinaire: Kesnel Personnel, in the Porter Square T
Here's 0:13 seconds of him as the train approaches.

Meanwhile, here's a photo of another busker in Harvard Square, playing wonderful straightforward chords on his guitar one sunny day, making me think that we should all get off our cell phones and use our screens a little less, and start enjoying all the other things in life a little more.

More busking, less texting, please!

Here is a Kesnel Personnel recording from YouTube:

Friday, October 16, 2015

Mazen...36 v. Toomey...2

Perhaps not a box score you'd want to see, but following an exchange over campaign finance filings between Tim Toomey and Nadeem Mazen at last night's A Better Cambridge candidates' forum, here's the record, courtesy of an attentive reader of the blog:

The OCPF reports for Nadeem Mazen and Tim Toomey, listing the number of times from January 2013 to September 2015 that each has been contacted by the state's Office of Campaign and Political Finance for reporting errors or irregularities.

For the record ...

Nadeem Mazen: 36 (Or should it be 44 ? - see NOTE immediately following)

[NOTE - An eagle-eye reader remarks that 36 is actually too low. The reader observes that 36 represents the number of separate entries on the OCPF sheet, but look more closely at the entries themselves and you find multiple reporting issues in some of them. That raises the count of campaign finance reporting errors/irregularities - you choose your word - to 44.]

Tim Toomey: 2

Friday Grab Bag: A Better Cambridge hosts a forum

It's a Friday, and that means it's Grab Bag time, but I'm going talk about last night's City Council candidates' forum organized by A Better Cambridge. The focus of the evening was housing, urban issues and density and it was a chance for aspirants to voice their opinions about the ubiquitous affordability question facing this city. WBUR host and Cambridge resident Robin Young mc'ed, and her familiar radio voice filled the auditorium of the Broad Institute on Main Street in a pleasing way.

In full disclosure, I am a member of the leadership committee of ABC, and in fuller disclosure, as a former elected official myself, some of last night's participants I hope will get elected (or re-elected as the case may be) and others I am not supporting.  To see more on this, you can read my recent letter to the Cambridge Chronicle about the candidates likely to show up on my ballot.

To cut to the proverbial chase about last night, my takeaways were this --

The incumbents had a much better grasp on this issues, and were much better at presenting their cases than the challengers. That is of course no surprise.

Some of the challengers are intelligent, some are amusing, others are disturbing, others may have a truth-deficit problem, and still others have been recycled through the wash just one too many times for everyday wear.

The questions lingered too long on affordability and housing. As crucial as those issues are, they aren't the only urban questions we need to think about.

Technology, and the development it's bringing to the city, underlies all of this.

Developer money in politics is a titilating topic, but it's a side show to the core issues, as Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan said very well.

It was interesting to see Tim Toomey lay into Nadeem Mazen over Mazen's alleged 50 plus letters of reprimand from the state's Office of Campaign and Political Finance over reporting violations and irregularities [Update: Thanks to an attentive reader, you can see the official records from OCPF for both Mazen and Toomey in the next blog post "Mazen...36 v. Toomey...2"]. Toomey also pointed out that Mazen recently deposited $35,000 of out of state money into his campaign war chest. Not illegal. Just worth noting.

Craig Kelley, who I actively want to see back on the Council, spoke very well.  As one affordable housing developer said to me after the event, "It's been a long journey for Craig", from political outsider to someone in the discussion. I find Craig to be very articulate these days on complex questions about the future of the city, a topic that really needs to be the focus of our attention.

Ilan Levy is someone who used to come and lecture the Council about its shortcomings. I'm sure he still does.  But he's also about to become someone who's received voters' feedback about his own proposals -- the establishment of a strong mayor system in Cambridge. I suspect he's not going to like what he hears.

James Williamson has been to the rodeo too many times. As a perennial 100 vote getter, it's time for him to consider hanging up the spurs.

David Maher was at final interviews for the new Cambridge school superintendent, so couldn't be there. Leland Cheung was not there. Jan Devereux didn't attend.

These events can swing in a heartbeat from farce, to theater, to substance to passion and last night was no exception.  Will the Council have a decidedly different complexion when all is said and done? I doubt it. But that won't be for lack of effort on the candidates' part.  A good event on an important topic.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A lovely little car ... from the Netherlands?

Yes, there is a lovely little car from the Netherlands and it's called the Carice MK1, made by Carice Cars, the brainchild of a man named Richard Holleman.

It looks a lot like a Porsche 356 with simple, elegant lines and sloping curves and headlamps that look like eyes from some Japanese anime cartoon.

But instead of me trying to describe it, just take a look yourselves. Or should I say, feast your eyes? There's no way to describe it except as a beautiful little thing ...

But, unlike the Porsche of yesteryear, this car is very 21st century in this way -- it runs almost entirely on electricity.

That should make it a hit with next-gen drivers as our economy and particularly our auto industry weans itself off fossil fuels.

With a permanently open top and small range, it only makes sense in warmer weather and sunshine. Its niche lies in weekend pleasure driving and showing off around town.  Without the deep bass engine rumble to announce itself, this little beauty will undoubtedly be an eye-catcher nonetheless.

Weighing in at only 350kg, NOTHING by car standards, it isn't high powered or a grand tourer. But most of us don't need that at all. Especially when we're out there to have fun.  It does has a range extender, which Carice describes this way: "This allows our customers to drive 90% of its rides fully electric. For longer journeys or a day of touring, the Range Extender comes in. The Range Extender can be very quiet or made a little louder so the engine sound makes a contribution to the driving pleasure."

I hope Carice brings some to the U.S. and I hope we get a chance to view them on the road.

Like with so much else these days, it's refreshing to see innovation, creativity and sheer bravery in the auto industry.  A century ago, still in its infancy, madmen and pioneering spirits alike were willing to try something new on a whim or an idea. Those days abandoned us in the middle part of the last century as consolidation and mechanization rationalized the business.  But we are seeing the return of such a spirit a century later, as new individuals and manufacturers and technologies and new requirements reimagine one of the greatest human inventions with an eye towards today's needs and tomorrow's constraints.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Friday Grab Bag: Clothes and cows

It's Friday, and you know what that means ... Pull out the grab bag.  In all its randomness, I present you the Grab Bag ...

1. When you chose a new outfit of clothes, you are literally stepping into a stream of consciousness.

2. Here are cows at the lovely Appleton Farms heading off to get milked this afternoon ...

3. And here is the lovely Appleton Farms on a not very crisp October day ...

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Lowell, MA: Home to Innovation Once and Again

Yesterday, the M2D2 Innovation Hub opened up in Lowell and I hopped in a car with Workbar co-founder Bill Jacobson and his director of community development Alexa Lightner to drive up
Alexa, the smiling face of Workbar at
the start of the day's journey
to the ribbon cutting, shake some hands, eat some prefab Caesar salad and hear lots (and I mean “lots!”) of politicians take their 2 minutes at the mike when it came time for speeches.

UMass president Marty Meehan, one
in a long line of speakers at the mike

To be fair, the pols were excited and they had every reason to be.  What UMass under the leadership of president Marty Meehan and Lowell campus chancellor Jacquie Moloney has been able to accomplish in this building near the Hamilton Canal is impressive. The transformation of an old industrial site into a place where entrepreneurs, 3-D fabricators and people in lab coats are starting companies represents a huge step for a city that was home to the American Industrial Revolution but has seen harder times since.
Bill (r) with Steven Tello of UMass Lowell (c)

Bill and Alexa had their own reasons to be there. Workbar, the shared work space model already in Cambridge and Boston, will operate the shared space in Lowell. One of the greatest innovations of the 21st century surely must be the increased sharing of resources, adding to their value by extending their availability. Workbar represents that and has proven its efficacy in hotbeds like Cambridge. Pushing that model out to underserved areas was on the minds of all the speakers at yesterday's event, and they let it be known.

The Lowell efforts are also highly reliant on partnerships and Workbar is only one of the many that make this place go. UMass Medical School in Worcester is seen as a critical part of M2D2's success. Med school chancellor Michael Collins noted the critical role this joint effort between the two campuses represents.

As someone who's been interested in this topic for quite some time, Lowell strikes me as indicator of how existing resources can be put to reuse in very productive ways. Oh, and it was also just a fun, fun day.

Here are some more photos from the trip ...

The interior redo on the Canal Street building
 is all about light and air.

Long open corridors define the space.
The innovation hub


The old industrial past is never far away

nor is the infrastructure that facilitated it

And here's a cool chair!