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Shifting Space in Central Square

On a typical cold and blustery day last December, if you were walking through Central Square you might have stumbled on a scene that was actually anything but typical. A temporary living room appeared in the middle of a brick walkway surrounded by a cluster of barren trees.

Plastic chairs, a beach scene backdrop, a boogie board, a couch and a coffee table comprised the first CultureHouse pop-up. An idea that Olin student Aaron Greiner and Olin alumna Alisha Pegan, together with Library Director Jeff Goldenson, and outside advisor BetterBlock had been developing for several months. A good portion of that time was spent talking to people in the community and researching other projects of a similar nature.

“We came up with three main elements. The first is a living room set with blankets and a guest book. We chose this because we wanted to give the feeling that the pop-up was something people should feel comfortable entering and spending time in. For our second and third elements, we created an easy-to-assemble board with a prompt on one side and a photo booth on the other. The board was made from cardboard and is easily adaptable and reusable,” wrote Greiner on a Medium post dedicated to the project. 

Most of the materials were borrowed. The team spent just $100 on supplies. It took just 15 minutes all the pieces of the pop-up puzzle were hoisted out of a minivan and assembled in place. 

Even though the “living room” is designed to be temporary, this is no one-off. Greiner, inspired by similar places in Copenhagen, hopes to create a brick and mortar indoor public space and communal living room somewhere in the Boston area soon. The public space will host programming determined by the community.  Unlike nearby Kendall Square and bustling Harvard Square, Central Square does not have the benefits of a long history of economic development and Greiner and Pegan believe the area could benefit from this kind of community project. 

The Better Block Foundation has experience in this area. The Foundation based in Dallas, Texas, offers “consulting tools and support for rapid urban prototyping initiatives to advance the development of livable neighborhoods.”

The chalkboard with the prompt “I wish I had a space to …” turned out to be an enticing spot. People wrote a range of ideas from cooking meals for a big group, to a room to listen to music, to a communal room where they could just hang out and not feel the need to buy anything. Most simply said they wanted a space where they could interact with others in a public setting.

On the flip side, the beach backdrop had Cantabridgians dreaming of warm weather and taking selfies 

The pop-up according to Greiner and Pegan “dramatically changed the way people interacted with the space.” At least 15 percent of the people who saw the temporary tableau stayed and interacted with the area in some way, according to Greiner. “People were actually spending time in the space rather than just passing through,” said Greiner, which could be a key selling point for local businesses in the area.

There are plans to revisit the pop-up concept in Central Square soon.