Community / Featured

Impacts of Tourism in Harvard Square

Cambridge, Massachusetts is known for its history, architecture, and natural beauty- attracting over 8 million tourists each year, according to Harvard is the oldest higher-education institution in the United States, and its history and prestige naturally attract many people. Tourism is integral to Harvard Square’s larger economy, but can sometimes overwhelm Harvard students and inflate rent prices for small businesses. 

Many freshmen who live near Harvard Yard, the most popular part of campus, are concerned with their privacy. “It feels like you’re in a zoo, and that people are watching you,” says Abel. (Harvard students are only identified by their first names.) “They’ll [tourists] treat you very differently and they’ll look at you in a certain way.” Most students have their dorm blinds down in fear of tourists peering inside, since “tourists like to look into buildings [dorms] thinking that it’s a classroom,” says Vicki.

Tourists often intrude on student affairs. Vicki recalls an instance the first week of April, during the solar eclipse, where Harvard provided free glasses so that students could protect their eyes while watching. However, while students were in class, tourists took many of the glasses and prevented students from being able to enjoy a fun activity. 

This aspect of being a Harvard student is “sort of to be expected,” according to Charlie. For the most part, tourists are respectful. Students who don’t live in the Yard, like Charlie, don’t have negative experiences with tourists. Vicki adds that “It doesn’t bother me as much… they’re just other people, it’s no different than there just being more students on campus.”

Abel also says that tourism can have positive impacts on local business and economy, since “so many people are drawn in, especially with small businesses, people are eager to try new things.” Abel claims that much of Harvard Square trends more towards small businesses. A local business owner mentioned the ways tourism can create a vibrant and diverse community that enhances the square. He commented that “Harvard definitely attracts people from all over the world. We always put money up from different countries and we were able to fill it [a wall] up in a month from all over. We just met a family from Kyrgyzstan and it was awesome.” Tourism allows owners and workers to interact with people from around the globe. 

However, over the past decade, there has also been negative implications of tourism, as turnover of retail spaces has quickened. The reality is that some small local businesses are being replaced with large corporate chains, and some people worry that this commercialization of Harvard Square will contribute to it losing its charm and local feel. 

Local business owners attribute this turnover to a substantial increase of rent prices that aren’t only central to Harvard Square. Across the city, affordable real estate has become harder to find. “I think it’s the rents that got really really high, especially over here” says a local restaurant owner as he points down Brattle St. into the square. “This whole street has ridiculously high rents, and we’re able to afford it, but barely.” 

According to the Harvard Square Business Association, which was founded in 1910 “to advance the commercial, industrial and public interests of Harvard Square,”  a demographic report found that “total annual domestic and overseas visitors to Boston and Cambridge is 19.3 million.” Considering this, it’s foreseeable that many local businesses will struggle to stay afloat within the competitive pricing in such a highly trafficked area like Harvard square. 

This paradoxical effect of tourism raising rent prices while also keeping small businesses afloat fosters a unique economic state in Harvard Square. Catering towards tourists with the emergence of chain stores while maintaining the local businesses’ charm remains a difficult balance.

Boston Latin School student Ava Mackinnon contributed to reporting this article.

Comments are closed.