MIT 2030 plans continue to develop
Faculty concerns, proposals consolidated in committee report
Twenty years ago, MIT’s campus looked vastly different. Maseeh Hall was a graduate dorm called Ashdown House, planning for Simmons Hall had yet to begin, Kendall Square was a quiet area recently abandoned by manufacturing companies, and the Edgerton Center had just opened.
Since then, tech companies such as Google and Microsoft have opened offices in Kendall, biotech and pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer and Novartis have staked a large foothold in Cambridge, and MIT continues to open new academic and research oriented spaces, such as the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Sloan Business School’s E62, the greenest building on campus, both of which opened in 2011.
Given that MIT’s campus is so dynamic, the MIT administration and the MIT Investment Management Company (MITIMCo), which controls MIT’s real estate holdings in Cambridge, began developing a broad vision for the future use of MIT land and buildings, as well as potential renovation and building projects. This planning began in 2008 with the Academic Council, which consists of senior Institute leadership and the Chair of the Faculty, and slowly grew to encompass more people at MIT and more detailed plans for use of physical space to address MIT’s needs. These plans and developments evolved into MIT2030, a term first used by former MIT President Susan J. Hockfield in 2011.
The 2030 Process
According to the MIT2030 website, MIT2030 is not a plan but a “framework” — a process for integrating an idea into the Institute’s list of future projects.
The process begins with identifying goals and priorities. This first step involves the Department of Facilities, the Office of the Vice President for Finance, and MITIMCo. A group appointed by the Committee for the Review of Space Planning (CRSP) and the Building committee will then research possible ways to achieve these goals and give recommendations to the two committees. After this, if the Executive Committee of MIT approves the project it becomes part of MIT2030 and proceeds to the capitol planning stage.
Members from all over the MIT community have been encouraged to submit their input about the physical futures of campus as well. The 2030 website encourages site readers to send comments and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous Executive Vice President and Treasurer Theresa M. Stone SM ‘76 told The Tech in 2011 that input from “broad sectors of the community” will continue to be solicited throughout the process . Despite these statements, faculty have expressed concern that the most powerful force behind MIT2030 planning is financial motivation from MITIMCo and that the framework does not place enough importance on academic needs.
MIT2030 plans address areas both on and off-campus. In the academic sector, two new research facilities, one for energy and environmental research and the other for nanoscale research, are both in the planning stages. The Institute is currently evaluating several potential sites for the new labs. MIT also plans to renovate several academic buildings including Walker Memorial, Buildings 41-43, 2, and E52. These “capital renewal” updates will refurbish systems, infrastructure, roofs, elevators, interior finishes, and other maintenance, according to the MIT2030 website.
Students may also see capital renewal and renovation of Kresge, the Student Center, Burton-Connor and MacGregor.
Stone said the expected cost of the first wave of academic development includes $500 million for the construction of new laboratories and $1 billion for renovation and capital renewal. This will be funded in part by $750 million worth of 100-year taxable bonds recently sold by MIT to “high quality institutions” like insurance companies and money managers, said Stone. She added that MIT hopes to pay for the rest through fundraising and alumni donations.
Off-campus, MIT2030 plans will attempt to draw more technology companies to the Cambridge area, and create a more lively atmosphere in Kendall Square. Recent biotech and information technology offices opening in the Cambridge area are a good start towards accomplishing this goal.
MIT2030 will hopefully encourage not only technology firms to move to Kendall, but more retail and dining options as well. For example, the Pfizer Building at 610 Main Street, to be completed in 2013, will incorporate 10,000 square feet of street-level retail space. One of the goals of 2030 is to enliven the Kendall Square area, a goal shared by the city of Cambridge, which is currently working on a future development plan of its own, called K2C2.
Beginning in late 2011, faculty expressed concerns over MIT2030 plans. The concerns centered on plans to lease land previously reserved for academic use for other real estate uses, such as renting out to tech firms in Kendall Square. These concerns led to the creation of a faculty task force to evaluate the 2030 plan and provide recommendations for changes.
In the November/December 2011 faculty newsletter, the FNL editorial board said that although MITIMCo can evaluate the financial side of real estate usage, they are “not in a position to balance the financial implications of long-term planning with the future academic needs of MIT.”
The editorial board also criticized the lack of a faculty committee. Some faculty sit on the committees that are part of the MIT2030 framework; however, the editorial board felt that “we need an Institute committee with full faculty representation…considering all the diverse requirements of maintaining a vibrant university committee.”
Faculty Chair Samuel M. Allen also wrote an article in that issue of the FNL, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a valuable on-campus experience for students amidst the proliferation of online education systems like MITx. The way to do this, he said, was to focus on lab space, academic facilities, and student housing.
At the May 16 faculty meeting, a group of nine faculty members, led by Professor Jonathon A. King (Biology), expressed concern “that the MITIMCo 2030 plan to develop this last remaining campus resource as commercial space will irreversibly limit and constrain MIT’s future development. This is the only space left for campus educational, recreational, housing, or research facilities. The Graduate Student Council has explicitly raised concerns over the absence of significance graduate housing in the MITIMCo plans.”
As a result of faculty pushback, Provost Chris Kaiser created a faculty task force in August 2012. In October, the task force, chaired by Professor Thomas A. Kochan, published a report addressing the main problems they saw with MIT2030.
The report advised “financial return should not be the principal criterion of value creation and success for this area of campus. Equally important are criteria related to the 21st century image of MIT, creation of a significant eastern gateway to the campus, the enhancement of student life, and providing opportunities for future academic buildings and activities that we have yet to invent.”
Faculty have been clear that the future academic needs of MIT are difficult to predict, and flexibility is needed in planning for such facilities. The report recommended changes to MIT2030 including “More space for academic development and student life,” specifically graduate housing and retail options that meet the needs of the student community.
Another key point made in the report was the need for “creative options” for preserving three landmark buildings on Main Street (E38, E39 and E48, the MIT Press, Rebecca’s Cafe, and Kendall clock tower buildings, respectively), which the city of Cambridge may designate as historical landmarks. However, the faculty committee noted, “this significantly constrains the design and development of this space.”
MIT decided to take into account faculty feedback. While the Institute had submitted a Kendall Square zoning proposal to the city of Cambridge in April 2011, it allowed the proposal to expire and submitted another proposal in December after receiving the task force’s input. The zoning proposal from MIT is a recommendation to the city on what portion of real estate it should allocate to retail, parking lots, open spaces, etc.
According to the MIT News website, “The petition requests rights to increase permitted density of commercial development in the target area while preserving existing capacity for future academic development.”
Provost Chris Kaiser responded to the task force in an email to the faculty, saying the Institute will take their opinions into account and “launch a participative conceptual design process to examine the potential of the gateway area”, exploring options with and without the landmark buildings. He added that the task force will work with him in the future on creating a development plan for all of the east campus region and analyzing MIT’s housing needs.
Relation to Cambridge’s K2C2
The Cambridge City Council has been conducting a similar planning process involving Central and Kendall Square, called K2C2. This study gives recommendations related to proportions of housing and commercial space, sustainability considerations in building, and community benefits.
The Kendall Square part of the K2C2 study has reinforced MIT2030’s goals of enriching the retail side of Kendall. Since this area can be very quiet during the day, as a result of real estate used mainly for office space, MIT’s plans to increase retail and living space there have been buttressed by the K2C2 analysis.
In its latest zoning proposal, MIT suggested maximizing residential space at its One Broadway extension to build 300 units of housing, up from the previous 120 units. Whether that housing would be graduate student housing or not was not mentioned.
MIT will also donate $4.3 million to the City’s Affordable Housing Trust.
MIT additionally proposed more ground-floor retail, suggesting in its zoning petition that 75% of ground level space along Third St., Main St., and Broad Canal be put towards “active uses”, such as retail and “institutional uses open to the public.”
Other K2C2 changes MIT incorporated in its latest proposal include restricting building size at higher heights , requiring a portion of the taller buildings to be used for middle income residential housing, requiring new commercial buildings to meet LEED Gold environmental standards, and reserving five percent of office space for startups.
On the first Tuesday in December 2012, MIT executives and MITIMCo presented MIT’s updated zoning proposal to the Cambridge Planning Board. The K2C2 results related to parking space allocation were also presented to the board at this meeting.
MIT’s changes to the zoning petition attempted to address faculty and student concerns. MIT proposed double the minimum amount of residential space to 240,000 square feet, and decreased the amount of hotel and lab space from its previous proposal. Although the amount of residential space increased significantly, the low and moderate income housing requirement was only increased from 42000 square feet to 48,500 square feet.
The day before the meeting, faculty expressed their concern about the revised petition in two letters, one addressed to MIT President L. Rafael Reif and Provost Kaiser, and the other addressed to the City of Cambridge Planning Board.
Ten faculty members collaborated on the letter to the Cambridge Planning Board. They reiterated their concern that “emphasizes return on real estate investment through commercial development of irreplaceable campus land, at the expense of MIT’s educational and research needs…this use of limited campus land for commercial development will undermine MIT’s unique abilities to contribute to solving national problems through education and advanced research, and it will dilute its contribution to the Cambridge community.”
Eight of the fifteen members of the FNL editorial board wrote the letter to President Reif, which called the zoning presentation “an attempt to ‘end run’ student and faculty input and implement MITIMCo’s current version of how MIT’s Cambridge real estate should be developed.”
However, after a meeting with the 2030 faculty task force the next day, the second faculty group retracted their statement to President Reif. They wrote a second letter saying it was “sensible to have MIT move forward with the proposal for up-zoning.”
Management Professor Gordon A. Kaufman, who contributed to both letters, did not speak to The Tech, but said more discussion would be available in the next Faculty Newsletter.