The Inner Belt - Program 2: The Community Organizers
Ansti Benfield, Barbara Norfleet, Ann Hershfang, and Gordon Fellman will discuss the work of community groups to stop the construction of this highway. This event will be held at the Cambridge Public Library. This is the second of three programs hosted by the Cambridge Historical Society and co-sponsored by MIT, Livable Streets, and the Lincoln Institute. The programs are underwritten by Irving House and Forest City. Please register for this program by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 617-547-4252.
The Inner Belt was a proposed interstate highway that would have connected I-93 to I-90 with an eight lane highway that would have gone straight through Central Square. This would have leveled parts of Area 4 and Cambridgeport, and would have essentially severed MIT, East Cambridge and Kendall Square from the rest of the city. The fight to stop it began in the 1950s and really gained steam in the late 1960s. Planners, activists, and universities became central in a campaign that included representatives from Cambridge, Brookline, Dedham, Lynn, Milton, Needham, Revere, Saugus, Somerville, East Boston, South Boston, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, and the South End. The community pressure caused the Governor to declare a moratorium, order the first Environmental Impact Study in America, and eventually reject the plan in the early 1970s. The Governor then led the successful effort to change federal law so that funds designated for Interstate highways could be used instead for public transit. Funds from the Inner Belt were used for the extensions of the Red Line to Alewife Station and Braintree and to move the Orange Line.
This multi decade struggle over the transportation landscape made national news and was probably the largest political fight in Cambridge in the 20th century. It is also responsible for a large part of the quality of life in Cambridge, which is now renowned as a walk-able city with a comfortable scale.
We have three programs, in three locations, with nine speakers who include MIT faculty, the former secretary of transportation, community organizers, a Rhodes Scholar, and authors. The first program is at MIT’s Stata Center, the second is at the Public Library’s Lecture Hall, and the final program will be in the Lincoln Institute on Brattle Street.