November/December 2020Vol. XXXIII No. 2

MIT Volpe Construction Plan Will Damage Faculty Housing Initiative

We are writing to bring to your attention an issue that has deeply troubled us. For the many years we have been at MIT there has been concern about the lack of opportunities for students and faculty to develop out-of-class social and intellectual exchanges. The faculty, living at some distance from the campus due to the availability and the cost of housing in Cambridge, made this aspiration difficult to achieve.

But, an initiative started under the leadership of president emeritus Paul Gray, led a group of MIT faculty and staff to develop a residential project close to the campus that would help bring older and younger members of our community closer together. After many trials and difficulties due to the recession of 2008, a suitable location was found at 303 Third Street in Cambridge, adjacent to the campus and facing on to a sun-filled open space at the Volpe Transportation Center.

Although the recession compromised the full realization of the initial intent, many of us persisted in buying our homes at 303 Third Street. Many of the condominium units remained as rental units and a large proportion of the renters currently are MIT students or are affiliated with MIT.

In 2016, MIT’s Investment Management Company (MITIMCo) acquired our neighbor, the 14-acre Volpe Transportation Center site. The City of Cambridge undertook a series of studies, along with MIT and community members, regarding how best to develop this property. The following year MIT sought and received zoning changes that significantly increased the development rights on the Volpe site. Four of the 14 acres were set aside for a new Volpe Transportation Center building. The remaining 10 acres were to be developed 60% for commercial buildings and 40% for residential buildings. The development was also required to provide 25% of the site for public open space.

MITIMCo’s architect produced four suggested site plans for the development. Only one of the plans did not do serious damage to our homes which face the site. We expressed our preference for the least destructive of the plans and shortly thereafter, in 2017, MIT suspended further discussions about the planning of the remaining site, explaining that they were going to focus on construction of the new Volpe building.

Current MITIMCo proposal

For three years we have waited patiently for a revival of discussions. Then, suddenly in the last few weeks, MITIMCo announced a plan that would place a 250-foot-high building in very close proximity and broadside across the full length of our 85-foot-high building, which is fewer than 40 feet away. The result will be that we will no longer have the light, air, and sunshine that has made our homes habitable and enjoyable. The Investment Management Company has several other development choices for the site that do not do the harm their current plan would impose on us and the MIT student families that live in our building. These options meet the development criteria established by the City and are consistent with MIT’s desire for a reasonable economic return.

We seek your assistance and support to convey to the MIT authorities responsible for the Investment Management Company to have them refrain from doing irreparable damage to our homes and to destroy the years of effort that went into fulfilling Paul Gray’s and our dream of creating an island of MIT civility in Kendall Square.

We would be grateful if you could express your support for preserving our homes and the initiative it represents by writing to MIT President Rafael Reif (, Denis Bovin ‘69, Chair of the MIT Investment Management Company (, and Diane Greene, Chair of the MIT Corporation (

If you would like more information, or to contact the authors, please write: Bob Simha (

Rosemary Booth
Prof. Jack Dennis, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Martha Goodway ’57, Materials Science, Smithsonian Institution
Prof. David Litster, Department of Physics
Gerald O’Leary, BS ’63, MS & EE ’65, Lincoln Lab
Prof. Bjorn Poonen, Department of Mathematics
Roger Roach, Whitehead Institute
O. Robert Simha ’57, Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Jane Sanford Stabile
Lawrence Stabile ’74, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science