Meeting Minutes for April 21, 2022
Kathy Dalton, Manager of the Living Well Network, led a discussion about the resources that Porter Square has and needs to meet the needs of all who live in the area.
Kathy is looking to expand the discussion of issues lumped under “aging in place” to a larger view of “living in community to identify what we need in and from our community to make it livable for those who live here now and those who will live here in the future.
The structure of this discussion was to gather thoughts and input on the strengths of the neighborhood, the things it needs, the challenges it faces that are beyond the control of the neighborhood, and the things that residents can take some action on.
She began with a list of the stores and services within a 15-minute walk that research (and lived experience) suggests make a neighborhood livable for all:
- Drug store
- Variety store
- Department store
- Post office
- Doctor’s office
- Dry cleaner
- Houses of worship
Neighborhood strengths and assets
- Many stores and services that you can walk to—basically everything on the list above except a department store, though stores at the shopping center and along Mass Avenue offer some of those goods. Also, Living Well Network offers many services.
- Access to transportation—both the MBTA and various spots where Uber/Lyft/taxis can pick up and drop off. (Bike lanes weren’t mentioned, but that’s probably representative of the habits and interests of folks who attended.)
- A few places (possibly too few) where people can gather without having to spend money
- The area in front of Porter Square Books
- The benches along Mass Ave
- The area in front of Lesley at the Lunder Center
- The Radcliffe quad
- Public art, mostly what is installed at the T station: the much-in-need-of-repainting Gift of the Wind sculpture; the series of bronzed gloves along the escalators. Also, the events at Lesley, some of which are available without having to enter the building
- Playgrounds: the field on Sacramento St; the community garden next to it; the various school playgrounds
- The parking lot next to ChangSho where many pick up Farmers to You orders on Thursday evenings throughout the year
These items, which are both needs and wants, regularly turn up when this question is asked.
- More diversity economically, racially, and ethnically
- More affordable housing–including specific types of housing for folks who want to downsize; handicapped accessible
- More trees; more public art
- Public bathrooms
- Community space for all.
- Indoors, something larger than the North Cambridge Senior Center that is available without reservation and without the restrictions Lesley has for using its spaces, back in the Before Times, when they were available.
- Outdoors, a covered space. (The roof garden on University Hall that Lesley University mentioned when it was rolling out its plans last fall has captured the imagination.)
- Make Porter Square more vibrant, with places to encounter people; more sitting areas, like in front of Café Zing
- Make the small park next to the T station more inviting. (Note: The installation of additional bike racks in the park reduces the space available for other uses.)
- Find ways to reduce the litter. Get shopkeepers to clean up more; encourage restaurants to use re-usable containers
- Vegetarian restaurant
- A venue for smaller stores like that in Bow Market
- A zero-waste store
- Some kind of neighborhood marketing campaign to bring small businesses back and support the ones that are still here
- City should do more to ensure that the properties in front of businesses are snow plowed
What would we like to do here? How might we bring people together?
- A tour of neighborhood art and assets with an app and a map
- Indoor and outdoor events that connect the generations and the institutions: the Lunder Center at Lesley; programs offered by the Agassiz Baldwin Council and Living Well Network
- Events for aging residents to find each other and to provide support such as daily check-in calls and offering rides to appointments
- Block parties and performance events—“Play Me” pianos, living statues, tap dancing
- A flea market; a support system for local tag sales (e.g., a schedule that becomes known and draws people to the area);
- Outdoor movies in more places than only Raymond Park.
- Transportation alternatives: what can we do to offer easy options for folks who aren’t going to get on a bike or for whom public transport is difficult. Could the Harvard Shuttle, which carries students to the Longwood medical area, be opened up to local residents?
- An electric jitney run by the city that runs more often (like every 10 minutes) than the MBTA busses do and runs through areas are not well served by the MBTA
- A way for community members to weigh in on what happens in spaces in the neighborhood.
- A way to find teenagers and others to do odd jobs: shoveling snow, moving furniture, babysitting, a couple of hours of work for $20 an hour
Significant forces beyond the control of the neighborhood
- The MBTA controls some of the only open space. Given its many other struggles, the MBTA doesn’t have much budget or bandwidth in making any improvements and has historically not terribly interested in this part of its operation.
- Much of the traffic on major thoroughfares is generated by commuters traffic driving through the City to some other destination.
- The difficulties local businesses have in addressing the many challenges they face: the sudden and catastrophic removal of parking; high and rising rents when many retail spaces are empty; the influence and power of developers; market forces such as the growth in online shopping and big box stores.
- Limited physical space on the sidewalk and the streets for all the needs and desires (outdoor dining, safety in the various forms of transportation, reduction of parking and loading areas
- Getting landlords to fill the empty retail spaces. Temporary tenants? A tax on keeping spaces empty?
- Challenge of depending on the city for things; strong feeling that the city is not as responsive as it once was
- MBTA not open to changing routes and stops
- COVID. Both a danger and opportunity. Different impact on people who are aging, not being prioritized.
- Public transport less a resource for folks concerned about Covid. w no mask also indoor spaces…more as fewer widely practiced precautions.
- Hard to involve younger people, who are pulled in many directions and don’t have time to give; finding people who will put ideas into practice
What we can accomplish on a neighborhood scale
- Address the litter, specifically, more neighborhood cleanup days. Additional benefit here is the experience of being caught in the act of collective public service, which has ripple effects.
- City has a grant program for business and neighborhood groups to make improvements in commercial districts. Porter Square does not yet have a formal business organization, but work is going on now to put one togethe. PSNA could also be involved in some way to apply for one of these grants.
- Set up an online board in which folks can exchange goods and services, or find people who can offer services (e.g., snow shoveling, yard work, odd jobs)
- Organizing events to bring people together:
- A flea market and/or coordinate a schedule in which residents can host yard sales to bring more folks through
- Block parties (on Davenport Street or the Lesley lots on Mass Ave)
- Intergenerational events to form human connections
- Design a cartoon or logo to brand Porter Square; work with embryonic business association on this. Perhaps sponsor a contest.