Grappling with Graphics: Misrepresenting the Complexities of Visualizing the AHO
The above image is CCC's most recent effort to convey visually how new structures in the proposed new Affordable . Housing Overlay will be experienced by residents. How one choses to convey a subject is very much an art form. Since no buildings have yet been built, much less those with the height and scale of those allowable in the proposed Affordable Housing Overlay, creating visual imagery is as much an art as a science - with a fair amount of intentionality thrown in. Most of CDD renderings are created using a technique called orthographic drawing to represent these buildings as three-dimensional forms (see below right). Because these convey how these buildings would be seen from above, they completely miss how these new structures would be experienced on ground level (by pedestrians and others) or by those living in inside adjacent or nearby buildings. A case in point is this left image below. The soft pastel blue of this rendering (or the greyscale) coloration of others also mute how sometimes jarring bold colors and new materials can be in historic neighborhoods. Moreover, the affordable housing developments CDD has shown were based on the current system of design criteria, review and oversight (including strong neighborhood participation, with potential for appeal. And at the August 5, 2019 meeting at the Public Library, one of the structures shown . as a model was not only created using the current design criteria, but only stands three stories high, well below those that will be allowed if the AHO passes.
Various individuals have worked to convey visually what the impacts of these structures will be on residents around the city. The version at the top is CCC's most recent version. It may also change over time. We did not get to this image without a lot of experimentation, trials and errors. That is a reflection in part of the complexity of the AHO but also part of the "art" in making such imagery. We had several earlier images. One of these is shown on the left. One left on the cutting room floor (with a current Cambridge affordable housing building)is shown at the right below.
Below, a doctored flier and photograph published by ABC member, Saul Tannenbaum is another case in point. This flier was made by two artists not affiliated with either CCC or HSNA. It was posted on the HSNA list serve among many other items over the summer on the AHO and other issues. It was also posted initially on the CCC website before we took it down requesting that the artists no longer circulating it. Tannenbaum had every right to use it, and critique it, but several of the things stated here are incorrect. Like many other images show here it is an artistic rendering. A building's height is naturally going to be truncated in many cases. They used a street image from Jamaica Plain because it was out of copyright, it makes no difference whether the original street was specific to Cambridge, the idea was to convey something of what might happen. No the blue building is NOT 8 feet wide. No residential building is. The AHO will over-ride all current zoning in Cambridge - in residential and commercial areas that is why it is called a city-wide Overlay. Overriding and replacing zoning is similar to a repeal even if the exact wording is different. The AHO also removes the Planning Board from its current Oversight role, and makes their work merely advisory - these changes will take place in all neighborhoods.The AHO does indeed encourage tear downs because renovating an existing building is FAR more expensive than tearing it down and once a structure is demolished one can build FAR taller and wider structures. The AHO does indeed promote tall massive buildings that can indeed reach 7 stories tall along corridors even those that are now residential or have residential areas adjacent to them. And finally if you live in Cambridge, yes it could happen on your street!
Taken up here are further responses to AHOR critiques of this handout:
· Concerns on heights: the text and image have been corrected. Response: not mentioned in the AHOR document is the fact that places currently zoned for 40 feet could go up to 80 feet in the AHO according to the May 5 CDD Document. HERE is the May5 CDD document: https://www.cambridgema.gov/~/media/Files/CDD/Housing/Overlay/100affordableoverlaypresentation20190305.pdf. SEE IMAGES AT THE END of this overview. Note: This was changed in a recent proposal zoning proposal revision.
· Concerns on impacts on every neighborhood: AHOR states that the handout incorrectly states that “Only a very small number of streets would be newly allowed these tall corridor buildings -- most neighborhoods don't have one.” Response: the AHO wording indicates that this will impact all residential and commercial properties; and indeed this is citywide.
· Concerns that the handout creators misunderstand how stories work. Response: this is incorrect, the average story height is 10 feet and this is indicated in the image.
· Concerns about stating that the AHO is "highly risky" but these risks are “never called out.” Response: indeed there is no other city in the country that has attempted such a step; the term “highly risky” was noted at the Planning Board meeting.
· Concerns that the tall building depicted has too little window glass. Response: this image is not an actual building but an architect’s drawing. And in many ways more windows, particularly in close proximity to adjacent buildings will be more problematic.
· Concerns about the statement that the Overlay "allows for removal of trees and green space,” specifically that. “the overlay does not change any zoning regulation with regard to trees.” Response: in fact, the recent tree ordinance to safeguard mature trees specifically removed affordable housing from this requirement.
· Concerns about the statement that It says that the Overlay "allows residential tear-downs and renter displacement." AHOR states, this is “common throughout the city already…but it is not affected in any way by the overlay.” Response: This is not at all common now, and in the current system, neighbors often work together with the developer to help preserve these structures. In the AHO only those buildings on the State Registry of Historic buildings are preferably preserved. Unfortunately, there are relatively few buildings currently on this list. And there is no special protection for tenants who live in these building who would indeed be displaced.
· Concerns with the statement that the AHO will lead to tall box-like structures. Response: This is indeed correct, and the reason that this is done is to maximize density (the number of units to be built) and to save costs; tall box-like buildings characterize most affordable housing developments in Cambridge and elsewhere.
· Concerns that the claims about increasing density will increase traffic …in general, more dense construction in cities decreases traffic, as more residents can walk to their destinations. Response: The AHO will be occupied mostly by people who work outside the home; and, since these are lower income, many will be working at night, or on several shifts, or in cities outside Cambridge; public transport will not accommodate this.
· Concerns that this will "alter city livability"… which has been countered by all evidence from the City and from this organization, which claims that very few units will be created. Response: Unlike 40B housing there will be no profit caps on AHO developments and multiple developers have noted that the number could rise into the thousands, particularly for those developers who already own properties in Cambridge so property costs are not the issue.
· Concerns that claims in this handout are not fact-based and no way to confirm or deny many of them, e.g. risk of spurious citizen lawsuits [and]…claim that unit densities could be increased by up to 8x is also true, though projects at that density are unlikely for other reasons. Response: few of the lawsuits are spurious and indeed some of these developments likely will increase density up to these levels.
Categories: AHO, Design
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