STEM and Root – On the Agenda of the Nov 10, 2014 Cambridge City Council meeting
It’s a very short agenda this week. Here are a few items of interest with brief comments.
Manager’s Agenda #6. Transmitting communication from Richard C. Rossi, City Manager, relative to a recommendation from the License Commission to approve the jitney application of Groupzoom, Inc., d/b/a Bridj for a six month pilot program.
Bridj has been described as a cross between a bus and a taxi service. It’s a Cambridge-based company that ran into regulatory roadblocks several months ago when planning to launch its service in Cambridge. These are interesting times with the emergence of services like Uber and the widespread availability of applications for mobile communication devices that make services like Uber and Bridj possible. This recommendation from the Cambridge License Commission is for a six-month pilot program but it does seem like the future is upon us and we’ll be seeing a lot more services like this in the future. There was a day when omnibuses and trains were all run outside of government control. Could we be going Back to the Future?
Applications & Petitions #2. A zoning petition has been received from Whitehead Institute, Nine Cambridge Center, to amend the Zoning Ordinance, Sections 14.32.1 and 14.32.2 to provide for an increment of 60,000 square feet of GFA to be allowed by special permit in a portion of the MXD District, in Section 14.70 by retitling "Special Provisions Applicable Within the Ames Street District" and by adding a new Section 14.72 "Special Provisions Applicable Outside the Ames Street District.
The proposal seems sound, but the fact that it does not propose to build housing (only contribute money toward that goal) might translate into some resistance. Not every site is appropriate for housing and this may be one such site. It also proposes to simply expand an existing structure. However, this petition should focus some attention on the bigger picture of adding housing in Kendall Square in locations such as the site of the Volpe Transportation Center down the street. I’m sure there will be some who will say that no changes should be approved until the "Master Plan" process is complete, but that really borders on the ridiculous in a district such as this.
Communications #1. A communication was received from Michael Brandon, 27 Seven Pines Avenue, regarding the Planning Board appointments.
Translation: Mr. Brandon is unhappy with the recent appointments to the Planning Board. His description of the appointments: "Despite the dedication, expertise, civic-mindedness, and good intentions of the board members, this same-as-it-ever-was, opaquely picked panel of powerless project tweakers is obviously designed and inherently destined to obey the administrative staff’s instructions and support the rampant, unplanned, uncoordinated, uncontrolled overdevelopment of the city’s neighborhoods and natural resources that continues to degrade the quality of residents’ lives." I beg to differ. The current Planning Board members and the new appointees are all great people whose interests align well with the great majority of Cambridge residents.
Order #3. That the City Manager is requested to locate the additional funding needed to move forward with the archiving and preservation of all City Council records in the Vault Phase II project. Councillor Simmons
Cambridge is an historic city that should appropriately maintain all of its historic treasures – including the records of City Council proceedings. Whether or not this project can be completed in the current budget cycle, it does have to happen. The City has done a lot in this regard over the last decade or so, especially in conjunction with the opening of the new Main Library and its most excellent Cambridge Room.
Committee Report #1. A communication was received from Paula Crane, Deputy City Clerk, transmitting a report from Vice Mayor Dennis A. Benzan, Co-Chair of the Economic Development and University Relations Committee and Councillor Nadeem A. Mazen, Chair of the Neighborhood and Long Term Planning, Public Facilities, Arts & Celebration Committee for a joint public meeting held on Oct 28, 2014 for the STEAM working group and its subcommittees to discuss how best to present their research to the greater Cambridge community and for working group members to collectively put forth sound recommendations around: STEAM workforce development, the alignment of all stakeholders, access for all to the innovation economy, and partnerships that will speed the journey.
I have been looking over the committee reports on this for a while now and it’s hard for me to get a clear picture of what’s going on other than some "brainstorming," creating some kind of web portal, and creating a new "coordinator" job. Maybe this will all turn out great, but so far it seems more like a lot of politically-oriented people riding on board the current national STEM bandwagon. One might think from these reports that education and excitement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics has been thoroughly lacking in elementary and secondary schools in Cambridge. That’s not the case. There is, however, a gap between the world of MIT, Harvard, and a host of science and technology-oriented companies in Cambridge and many young Cambridge residents who could benefit from jobs and other opportunities in these schools, labs, and companies. I worry that advocacy relating to the Foundry Building as well as much of this other STEM/STEAM discussion may lead to enhanced opportunities for young people who were already going to find good opportunities anyway. Only time will tell if those who might otherwise have been left out will somehow get excited about the opportunities around them and get a head start on developing the kind of skills that will be necessary to access these opportunities.
Frankly, this isn’t something that should be bubbling up from a couple of City Council subcommittees. Efforts in this regard should really be growing out of a partnership between the Cambridge School Department, our great local universities, and some of the companies that have been locating in Cambridge during the last few decades. They have had some representation at these committee meetings, but it would be so much better if they were driving the initiative. Otherwise the whole initiative could just come and go with only an extra job left in its wake. The entire Cambridge School Department and all the other local schools have to be at the root of any lasting change.
I am old enough to remember President Kennedy’s exhortations on the importance of science and mathematics education in the era of the space program. So many young people, including me, drew inspiration from what was happening during those years. I don’t know what the modern-day equivalent inspiration might be, but that’s really what is needed in order to get people jazzed about mathematics, science, and related fields. – Robert Winters