Collaboratively, vividly, and visibly: Placemaking in Kendall Square

Kendall Square
Mar 4 · 4 min read

2019 marks the KSA’s 10th Anniversary, and we have something much bigger in mind than birthday cake and balloons. Rather, we want to celebrate by collaboratively, vividly, and visibly showcasing Kendall Square’s magic.

How will we do it?

In a word: placemaking. Placemaking is a process that collaboratively engages the community to better define, activate and program public space. Done well, it uses existing assets and incorporates ideas to create experiences and a meaningful sense of place. For our innovation district, we want to take placemaking a step further, and use it to create more connectivity, signal welcome, and attract and retain diverse talent. Additionally, we want to encourage idea-sharing by the people already here — and those we critically need who may not have considered Kendall a place for them — by increasing Kendall’s “bump factor.”

What is bump factor?

What is “bump factor?” According to KSA Board Chair, Sarah Gallop, it’s the essence of “places that promote openness and cross-fertilization, kind of like how the old F&T Diner did from 1924 to 1986. It was a place where all were welcome and encouraged to break bread together — you could see Nobel Prize winners, MIT students and staff, Cambridge residents, and Kendall Square employees all swapping ideas and experiences in an organic and catalytic manner.”

Promoting that “bump factor” is also the reason MIT purposefully connected all of its main campus buildings with tunnels and the Infinite Corridor. Kendall Square continues to evolve and those of us stewarding it want to be sure we make design decisions and create public spaces and programming that enable connectivity, accessibility and inspiration.

What is the unique Kendall Square heritage that placemaking should celebrate?

The KSA’s placemaking initiative is “a great opportunity to explain what makes us not just a place, not just a great place, but a unique place,” explains Eric Plosky of the KSA Placemaking Working Group.

Unique is a fitting description of Kendall’s extraordinary legacy.

Innovation ecosystems don’t spring out of thin air. In Kendall’s case, the arrival of MIT in 1916 was the decisive factor that turned an industrial center, with factories producing soap, tires and hosiery, into a tech and life sciences mecca over the past century. Today, its multifaceted tech sector is home to MIT’s centers for artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology and revolutionized genomics and gene editing technology, and regularly makes advances against the world’s most devastating diseases.

Why did Kendall Square need a Kendall Square Association?

Despite Kendall’s thriving businesses and prolific scientific and tech accomplishments, something was missing for most of its history: a platform and shared mission to purposefully unite the Square’s dynamic members.

So a group of leaders came together to find “Kendall solutions for Kendall problems,” such as transportation, the built environment, and increasing the Square’s visibility on the global stage.

One of seven mini-libraries in Kendall Square, symbols of our community’s constant pursuit of knowledge and sharing.

Placemaking was important to the project from the start. The KSA has made Kendall Square more welcoming and user-friendly through projects such as wayfinding signs that help orient visitors, and mini-libraries that are a hat tip to the community’s constant pursuit of knowledge and sharing.

Now, a decade in, our aim is to take that legacy to the next level with 3 objectives in mind:

  1. Generate engagement & awareness while refining the narrative about what’s happening in Kendall Square now
  2. Optimize the conditions for innovation
  3. Cultivate a coherent sense of place by injecting play, beauty, and fun

The KSA Placemaking Approach

To achieve our placemaking goals, the KSA will use open-source processes. We strive to engage with all the pockets of our extraordinary community to foster the kind of diverse and unexpected ideas that only a large, dense community of brilliant minds can imagine. Similarly, because the future is inclusive, we’ll be approaching our placemaking with an inclusion lens.

We also love experimentation. We will use an agile approach in implementing placemaking ideas, guided by the spirit of startups and of scientific experimentation.

Ultimately, the KSA’s approach will be three-fold:

  1. AMPLIFY existing and planned placemaking work throughout Kendall Square
  2. PARTNER on upcoming placemaking initiatives, collaborating throughout the process
  3. CREATE new assets or programs to fill in critical gaps

It’s an ambitious agenda, with an ambitious approach to match. To drive the conversation, we’ve assembled a working group of professionals with placemaking expertise that includes real estate developers, community and business leaders, urban planners, and MIT faculty.

This group will meet regularly throughout 2019. Its first steps are to inventory Kendall’s existing amenities and placemaking efforts and to find collaborators to bring our ideas to life.

Next, the work of reaching out to a wide swath of the Kendall community begins. Rather than focus excessively on curating and refining the ideas that come in, the group aims to spend most of its time implementing them. These are people who want to make something happen.

If you’re interested in joining the conversation on placemaking, please fill out this interest form.

Our Placemaking Initiative will be at the heart of the KSA’s 10th Anniversary celebrations, so purchase your tickets to the Annual Meeting today. To stay in the know, subscribe to our weekly newsletter for updates about the KSA and the Square itself. And if you like what you’ve read here, give it a few claps to show your support.

Kendall Square

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The official channel for Kendall Square, Cambridge. Published by the Kendall Square Association.

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