Campus & Community

Renovating, preserving ‘the Square’

3 min read

City of Cambridge and Harvard University partner to improve Harvard Square

A partnership between the city of Cambridge and Harvard University will bring a series of streetscape and other physical improvements to Harvard Square over the next 18 months.

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Set to begin in April, the $6.8 million physical project to improve the storm water system, roads, sidewalks, plazas, and lighting in Harvard Square is part of a comprehensive plan resulting from a multiyear community process. Harvard is contributing $1.3 million to the project, ensuring that the city of Cambridge will be able to complete improvements at five key locations.

“The Harvard Square Improvement Project grows out of the shared interests of residents, businesses, students, and the city,” said Cambridge City Manager Robert W. Healy. “We greatly appreciate Harvard’s partnership to support our common goal of making improvements to Harvard Square, so that it can become an even better place for residents, businesses, students, and visitors.”

Alan J. Stone, Harvard’s vice president for Government, Community and Public Affairs, added, “As a good neighbor and community partner we are glad to contribute to an effort that will enhance the unique character of Harvard Square, which draws thousands of visitors from near and far every day.”

The Harvard Square Improvement Project advances an effort begun nearly eight years ago with a study titled “Polishing the Trophy,” which was commissioned by area property owners. The study pointed to the fact that Harvard Square is a unique, historic place and suggested ways the square could be preserved and enhanced through good planning, streetscape improvements, and pedestrian-friendly street side features.

“Harvard is a great community partner that recognizes the importance of the community beyond its walls, and we are fortunate to have their support and the commitment of the city of Cambridge,” said John DiGiovanni, president of the Harvard Square Business Association. “Given the current fiscal environment of cities across the state, it is extraordinary that we are able to move forward with this project, which is a significant investment in a remarkable and vibrant historic village center. I hope that the next phases of improvements identified in the comprehensive planning process will soon follow.”

The Harvard Square Improvement project targets sidewalks, bicycle facilities, streetlights, and street surfaces along Palmer Street, Church Street, JFK Street, Winthrop Street, and at Lampoon Plaza (where Mt. Auburn Street, Bow Street, and Linden Street meet).

    • Palmer Street, between Church and JFK streets, will be transformed from a back alley into a pedestrian destination, with a new patterned roadway, in-ground lighting, banners and improvements to the sky-bridge, as well as the addition of an outdoor theater screen for warm-weather community movie nights. The street will remain open to traffic, except during special events. The project, envisioned by public artist Jody Pinto, is made possible with more than $300,000 in additional contributions from five Palmer Street property owners, including Harvard.
    • Church Street between Massachusetts Avenue and Garden Street will become more pedestrian friendly with a widened sidewalk along the south side of the street between Palmer Street and Massachusetts Avenue and pedestrian-scale lighting, as well as road resurfacing.
    • JFK Street between Memorial Drive and Eliot Street will be reconstructed, with a new road surface and improvements to the brick sidewalks, as well as new lighting fixtures.
    • A new landscaped island will be constructed at Lampoon Plaza, the wide intersection of Mt. Auburn Street, Bow Street, and Linden Street, which will improve pedestrian safety, eliminate the large expanse of asphalt, and beautify the area.
  • Winthrop Street, between JFK and Eliot streets, will become a “shared street,” where sidewalks and street surfaces are on the same level, to enhance the pedestrian environment.