What's So Special About Kendall Square?

Today, the innovation news site Xconomy, founded by former MIT Technology Review editor-in-chief Robert Buderi, has bureaus in 10 technology hubs around the country. But when I joined the staff there in the summer of 2007, it covered just one place: Kendall Square. The geographical focus was spelled out in the site logo, which said Xconomy Kendall Square. It was hyperlocal news, taken to an extreme. 

Buderi's original insight was right. If a journalist wanted to understand how innovation worked—how ideas bubble up from the lab bench to the garage to the venture capital boardroom to the marketplace, and how networks of real people with overlapping passions make it all happen—then there was no better place to start.

Xconomy Kendall Square eventually became Xconomy Boston, and the company extended its coverage to other innovation clusters like Seattle and San Francisco, where I was editor until 2014. But Kendall Square remains as the company's headquarters and, in effect, its jewelbox. It's a place to which academic scientists and engineers, programmers and designers, investors and real estate whizzes, companies large and small, and entrepreneurs at every experience level gravitate and mix with such density that a kind of fusion—and the accompanying release of energy—can't help but result. 

Boston Consulting Group has rightly called this tiny district at the western end of the Longfellow Bridge "the most innovative square mile on earth." As the area's obvious physical transformation continues (as described in a terrific Michael Blanding article in MIT Technology Review's MIT News section this month), more and more people are asking how it got that way, and how it's holding on to its lead. And during the week of ScienceWriters2015, students of innovation—the transformation of research insights into marketable products—will have several great opportunities to explore the answers.

1. On Thursday, October 8, as part of HUBweek (the Boston-wide festival of art, science, and technology that I described here last month), numerous companies, labs, and organizations in the neighborhood will throw open their doors for Inside Kendall Square. It's a half-day extravaganza featuring open houses, conversations, parties, unconferences, and demos designed to draw visitors into the special "esprit de corps that makes Boston and Cambridge the place to be," in the language of HUBweek's event overview.

2. On Friday, October 9, all ScienceWriters attendees are invited to Dispatches from the Front Lines of Life Sciences, a special forum organized by STAT, the newest online publication from Boston Globe Media. To be held from 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard at 400 Technology Square in Kendall Square, this panel discussion and Q&A session will feature Eric Lander from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard—one of the core institutions fueling the life science explosion in Kendall Square—as well as top journalists working with STAT, including Sharon Begley, Seth Mnookin, Meg Tirrell, and Carl Zimmer. To sign up to attend, go to STAT's Eventbrite page and look for the "Enter promotional code" link in the top section. Enter the code SCIENCE for free registration.

3. On Monday, October 12, during two-hour break in the CASW New Horizon in Science briefings, the Knight Science Journalism program will offer a special panel on The Ingredients for Innovation in Kendall Square as part of our expanded, two-day Lunch With a Luminary series. This interactive discussion will bring together members of Kendall Square's software and information technology sector (including Steven Vinter from Google), its life sciences sector (including LabCentral founder Johannes Fruehauf and OvaScience CEO Michelle Dipp), and its investing community (represented by Maia Heymann from CommonAngels). If you're not signed up for one of our smaller Lunch With a Luminary sessions, grab a box lunch in the Kresge Lobby at noon and head over to the large Sala de Puerto Rico in the MIT Student Center.

Who knows if anyone will want to build the 1,000-foot office and residential tower proposed by Cambridge city councillor Leland Cheung, a 2012 graduate of MIT's Sloan School of Management, as a part of the planned redevelopment of a large Department of Transportation site in the center of Kendall Square (properly originally cleared for a NASA electronics lab, as Blanding's piece recounts). But with or without a signature skyscraper, Kendall Square will likely continue to tower over other innovation-rich regions—and October's meeting is a chance for you to find out why.



Wade Roush

10 Museum Way, Cambridge, MA, 02141, United States

Science and technology journalist based in San Francisco.