July 14, 2005

Harvard Square Spiff-Up

A $3.5 million improvement project is slated to begin this fall in Harvard Square, the Cambridge Chronicle reports, funded in part by area businesses. It will include widening sidewalks and improving street lights, with the goal of helping the Square compete for area shoppers.

It's great to see that Harvard Square doesn't rest on its laurels, and understands how critically important a pedestrian-friendly streetscape is to its appeal. It would be great if planners also understood that it's crucial to beef up the number of local stores there - ones that shoppers can't find in every mall in America.

When Cambridge Mayor Michael Sullivan says that Harvard Square's real competition isn't other town centers but area shopping malls, he should also understand that the Square can never compete with those malls for regional shoppers by offering easy access (i.e. free parking) -- although clearly it'll always be attractive for people who live within easy walking or T distance.

Instead, the Square's chief asset as a regional destination is its sense of place. Pedestrian ambiance, street performers and so on are a major part of that, as of course is Harvard University. But sense of place also means feeling like you're someplace special, instead of a slightly different version of a mall with all the same shops people can find everywhere.

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