HALLOWEEN: A NIGHT OF VICTORIES AT CITY HALL FOR HARVARD SQUARE

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By Prof. Suzanne Preston Blier, Harvard University

October 31, 2016. Halloween. The perfect night to envisage dramatic transformations in the several month long project to preserve the Harvard Square Kiosk. The place was the Cambridge City Council where three items (Policy Orders) were on the agenda that directly related to the Kiosk, its future, and its place within Harvard Square. It was not exactly a do or die event, but the outcome of the three items before the Council regarding th is matter were very important to this effort. The title of the Cambridge Day article on these Council Events a few hours later, speaks volumes: “Council revolts to slow revamp of kiosk, allowing consultants to put in bids.” The author, Marc Levy clearly got the importance of these decisions right. This article is well worth reading, both for background information and for the array of related photos.

A dedicated and diverse group of Cambridge activists of various ages and occupations that had come together initially in August on this effort under the name Our Harvard Square, witnessed at this Council meeting, the first major positive impact of their efforts. The growing Our Harvard Square group – who range from architects to architectural historians, from lawyers to writers, from inventers and non-profit leaders to faculty members, students, and retirees had much to celebrate. All three measures passed the Council unanimously, thanks to the path-forging work of two especially forward thinking Councilors, Jan Devereux and Nadeem Mazen. A number of OHSQ members spoke before the Council on the three proposals, including Our Harvard Square’s Secretary/Treasurer, Abhi (Abhishek) Syal, pictured below:

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Abhi Syal speaks to City Council on Monday night

The three items in question included:

I . Council going on record to ask the Cambridge Historical Commission to support the Landmark process for the Kiosk which comes up before the latter body for a vote at their November 3 meeting, following the submission on September 28 of a formal petition to support a landmark study that was submitted by members of Our Harvard Square.

II . Convening a meeting of the principal commercial property owners in Harvard Square to address the future of the square, a policy order submitted by Devereux and Mayor Denise Simmons. A number of local merchants whose businesses would be severely impacted by recent changes to the square spoke up. The owner of Black Ink was one of several local and independent business owners who spoke on Monday.

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Black Ink owner with Our Harvard Square member Terri Oliver in the background

III. A request, submitted as a highly unusual late Policy Order to broaden the time frame and process for the selection of a consultant to lead the task force on the vision and reuse of the Kiosk. Both Councilors Mazen and Devereux  spoke eloquently and powerfully about this. Here is Councillor Devereux, speaking Monday evening on the late Policy Order:

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Councilor Jan Devereux on Monday night

Prof. Suzanne Preston Blier, PhD is the Allen Whitehill Clowes Professor of Fine Arts and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Prof. Blier has recently been awarded the prestigious PROSE Award for her most recent book, Art and Risk in Ancient Yoruba. She is a resident of Harvard Square and founding member of Our Harvard Square.

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