By Sara Feijo
Posted Jul. 9, 2015 at 10:24 AM
Updated Jul 14, 2015 at 9:54 AM
Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series about proposed changes to Harvard Square. Last week’s was regarding Harvard’s plans to expand its campus center at Forbes Plaza. Click here to read Part 1.
The iconic Out of Town News kiosk in Harvard Square could undergo some changes in the near future.
Cambridge officials have been assessing ways to enhance public open space in the area, including a rejuvenation of the 500-square-foot kiosk. The project would open up the kiosk, restore the structure, showing off the architectural detail through more lighting, and convert it into a flexible space with a variety of programming opportunities, according to Stuart Dash, director of community planning for the city’s Community Development Department.
The process kicked off in fall 2013 with the first Harvard Square Placemaking Workshop, a joint effort with Harvard University and the Harvard Square Business Association, Dash said.
Since then, the city has added more tables and chairs closer to the kiosk and seasonal landscaping provided by the Harvard Square Business Association was placed in the Point, the area past the kiosk out to the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and JFK Street. Over the past year, city officials have been repositioning the additional chairs and tables trying to determine where they work best and make residents and visitors feel welcomed and comfortable, Dash said.
The city held a follow up workshop in January evaluating the small hardscape changes to the square, including changes to the Point, the Pit — the circular area near the kiosk along Massachusetts Avenue — and the area around the MBTA headhouse. Another workshop was held last month to discuss in more detail ideas for restoration and repurposing the kiosk.
“In general, a great space is safe, clean, inviting, has a variety of uses and activities, is visually appealing and supports social activity,” Dash told the Chronicle. “It is important in the design of the kiosk and public space to attract a lot of people by ensuring that there is a variety of uses and activities.”
The city and the kiosk’s current tenant will have the option to review and renew the kiosk’s lease in January. Dash said the city has no intention of ending the lease until a clear vision and rejuvenation plan is in place.
“A worst-case scenario would be an empty kiosk in the heart of Harvard Square,” Dash said. “There are no immediate plans for the kiosk renovation.”
HDR Inc., an architectural, engineering and consulting firm, is conducting a feasibility analysis and preliminary design of potential uses of the plaza and kiosk. The $600,000 study, Dash said, is the first step before conducting architectural design development. “We are continuing to build on and refine the vision for the kiosk and the public open space,” Dash said. “This fall, we anticipate understanding more of the infrastructure challenges to the plaza.”The study will highlight possible infrastructure issues, such as water, electricity and sewer challenges and how the plaza will meet federal disabilities standards, Dash said.The city anticipates budgeting $2 million in each of the following two fiscal years for changes, Dash said. According to Dash, the public has been receptive to the changes the city has made to the plaza thus far, including the addition of more tables, chairs and plantings added and repositioned last year.
People say the city could better integrate performance space for street performers, add more seating, improve information services, signage, maintenance and upkeep in the square, and provide opportunities along storefronts, such as outdoor seating and plantings, according to Dash.
“We will continue to evaluate and try different things,” Dash said. “How well we do it will determine how lively the area becomes.”