Wake Up Cambridge!
A new attack petition, this one steeply curtailing neighborhood efforts to safeguard our rich, eclectic architectural legacy, has been submitted by an individual often allied with the local political group calling itself “A Better Cambridge” (ABC). This petition, falsely identified as promoting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access (what one can call the DEIA Neighborhood Conservation Assault Petition) seeks to gut Cambridge's long-standing architectural preservation models (specifically Neighborhood Conservation Districts - NCDs) that neighbors across the city have introduced to support the unique, varied mix of housing in their neighborhoods and to provide a review before demolitions can be undertaken or major facade changes can be made.
City Council will vote on a Petition received from members of the pro-developer political Pac that calls itself A Better Cambridge (ABC) seeking to gut Cambridge's long standing architectural preservation means, Neighborhood Conservation Districts (NCD), established when neighbors come together to preserve the unique eclectic mix of housing in their areas. NCDs are established after a rigorous process of review, and enable a board of residents, along with a Cambridge Historical Commission member, to review large neighborhood projects before demolitions can be undertaken or major facade changes made.
Sign our Petition: https://bit.ly/3w17ZA8
Read our Blog Post on this issue: Assault on Our Neighborhoods with regular updates with responses to our effort.
Why does this matter? Because Cambridge neighborhoods matter!! And, sadly, this is just one more effort local version of a national effort led by developers to overturn conservation districts, so that they and their rich out-of-town housing investors can do whatever they want, wherever they want. In the false name of “diversity, equity, inclusion, and access” (DEIA), the petitioners want to stop the creation of a new Neighborhood Conservation District now being discussed for the East Cambridge historic neighborhood of factory workers and immigrants. What does DEIA propose? They want to stack every Conservation District Board without asking for experience or time living in the neighborhood, and to require every District to come before City Council for regular review, modification, and re-approval. The disruptive and antagonistic methods of some of the pro-developer activists have been exactly the opposite of Zen-based DEIA principles of ethical action, transparent governance, and conflict avoidance/resolution – to say nothing of community sustainability and viability.
It also conflicts with architectural preservation efforts undertaken recently around the country to address the larger Black Lives Matter movement by adding more conservation areas honoring populations and sites earlier left out of these efforts. In essence, local pro-development supporters are co-opting and subverting this movement to do the opposite while also negatively impacting community sustainability and viability. Who benefits? Developers, monied investors, and those seeking to build large McMansions inconsistent with our long-standing local neighborhoods. This mis-named DEIA petition that seeks to gut neighborhood conservation is Step 2 of the larger assault effort initiated a few months ago with the MMH citywide up-zoning petition to add more luxury housing.
There are important economic impacts should the DEIA neighborhood conservation assault petition be ordained by City Council. This petition would principally benefit non-resident investors and developers (many of whom represent national and global financial interests), but may also negatively local businesses framed around the tourist trade and local small businesses, especially minority-owned businesses, that can exist because of the more affordable rents in older, low-scale buildings. Visitors come here keen to see and explore our unique history, and small local businesses sustain our communities. We know that our many NCDs help to keep rental and housing costs more stable than those parts of the city which lie outside these districts, but this is not just about economic issues, it is also about environmental sustainability. Tearing down structurally sound buildings instead of reusing them and updating them for new times and new uses is terrible for the environment and destroys what has made Cambridge attractive and livable for centuries. In addition, new construction too often entails cutting down trees because they're in the way.
The Conservation District movement, established around the country in the 1970s and 1980s, and the earlier historic preservation movement more broadly, came about as a means to address the wholesale demolition of properties. They have had an essential role in making Cambridge the beautiful and diverse city it is today. Without these protections, hundreds of years of careful planning and stewardship would have fallen to the wrecking ball, as they did in so many less-prescient cities. Cambridge is now recognized around the world as a great city and paragon of what civic life can be. In a country where suburban sprawl has been the norm, Cambridge's example is all the more precious. We can't allow it to be destroyed. For more information on these programs nationally see:
Protecting Older Neighborhoods Through Conservation District Programs
The developer-linked ABC political group is the SAME GROUP that recently submitted the city-wide up-zoning petition, misnamed the "Missing Middle Housing (MMH)" petition. The MMH would add MORE luxury housing, often by incentivizing replacing existing affordable rentals with newly constructed, oversized, unaffordable luxury single family homes and condos. We are grateful that, the Planning Board voted against its approval, thanks to your activism, but we are still not out of the woods with this.
As residents, we have a major stake in what happens in our city, both for ourselves and for future residents. Our city is now facing severe threats on various fronts -- resident displacement, lack of affordability in housing, the environment, overdevelopment, dysfunctional governance, and more. Neither the City Council nor the City Manager seems to be able or willing to address this, even though by area and national standards we are a very wealthy city. We are facing displaced tenants as their buildings are sold to make way for luxury buildings or developments, and our own friends and children are no longer able to rent or purchase homes here. As rampant commercial and residential construction continues apace throughout the City, we are further diminishing our threatened tree canopy and limited green space.
The City of Cambridge, founded in 1630, is one of the oldest planned European founded cities in North America. Our history, and the legacy of our rich architecture matters -- whether we are talking about workers cottages or more elite residences, workplaces, or one-time battlegrounds. It is important that we retain a key part of our Cambridge past not only for residents and visitors to enjoy today, but also so that newcomers to the city in the centuries that follow will be able to enjoy it as well. As as one of the ten (10) most densely populated cities in the country, and one with hundreds of new units already added every year under existing rules, Cambridge needs smart growth, not a modern-day land rush that displaces current tenants and and promotes the destruction of our neighborhoods. Do we want to lose our historic architectural legacy too? The DEIA petition will further exacerbate this problem.
COMMENTS on the DEIA Petition from Social Media and other response:
5.22.21 An ABC leader has tweeted a critique of our response writing that "a change to require 100 names instead of 10 names on a petition to block all development in a neighborhood is not an 'assault.' This comment is fallacious and represents a complete misunderstanding of the process of creating NGCs. Any group of residents can write a petition to create an NGC, but then the Cambridge Historical District must hear the case and vote to approve it. After that there is a circa year long study process that includes multiple meetings of people from this neighborhood, followed by a vote by the property owners within this NGC target area. Some NGCs do even not have 100 owners to sign a petition, and at the outset of this process, it is not even clear what the boundaries will be, so to create this as a proposed "condition" for NGCs is strange.
5.22.21 Saul Tannenbaum, a founding member of ABC and President of the Society for Industrial Archaeology (SIA - for which he is not speaking) writes on the Cambridgeport Neighborhood Association list serve in support of the DEIA petition. I cite the SIA website: "The mission of the Society for Industrial Archeology (SIA) is to encourage the study, interpretation, and preservation of historically significant industrial sites, structures, artifacts, and technology. By providing a forum for the discussion and exchange of information, the Society advances an awareness and appreciation of the value of preserving our industrial heritage. The Society for Industrial Archeology was formed in 1971 to promote the study, appreciation, and preservation of the physical survivals of our industrial and technological past. The word “archeology” underscores the society’s principal concern with the physical evidence of industry and technology-the study, interpretation, and preservation of historically significant preservation of historically significant sites, structures, buildings, artifacts, industrial processes, bridges, railroads, canals, landscapes, and communities"(emphasis added). Both CCC and Neighborhood Conservation Districts also support these preservation goals. Indeed East Cambridge as a former factory workers community is especially important to preserve for this reason.
5.22.21 Christopher Schmidt (from the CCCoalition Blog comments). He writes “The "ABC Leader"... is me, and I still object to the use of the language of violence to discuss a basic municipal policy change…. [I]t has to do with believing that use of harmful language to evoke violent imagery when describing municipal politics is beyond distasteful, and minimizes the extremely traumatic experiences that many members of our community have had with ‘actual’ assaults on their person. Literally, the ‘definition’ of ‘assault’ is ‘make a physical attack.’”
CCC response: we follows legacy of the New York Times and Historic Preservation discussions in honestly addressing the violent impacts of these attacks.
5.23.21. Lead DEIA petitioner, Loren Crowe, along with ABC leader, C. R. Schmidt, have tweeted about CCC’s response to their petition:
Sign our Petition HERE: https://bit.ly/3w17ZA8 to voice your opposition to this destructive, anti-neighborhood, pro-developer petition.
Read: the "DEIA Neighborhood Conservation Assault Petition" HERE: bit.ly/3w17ZA8
THE TIME IS NOW! to WAKE UP CAMBRIDGE to the potentially devastating issues of this new potentially highly destructive petition! Our future is in all our hands. Please join us by signing this petition and joining our effort.
Find out more at CCCoalition.org as things unfold - and join our efforts! Through our independent financial arm, CambridgePac, we will be supporting a slate of City Council candidates in the 2021 election. Follow our campaign at CambridgePac.org