Ending parking minimums (laws requiring a specific number of parking spaces in different city contexts) is now being proposed by City Council. This across the board (city wide) proposal will detrimentally impact many residents and businesses. The unintended consequences of removing parking minimums citywide are significant. Lack of adequate parking could lead environmental harm from circling the neighborhood for the increasingly rarer space or greater green space loss for more onsite parking, leading to increased heat island impacts harmful and could push us further behind in addressing economic, racial, and environmental equity.
The removal of parking minimums is part of a set of goals, that dovetails with efforts of some to up-zone residential areas to add more, and larger, market rate housing. Cambridge is already a very dense city, and the City has plans to make it even denser. One strategy to do so, that is being pushed by some on Council currently is to stop requiring housing and commercial property developers to provide some minimal amount of parking for new residential or commercial owners and tenants.
Please read the City’s Envision and Moving Forward Report data on this issue:
Our city’s ENVISION FINAL REPORT calls for a moderated parking plan, removing parking minimums only in those areas where this can be done sustainably and without impacting the community. Envision DOES NOT call for ending parking minimums citywide and indeed seems to oppose such a plan. In some areas, for example in Harvard Square’s commercial area, parking minimums have already been removed because there is ample public transit. Each public square and neighborhood has its own particular needs and requirements. The Envision Final Report also expresses concern about spillover on residential streets. Again, the Envision Report never suggests removing parking minimums city wide. Let’s make sure we follow what Utile’s planning efforts provided by way of a city plan. Smart planning matters.
The Cambridge 2020 Moving Forward Report Transportation/ParkingData) breaks need down by neighborhood
Central Square and University Park
East Cambridge/North Point
Inside the Sullivan Room and Cambridge City Hall. Photo Credit: Harvard Crimson.
The Cambridge Citizens Coalition encourages the City Council to select a new manager with excellent training, experience and a proven track record, as well as someone willing to:
(Op Ed Published in Cambridge Day. Monday January 24, 2022. (Please support your local newspapers!)
The lyrics of the Standells’ classic 1966 hit about loving that “Dirty Water” today give us pause. Kudos to the citizen activists of Arlington for exposing the 50 million-gallon deluge of untreated sewage-contaminated stormwater that ran into the Alewife Brook last year (“Despite upgrades, 50 million gallons of sewage were released into the Alewife Brook over 2021,” Jan. 16). For comparison’s sake, that’s the equivalent of nearly eight Olympic-sized swimming pools. To add insult to injury, that level of contamination comes after almost $200 million dollars was spent precisely to prevent this problem.
The important point here is not government incompetence – in fact, our city’s Public Works Department has made protecting the Alewife a priority. The problem is simply so much bigger than anyone thought, and only getting worse. Back in the 1990s, when these efforts began, the double whammy effects of climate change and overdevelopment were seriously underestimated.
That sewage-stormwater mix isn’t just bad for the wildlife of the Alewife brook. It travels into people’s homes. Roughly 3,500 residents of North Cambridge live in the Little River-Alewife Reservation’s 100-year flood plain.
Calling it a 100-year flood plain, moreover, is a quaint relic from an age of “100-year floods.” Thanks to climate change, these now happen every few years. Last year was one of the wettest recorded for Massachusetts, but 2018 was even wetter and climate scientists say that more water, from sea-level rise and more precipitation, is our future.
And speaking of the environment, this same Alewife brook area is the former home to the Native community here – overseen by a female chief (sachem) who negotiated with the first Europeans to arrive in Cambridge. Our rivers and the environment more generally are critical to this Native legacy. Sewage flowing to this wetland is deeply troubling, especially with renewed concerns about the climate.
To bend the curve of climate change takes more than the goodwill of Cantabrigians. We can (and must) do something about overdevelopment. Since the 1990s, development in the Alewife area has exploded with thousands of new apartments and scores of office buildings with hardscaped surfaces that prevent stormwater from being naturally absorbed. Stormwater can overwhelm the sewer system, flushing everything back out into rivers and people’s homes.
Today, there is a commercial land rush going on in the Cambridge Highlands next to Alewife. One company has spent more than a half-billion dollars in just the past year to acquire 36 acres for a “life-science campus.” Back in 1979, the city endorsed mixed-use development for that neighborhood, and in 2019 our government reiterated that goal. That hope is evaporating along with the 1,000-plus housing units (including hundreds of affordable units) that might have been built on that parcel. The City Council proposes a temporary freeze on permitting for new labs, but our history on this issue doesn’t inspire confidence.
How does all this tie together? In the particular case of development in Cambridge Highlands, the City Council, Planning Board and city manager must work together to ensure all new construction relieves the pressure on local housing and residential needs and infrastructure. That means a full environmental review and an iron-clad commitment that all mitigation measures will be enforced, including permeable surfaces (which we’ve already put forward in our zoning petition), bioswales, significant plantings and even a stormwater tank, if required. The city has to get tough to prevent disasters, not just react to them.
On a larger scale, these issues underscore the increasingly seat-of-the-pants nature of planning now and into Cambridge’s future. Envision Cambridge, which cost millions of dollars and countless hours of work from city staff and residents, seems like an elaborate public relations stunt rather than a tool for managed growth. Increasingly, developers of all kinds are being given a green light to build whatever they want, wherever they want. Environmental concerns, including protecting our modest tree canopy and green spaces, are treated like frivolous extras rather than the front-line defenders against climate change that they are.
When we look at the flooding danger threatening a big chunk of the city – a danger that was consistently underestimated – how can we be so cavalier going forward?
As the demand for space in Cambridge, residential and commercial, continues to skyrocket from investors and others, we can’t ignore the message that the contamination of the Alewife sends us. We need balanced growth (with priority given to new affordable and non-luxury housing) that won’t leave us knee-high in sludge. While we disagree with the Standells about loving that “Dirty Water,” we agree with them about loving our hometown.
Marilee Meyer, for the Cambridge Citizens Coalition
Our Op Ed "Whatever Zoning..." was published on Cambridge Day on Jan. 3, 2022 in time for the important Planning Board meeting which will take up ending single family and two family restrictive district zoning in the city. The text of our op ed is below. We urge people to read it on the site itself if you chose and please support Cambridge Day (and other local newspapers with your donations.
“Whatever.” With or without an eye roll, we all know what “whatever” means. We’ve all said it to dismiss something as unworthy of further discussion or to dismiss its importance or relevance.
It’s surprising, however, to see the Community Development Department offer up its version of “whatever” on Tuesday to the Planning Board at its first meeting of the new year. Titled “Single-family, Two-family, Multifamily Zoning Districts,” CDD’s report was supposed to give the board a framework to consider rezoning the city with, we had hoped, the goal of increasing housing affordability while protecting current residents from displacement.
Instead, the report is tilted toward simply rezoning all of Cambridge to the highest current allowed residential density criteria. In other words, the city’s current densest levels of residential development would be allowed in every neighborhood, greenlighting the tear-down of more existing homes. At the same time, single- and two-family homes could be supplemented with or replaced by more massive and much more expensive single-family structures that jam-pack their lots and eliminate what little green space existed.
The report’s graphics tell the story: Rezoning the entire city is listed first and highlighted green (as in go). In a nod to reality, it is labeled “minimal study,” which is presented as an advantage. Another graphic, “What could be studied further?” rates “alternative zoning approaches” as “high” in time and effort – and highlights it in red (as in stop). Tellingly, it is only the “alternative zoning approaches” that mention “affordability [and] form-based standards.” In other words, the hard work and careful analysis that effective zoning reform would require is characterized from the get-go as taking too much time and effort. “Whatever,” indeed.
The Cambridge Citizens Coalition supports ending single-family zoning. And we support building new units across the city, but with a focus on commercial corridors, particularly Massachusetts Avenue east of City Hall, where lower-cost inclusionary apartments could be required. We are against actions that will further displace current residents or favor building luxury housing rather than affordable housing. And we are willing to work with everyone to come up with zoning rules that promote those goals.
While the “one district size fits all” approach seems to be aimed at creating a uniform Cambridge citywide “look” with purportedly more racial equity, the opposite is more likely to happen while adding to gentrification, existing inequities and environmental problems.
How much of a change would the greenlighted plan bring? Currently in our A-1 district there are seven units per acre; the A-2 district has nine units; District B has 17 units; C has 24 units; C-1 has 29 units. If C-1 criteria are accepted citywide, the number of allowable units in the A-1 could increase 400 percent, and B district allowable units would nearly double. These districts would experience significant loss in trees and green spaces, adding to the heat island effect citywide.
We urge the Planning Board (and City Council) to ask that more study be done. If we go with the minimal, easy plan, we will simply be leaving it up to outside developers and investors to do what is best for them. Cambridge has the resources to do this right. The idea that Cambridge would go for a minimal plan, requiring the least amount of work while carrying sizable potential harm to the environment without advancing equity or affordability, well, that does deserve an eye roll.
Jan.4, 2022. We have seen a complete that CDD (and we) did not address city residential zoning districts now associated with universities (dormitories etc) or along commercial corridors (C-1A-C-3B) (which they color code differently) - reaching in some cases 120.' as part of the report. Frankly, CCC did not imagine that our city planners would propose that the entire city be up-zoned to allow 12 story buildings anywhere, so like the CDD we focused on those core residential areas where the main vast majority of our single and two story residences are found.
Jan. 4, 2022. The Planning Board to the person voiced sizable concerns to CDD's Option 1 and up-zoning the residential areas more generally. They concluded that this plan must be sent back to the CDD to come up with other suggested plans. The Donovan petition proposal (the Advancing Housing Affordability plan) was viewed favorably as a good starting point by several Board members.
On January 4, the Planning Board will take up the Community Development Department (CDD)’s proposals for ending exclusively single family and two family zoning, a plan that likely will make the city more expensive for homeowners and renters alike. Like the MMH, this would also bring far more demolitions of existing homes in order to enhance profits for outside investors and developers bringing more luxury home purchasers to the city.
The City Council asked the Cambridge Community Development Department (CDD) to work with the Planning Board and come up with a plan to end end exclusively single family zoning districts. CDD's presentation asks "Where to Start?" (see chart above) and proposes 3 possibilities for discussion on January 4:
The Planning Board will be taking up these options and we need them to have your input and further questions: If they go with Option 1 (which the CDD seems to be suggesting) it will mean they want all districts (A, A-1, and B) to have the the same density and green space (set back) requirements as the C and C-1 district (our former factor and factory worker area). Often here we see small homes crammed into smaller plots of land with little green space, a result that citywide will lead to the creation of new market rate (luxury) single family homes (or luxury condos), fewer trees, more house tear downs, and higher housing costs for renters and home owners alike as infill projects, tear downs, profits and housing prices soar.
What CDD seems to be proposing (see the above link) is to accept the zoning for C and C-1 districts citywide and applying it to all our housing districts. This they consider the least difficult way to address the question of ending exclusively single family residential zoning here purportedly to redress what they see as a legacy of racism and to add more market rate housing for the many new people who want to live in Cambridge. Since the CDD is not proposing any affordability requirement for new units or homes in the the city, CCC believes that this would exacerbate existing housing and race issues, largely to the benefit of market rate housing investors and developers, making housing more expensive for everyone.
Alas, none of the three CDD options addresses housing affordability, the #1 issue for many people in the city. What about affordability needs? Is the city's planning department proposing to make a citywide up-zoning change without any new affordable housing requirements, in essence making our problems even worse? It seems like it. While this “one district size fits all” approach seems to be aimed at creating a uniform Cambridge city-wide “look” with purportedly more equity and opportunity for local residents, the opposite is more likely to happen, as new projects price out current residents and add new inequities for longstanding tenants and owners, as more developers scoop up properties as investments and build new larger market rate units here for maximum profit. Is this really what current residents want? Is this what is best for the city’s future, particularly since this not only means increasing housing costs for everyone, but also increasing gentrification, loss of critical rental properties, and serious environmental harm?
What does Option 1 mean comparatively for our neighborhoods? This is answered best by looking at the allowable units for each our current residential districts per acre. Currently in our A-1 district we have 7 units per acre; A-2 has 9 units; B has 17 units; C has 24 units; C-1 has 29 units. If C-1 criteria is accepted citywide the number of allowable units in A-1 districts could increase 400% (along with property values and taxes). In B districts the allowable units would nearly double (along with property values and taxes) while in these districts we also would experience a sizable loss in trees and green spaces. This change would necessarily also come with a very significant alteration in how these neighborhoods “look” from the vantage of housing setbacks (smaller front yards, side yards, and back yards), new likely boxier building types, increased numbers of residents, increased wealth of residents, and increased issues around parking.
If C and C-1 residential zoning standards are advanced citywide for all residential zoning districts, this would mean that setbacks and existing green spaces in A, A-1 and B districts would change - in some cases substantially. Front yards citywide minimums would change to 10’ and new buildings would likely stand out from adjacent residences that have deeper front yards at 15’ or 20’ or under current district guidelines. New side yard minimums at 10’ and back yards at 20’ would similarly separate new denser housing from older neighboring homes - a change that would be accompanied by a sizable loss of green spaces, trees, and sunlight.
Design review? Neighborhood impact review? Not in any of the proposed plans. And, since these changes would come with no design review or design oversight, unless an older building is being replaced, the impacts on neighbors and neighborhood dynamics and experience could change significantly as more and more back and side yards are built in with large new housing infill projects, many out of scale with the current neighborhood. We also would see significant new infrastructure needs as neighborhood density will increase – from water, sewage, and electrical grid needs (including generators), to schools, police, libraries, and parking. Alas, since the city planning department (CDD and City Council) seems interested in decreasing parking requirements for new units citywide, just as the density of each neighborhood would be increasing, parking issues would likely become even more of a concern and problem.
What about the CCC-supported Advancing Housing Affordability (AHA) Petition proposal? It appears that the CDD has chosen not to address the AHA proposal in their options. The AHA had suggested modifying single family housing requirements by keeping the current structures (but allowing more units within them). The AHA maintained current district open space and set back requirements but allowed modifications through special permit if (with 3 or more units) affordable units were being added. The AHA changes would have seen our neighborhoods grow in a more incremental, thoughtful way so that we could evaluate changes more effectively over time. CDD's Option 1 is NOT a mid-way point solution between the MMH and the AHA but follows very closely the MMH guidelines for more market rate (luxury) housing development city wide, no affordability requirement, and more density in existing neighborhoods with less green space and trees and parking. The main difference between the MMH and Option 1 is the allowable heights of new buildings (39 feet versus the current 35 feet) and minimum unit sizes.
WHERE CCC STANDS: There are much better ways to add far more housing. Why not use them? if we focused our residential density increases on the main corridors – say Central Square Massachusetts Avenue east of City Hall – we could easily add the same number of NEW residents in high rises AND require them to have inclusionary (affordable) units (20% minimally) so we would be able to GET HIGHER HOUSING NUMBERS and new housing numbers without having to demolish existing homes, remove green spaces, increase historic home tear downs and add to property values city wide. Building up this corridor would be the smarter way to go.
What comes next? After the Planning Board discussion (and decision?) the issue will be sent back to the City Council Ordinance Committee for a recommendation and the possibility (likelihood) of either a new residential citywide zoning petition (ordinance) or further study by the City. This is one of those issues where CCC recommends further study for affordability, neighborhood, environmental, and housing cost impacts.
November 16, 2021 was a big day with two meetings (the Ordinance Committee of City Council, and the Planning Board) for the Advancing Housing Affordability (AHA) Zoning Petition that was submitted at City Hall on September 1. Fritz Donovan, as first signer of the AHA petition, along with Suzanne Blier presented the case. At the Planning Board we were also joined by Professor Daniel Bluestone of Boston University. The City Council Ordinance Committee decided to keep the AHA “in committee” for so that further work can be done on it. And they asked CDD to work with the Planning Board to come up with guidelines for new Single and Two Family District zoning language. The Planning Board, aware of the Council’s decision, gave a unfavorable vote to the AHA “as written” with the idea that the AHA proposals would be taken up by CDD and the Planning Board at a future meeting. At the same time, the Planning Board lauded the goals of the AHA petition and Hugh Russell noted that Part III of the AHA petition sought to address the root of our housing problem. This latter issue will be key if we are to have any sustainable plan going forward to address this.
One of the things we are asking for is that housing be added to the Parking, Transportation, Demand Management Ordinance where key decisions for commercial and institutional employers are made. With CDD now requiring that sometimes 20% of new commercial employees live in Cambridge, but not requiring that these groups address city and area housing needs has exacerbated the problem and made it untenable, particularly since what was supposed to be a new City Plan (Envision) has yet to be used to create a city wide housing plan, so we end up with more and more long term residents being displaced, and both rental and home ownership prices sky-rocketing. The AHA Powerpoint is now on the CCC website.
The AHA petition began in earnest in the summer of 2020 with the first Donovan petition to modify single family housing. Due to circumstances of timing we were not able to have the necessary meetings and withdrew that petition and started in earnest again in the spring of 2021 to reevaluate what we had proposed at that time, broaden the scope, and bring more participants into the process. We held weekly meetings by zoom and invited various professionals as well as members of the diverse Cambridge political groups to join us. We shared agendas, and meeting minutes with a wide variety of individuals, not all of whom joined in the meetings themselves. By midway through the process, we had a core group of about 8 to 10 people from across the city which helped us address citywide impacts. We also did a fair amount of reading both of local scholarly work and of materials put out by groups such as the Harvard Joint Center for Housing, the Greater Boston Housing Report and others. We brought in a number of experts before submitting the petition in early September.
Four key issues framed in discussions leading up to this petition .
• 1. The demand for housing in Cambridge is infinite. We need a far reaching and textured plan.
• 2. Impact of our rich innovation-based technology on increased property values, investments & needs
• 3. Increased population & arrival of wealthier residents (employees of new bio- and info-tech jobs and others) plus property investment fueling escalating long-term housing costs and resident displacement.
• 4. Cambridge has the brain power and financial resources to deal successfully with this problem, but the plan must be both local and regional.
Issues around housing and property needs in Cambridge go back to our very origins, and change quite significantly over time. On this slide we can see some of the changing housing pressures. Multi-family housing that originally met the needs of our many emigrees and workers (and their larger families) today are housing also an array of millennials and students. We are also seeing wealthy couples (some of whom raised their children in the suburbs) moving to Cambridge because of its rich cultural amenities. What served the city well for decades as multi-family homes are being converted to single family residences, and increasingly existing single-family homes are being torn down (or coupled with larger additions) to accommodate a single family with a 2021 sense of what their spatial needs warrant. Added to the increased investor capital targeting Cambridge commercial and residential properties we see the numbers of seniors living here growing (increasing about 40% over the next two decaades, now about 13,200 seniors – about 21% facing cost burdens according to the Cambridge Housing Needs Assessment [http://www.housing.ma/cambridge/report] Many wish to continue to enjoy their life here, aging in place, but who would like to or need to have renters (younger or older) to share their homes with them, or the income from creating a condo within the shell of their existing homes. The AHA petition seeks to address this too.
One of the things we learned from a Harvard Joint Center for Housing seminar is that this coming decade will be especially difficult for housing. As noted above, a large demographic of current homeowners (seniors, baby boomers – those born between 1945 and 1970) will eventually be facing decreasing numbers, freeing up their homes for others. Millennials who are now putting off having families (for reasons of work, housing, and preference) may move toward children in the decade ahead. Where will they choose to live? The city or the suburbs, it is not clear. In short, we will likely see significant changes in the next few decades. What we choose to do on housing must be sustainable for the decades and centuries ahead, in the same way that our rich legacy of Cambridge architecture has achieved this. Add to this, environmental concerns and the reasons to smartly repurpose the housing we have becomes all the more important.
Cambridge’s very hot job market is also an issue - causing problems that are in many ways a blessing. We have great universities that draw students, staff, and affiliates. These education centers (and others in the area) have made Cambridge an intellectual hub that spawned our rich bio-tech and info-tech sites for innovation-linked work. With these jobs come new workers with sizable salaries (above current residents) along exploding investment demand. A zoning petition cannot address all of this, nor should it. Instead, what the Advancing Housing Affordability petition seeks to do is to address several smaller pieces of this puzzle, ones that we believe will help us today AND into the future. The city can’t do this alone, and the area piece is part of this.
In our series of meetings over the spring and summer, we took off from the initial Donovan petition but also sought to find new ground and were very open to moving in other directions. Each meeting we summarized where we were (what items we had broad support for) and what other issues remained for us to explore. By August 1, for example, we had broad (but not universal) support for the single and double family housing piece of this and were grappling with what that would specifically entail. We also had broad support for increased density and height on Mass Avenue and were exploring how to address specific sections and blocks of this corridor. We also were keen to add more housing to our major grocery store sites. In the end, we dropped these two latter proposals concluding that the City (CDD) itself is better able to provide a thoughtful way forward on this because there are so many moving parts. We had diverse perspectives on parking minimums because the impacts are felt so differently across the city, and with CDD now doing a study of parking, we also felt this would be better left with them. But we did feel it would be important to propose a key climate piece to the parking issues. As the issue of affordability of housing came into play thinking not only about the single family and two family housing piece of this, but also larger causes and impacts it was here that a more area wide approach began to be explored.
We are asking to modify single-family and two-family residential zoning. While this would principally impact zoning districts A-1, A-2, and B our intention is that this is also citywide. As you can see on this map – the lighter and darker yellow areas - we are speaking about a significant section of the city.. Currently 15% of Cambridge units are in single family homes; 33% are in two- to four-family buildings. Through 2020 we’ve built 35 of projected 38 needed single family units and 280 of projected needed 360 multi-family units. (source: Cambridge Basic Housing Needs Assessment). The AHA would help meet core current needs for new multi-family homes in cost effective, sustainable way. We have about 5,000 single family homes in Cambridge. If 20% of these owners choose to do this, we could get a net increase of about 2,000; s at the 10% (net 1,000 new units) and at 30% (net 3,000 new units) levels. With two family residences the numbers would be even higher.
Our intent is to allow homeowners to allow more units within the shells of their existing structures with modest changes to the rear or rear sides of the buildings to make these additional units possible, but to keep the street facing facades intact. If one is adding three or more units within a structure then the affordable unit component would be in play similar to inclusionary zoning now. Consistent with the Solicitor’s discussion of this at a recent meeting, we have included an FAR enhancement that could be part of a new or existing ADU. We have chosen to keep the current district guidelines with respect to open spaces and setbacks both because they are consistent with the neighborhoods and because we are deeply concerned about the loss of city green spaces and trees not only for environmental reasons but also because in a city as dense as ours (fifth most dense in the country with a population over 100,000), our close neighbors’ green spaces and trees are also what makes our own residences far better.
New entries might be added at the rear of the right side (where there now is an exit) and not be visible to either Hawthorne or Mt Auburn Street. Should the owner choose to add three units (either as apartments or as condos) one would have to be affordable. In this way the beauty and sustainability of this home could be maintained for generations more, alternating at times between single family and multi-family use as demand and necessity require. While the AHA petition would allow 500 square feet units (the size of a small one bedroom it would also allow much larger units depending on the context and need. We also know that landlords with relatively few units, including those who rent units in the buildings where they live tend to have close relationships with their tenants and often rent at lower rates. This piece of the AHA would encourage more of this without creating rooming houses because of the maximum of 3 units with each structure. What would be the cost to add a new unit? There are many variables. We spoke with one developer who noted that there are many variables, including the possible need for a fire escape or secondary egress, but for a c.700 square foot unit, the cost would be roughly $175-200k per unit with about $40k in soft costs and maybe an addition $100k in infrastructure. That cost could be readily absorbed in a second mortgage – either for a rental unit (earning $24,000 for a $2000 a month unit, and paid off in eight-ten years; or sold outright as a condominium).
Another option is the "Three PLUS ONE " Plan proposed by Prof. Daniel Bluestone. Using current buildings is the best, fastest, least expensive and easiest way to add units. One way is to add 1 more unit to existing triple-deckers. The city could create and make available to contractors an adaptable design templates for plus 1 units for triple-deckers. If we had 15,000 triple-deckers, adding 1 more unit to each would create 15,000 new homes – inexpensively, quickly, & sustainably. One could also streamline permitting & disseminate the adaptable design templates broadly. Perhaps we go the extra step and retrofit each building for energy efficiency as well. As he notes "The most effective thing we can possibly do is figure out how to use and reuse the places that we've already built."
The changes taking place in Cambridge are quite stunning. Here we show you what has happened over two years in one mid-Cambridge home. Over the course of a two-year renovation project it has become three condos Could the AHA have made a difference in bringing an extra rental or condo unit into this renovation? We believe so. We also believe that if the second part of our proposal, for rain permeable parking, were in place we and the city would have been far better off.
In PART II of the AHA we seek to modify open yard residential parking creation to require rain permeable materials. This will be important in this era of climate change in allowing more rainwater to seep into the earth to nourish our trees and keep our gutters clear. As Cambridge gets more and more built up this is increasingly more difficult. There are many different styles of pavers – some resembling brick or stone, others incorporating greenery. And they are easy to install. As to price, these new rain permeable pavers are competitive with other paving forms.
Part III of the AHA Petition seeks an areawide approach. We are proposing an area wide plan for major Cambridge employers to house 85% of employees and affiliates in the area by the year 2040. As a model, we draw on our 1998 Parking Transportation Demand Management Ordinance (PTDM), and the annual Town Gown Reports. We are urging the City to expand the 1998 Parking, Transportation Ordinance to include housing. This ordinance includes an Annual Review framed to meet pre-set citywide goals. In place for twenty years, the 1998 Parking, Transportation Ordinance has had a major impact on the city’s ability to add so much commercial development to the city over the past decade. The one missing piece is housing and the need to address impacts that commercial and institutional employee and affiliate expansion has brought.
The Parking Transportation Ordinance now covers 30% of all Cambridge Employees, plus educational facilities, Research and development, a hospital, & 10,000 graduate and primary students. Adding housing to the 1998 Parking Transportation Ordinance with a goal of retaining current residents, diminishing housing costs, and better reusing existing homes is a natural next step. The larger goal we propose is accountability for 85% of employees and affiliates of larger employers by the year 2040.
Is 100 employees/affiliates the right number for such a proposal? This would have to be decided. The 1998 Parking Transportation Ordinance uses “large projects” and “small projects” as criteria. That could work here as well. We also have asked that the City itself as a large employer be included in the AHA.
Adding housing criteria to the 1998 Parking, Transportation Ordinance, under Article 6, links onto Article 19 of zoning. Here housing could be added as a possible choice for the Planning Board to consider when they request information and undertake related discussions to address shared city equity goals and would enable us to enhance equity results. In Zoning, there already is the ability to address percentages, so if for example a company is 5% below the requirement (or another significant amount) it could come with a penalty. One could also ask employers to sign an affidavit from ISD or CDD – with their plan –and attest that they have achieved the yearly goal of X or Y percentage under penalty of perjury. The AHA is clearly different from, but could complement linkage fees by providing core data on related outcomes. And, for example if CDD is requiring that 20% of a company’s new employees live in Cambridge, for company of 4,000 employees they would be requiring 800 units. With the AHA we could ask where and at what rental or purchase cost would these new city units be found in the city (or in the area), and what would their impacts be on current residents and housing costs more generally. As the city expands commercially and our institutions’ staff and affiliate numbers increase, we want to be able to understand how the local housing market is impacted and what is happening to it on a year-by-year basis. With this (and a better handle on investment impacts) we can be sure we are addressing the problems early on and not just guessing or adding to the housing problem.
Cambridge has seen extensive institutional growth in recent years at our universities in numbers of undergraduates, graduate students, post docs, and staff over the last 25 years. This has significant impacts on the city. We need their help with addressing the future. With c. 8,000 undergraduates, grad students and post doc students living in Cambridge rental units (with stipends increasing with annual costs) this reduces city housing availability and helps to raise costs each year. If universities help by providing more area housing, these units could go to others, with larger increases if 85% of undergraduates, affiliates (post-docs), and staff are addressed as well.
Our extraordinary universities have helped to add housing at key moments in our city’s history. Now is an important time to do so again whether in Cambridge or in other nearby communities.
Local and area housing policies would benefit from an area-wide approach. Working remotely (types of work & % of employees): creative private/public shared buses or parking partnerships: reuse of parking sites (for a fee) off hours (nights, weekends, summers): These are ways that our institutions and commercial partners can help. The AHA intent is not to have 85% of employees/affiliates live in employer housing by 2040, but for these groups to come to the table to address housing impacts as they do now to address transportation, parking and infrastructure following key goals and annual reviews for accountability. We know that the 1998 Parking Ordinance goals and annual reviews have made it much easier to add new commercial developments. As to housing, we do not expect any large employer to create a Facebook Bay area type complex with 300 affordable units, 120 of which are geared to seniors, but beginning to think about area-wide solutions and their impact on Cambridge will be critical to meeting our housing needs going forward. The AHA Petition also complements the annual Town and Gown Report process.
The possible area wide issues, inputs, and engagements already in play are considerable. These include addressing the local and area unhoused (Mass and Cass is one part of this) but also local and regional bus and subway routing, cost, and frequency, as well as the effort to add safe bike lanes for a more bike-able future for some city workers, residents, students, and visitors.
In Conclusion, our challenges are many and include more and different housing demands than in the past - from millennials and students, to employees with more capital, to suburban couples seeking a place to live and retire in the city, to local, area, national and international investors. Our plan, the AHA petition, offers three pieces of a larger whole: Part I Modifies 1 and 2 family zoning to add more units within the existing structures requiring an affordability piece for three or more units; Part II would require Rain Permeability materials for onsite outdoor residential parking. Part III seeks an area approach to our housing problems by expanding the very successful 1998 Parking Transportation Ordinance (PTDM) to include Housing with a goal of addressing on an areawide basis 85% of our employees and affiliates by the year 2040, and with the PTDM’s review procedure to determine how well these goals are being met.
We look forward to working with the City Council, the CDD staff and the Planning Board to bring some of the core ideas of the Advancing Housing Affordability Petition to fruition in the months ahead.
“How to Break a Political Machine” is the title of a January 31, 1948 article about our city. The first sentence reads: "The taxpayers of Cambridge, Massachusetts, were paying far too much for far too little until a group of college professors and plain citizens got together and took on the local political machine. It was a tough and glorious scrap, but today Cambridge is one of the best-run cities in the land." So writes Joseph F. Dinnenn over 70 years ago in Colliers magazine. What he was referring to here was the joining together of academics and citizens in a plan to create “…a better form of government - one without the political corruption and continued infighting in the City in previous years. The strategy they came up with was Plan E, the system of government Cambridge still is using that was intended to balance power between the elected officials and the professionals of city government.”
Cambridge Board of Directors (1948 - photo credit Colliers)
The above photo shows the Cambridge Board of Directors, which replaced the old City Council during the reform period. According to the above cited Colliers article, this group "reduced the city debt from twelve to three million, built the highest-paid group of employees in any city of comparable size, reduced taxes and increased and streamlined all the city services." What stands out today in looking at this photo, is the prominent place of women in this important group as well as at least nominal minority representation. It is hard to tell occupation, or city neighborhood, but what is remarkable is how this group of citizen activists came together to make a difference in the city, and how effective they were. This effort was led by the Cambridge Civic Association (CCA), and according to the author, “…these were not just activists: Meetings of the Civic Association are almost unbelievable. A federal judge sits between a truck driver, and a housemaid, and a professor of archaeology drapes himself over a radiator next to a cop."
Whether or not the Plan E ballot questions win or lose in the November 2 election, it is insightful to look back at its initial engagement of this Plan, who was involved, and what the core problems Plan E was seeking to address involved. The change to Plan E and for a more responsive government structure here was largely led in part by the now defunct Cambridge Civic Association. On why this matters still today regardless of the Plan E ballot questions is that as Joseph Dinnenn writes: "Good or bad government originates with the people of any community, but the fact that the people of a community want good government doesn’t mean that they’ll get it. They’ll get good government only if there is a charter and an election system in power through which they can function."
The Cambridge Civic Association was a mere three years old when this article was written - and this photo was taken. As noted in this article, CCA was "...a political association dedicated to promoting honest and efficient local government through the support of the city manager plan, working for and supporting competency in the office of city manager, working for and improving the school system of the city, and freeing the school system from all influences other than those which will provide the best possible education for the children of Cambridge, and seeking and supporting the candidacy of competent men and women in public office." CCA also had an affiliated group, the Cambridge Research Association who were charged with "...original investigations into matters affecting the welfare of the City of Cambridge and make reports both to the public and to the city government It will be financed by contributions, and contributions to the Research Association will undoubtedly be tax deductible."
Our group, the Cambridge Citizens Coalition (CCC), like the CCA in 1948, is still in its infancy - a little over two years old, and we have much to learn both about the city, the root of the problems we face, and how to effectively organize and effectively deploy a truly citywide civic group that will represent and give voice to the diverse range of city residents and concerns. We too have a research team, and regardless of the election outcomes on November 2, we plan continue our work and to remain deeply involved in the issues before the city.
This Op Ed, "Greater Density is Not the Solution" by Jonathan Harris. appeared in the October 26 issue of Cambridge Day Please support this local newspaper and others.
The organization A Better Cambridge favors increased density through more infill housing in Cambridge, claiming that this is good climate policy and citing an essay posted Sept. 26 on Medium by Jonathan Behrens as justification. The implications of this article being promoted by ABC are disturbing – and may be based on a misinterpretation of the data.
According to Behrens, “for infill to help, you need somewhere that both has lower emissions than nearby wealthy cities and has enough wealthy households wanting to move there.” He asserts that since Cambridge has “very low household carbon emissions compared to the surrounding area,” a good policy to lower climate emissions would be to build more infill housing in Cambridge precisely because that housing is likely to be occupied by relatively wealthy people. The idea is that these people would otherwise live more carbon-intensive lifestyles in suburbia. His proposed approach would lead to a wealthier Cambridge community with more price pressure driving out low-income people.
This is clearly a terrible policy from an affordable-housing and equity point of view. It is consistent with A Better Cambridge’s support of the Missing Middle proposal, which would have promoted development of new housing primarily for affluent homeowners but is definitely not what is needed for equity in Cambridge!
But is his argument correct regarding high-income people living in cities rather than suburbs? Would turning Cambridge into a haven for even more affluent homeowners really be a plus for the climate? Behrens’ argument is based primarily on a recommendation from a California study for more infill housing in San Francisco. But San Francisco, while similar to Cambridge in average income and density, is very different in other ways. For San Francisco, the main alternative to city living would probably be a commute from a fairly distant suburb. For Cambridge, the main alternative location would probably be another inner suburb such as Belmont or Newton – and according to the data map that Behrens presents, these other inner suburbs have very similar carbon footprints to Cambridge. It is the outer suburbs (near to the Interstate 495 belt) that have typically higher carbon footprints, and these would not likely be the location of choice for more affluent homeowners.
In addition, building infill housing in Cambridge often results in loss of tree canopy and open space, which we know is a negative for the climate as well as for other ecological issues such as water absorption, which is relevant for climate resilience.
Another flaw in Behrens’ argument is his assumption that Cambridge has “strong public transit infrastructure” and presumably that the new affluent homeowners that he wants would use public transit rather than drive cars. This is very questionable. Anyone who uses public transit in Cambridge (especially buses) is aware that system is underfunded and often unreliable, and the riders are mostly working-class rather than affluent.
Contrary to Behrens’ description of Cambridge as “a wealthy inner ring suburb of Boston,” Cambridge is not a uniformly wealthy city. We have a significant lower-income population many of whom are struggling to hold on in a real estate market pressured by excessive development (for example, replacing existing rental housing with new condos for the affluent). The upper-income folks generally have cars (often two per household), and the increase in traffic on Cambridge streets that has accompanied excessive development is very noticeable. Even more development likely means even more cars, more congestion and a lot of carbon emissions from frustrated drivers sitting in traffic.
So let’s not rush to destroy open space and tree canopy to build housing for the affluent. Cambridge is already one of the densest cities in Massachusetts and the country. Cambridge needs more carefully planned development aimed at affordability and equity and including green design and preservation of open space, not the corporate and developer-driven pattern we see now that is bad both for climate and equity.
Jonathan Harris, Marie Avenue
Jonathan Harris is a visiting scholar at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute.
Dr. Harris' current research focuses on the macroeconomics of global environmental issues, particularly climate change. He is the author of “Green Keynesianism: Beyond Standard Growth Paradigms” in Robert Richardson ed., Building a Green Economy: Perspectives from Ecological Economics; co-author of Environmental and Natural Resource Economics: A Contemporary Approach, and of Macroeconomics in Context, Microeconomics in Context, and Principles of Economics in Context. He is co-editor of Twenty-First Century Macroeconomics: Responding to the Climate Challenge, New Thinking in Macroeconomics: Social and Institutional Perspectives, and of the Frontier Issues in Economic Thought volumes A Survey of Sustainable Development, A Survey of Ecological Economics, and Human Well-Being and Economic Goals. He is also editor of Rethinking Sustainability: Power, Knowledge, and Institutions;
Political campaigns in Cambridge are expensive and funding sources matter. Fortunately, it is easy to track that information here. Most of us turn to the independent and regularly updated Cambridge Civic run by mathematician Robert Winters, who for many years before many of the political groups now in play were formed provided this and other information on the city. He derives his data directly from the Mass state OCPF site where all donations and expenses are listed. We look at two key issues in our evaluations: percentage funding from real estate interests and percentage funding from individuals who live outside of Cambridge. ALL of our donations this campaign cycle have come from individuals living in Cambridge; more than 20% of the funding from the competitor ABC-IE pac come from sources outside Cambridge. We have used these two factors (real estate and sources from outside Cambridge) as two of the several critical reasons for selecting our four endorsees – Nicola Williams, Patty Nolan, Dennis Carlone, and Dana Bullister. When candidates take sizable funding from real estate interests it suggests that on some issues, they may be more inclined to vote in a manner that benefits these interests. Sizable funding from individuals living outside Cambridge makes one question how closely aligned these candidates’ interests are with local residents. We have chosen to leave off this chart those candidates who received donations of less than $20,000. Why? Because many first-time candidates (ours and those on other slates) often get start-up funds from family and friends, many of whom live out of state. This year, the candidates below the threshold include CCC's endorsee Dana Bullister as well as Tonia Hicks (endorsed by ABC, CResA, and OR) along with many of the other candidates who were not endorsed - Robert Eckstut, Ilan Levy, Greg Moree, and Frantz Pierre.
We urge people to evaluate this data and select their own voting order 1-2-3-4 or more, and also ask that voters study the candidate platforms (these links also available on Cambridge Civic) and look closely at what other activities these candidates have been involved with in Cambridge related to the array of issues facing the city.
We also urge people to study our circle chart below showing the local political group landscape as laid out in the image here as well as in our blogpost: Charting the Cambridge Political Landscape: 2021 City Council Election Alliances in Text and Image This highlights the relationship between candidates and different political pacs some of which have national ties. For example, ABC and DSA candidates tend to receive more funding from individuals outside of Cambridge in part due to these other interest groups.
Together the circle chart of political alliances and the two funding graphs offer important insights into the ways in which some candidates are aligned and how this may impact the kinds of issues that may enter into their decisions on Council.
10.24.21 Christopher Schmidt (treasurer of ABC-IE) criticizes CCC for leaving off one of its own candidates (Dana Bullister) from the chart of donations from outside Cambridge: We urge him to reread the graph and the accompanying text (which also appears in his tweet). This text specifies that we have only included candidates that received more than $20,000 in donations. The reason is delineated above. This is why not only were Bullister (CCC) and Hicks (ABC, CresA, and OR) not included, but so too were various non-endorsed candidates left out (Eckstut, Levy, Moree and Pierre). While Levy and Moree frequently run for City Council they have not received enough funding or votes in the past to factor significantly in the standings.
CCC published a chart of City Council Election Alliances in September. We have redesigned that chart to make it easier to read. We also clarified a few elements in it and have added new information (see above image). Some asked for corrections (which we were happy to make in this version), and overall we have received positive responses for this work. None-the-less, some residents asked us to provide a written text to go with our chart. This blogpost does just that. Note: While both Paul Toner and Joe McGuirk initially advocated for more bicycle lanes with stakeholder input per their Vision Zero Coalition statements, more recently they have come down in opposition to safe bicycle lanes. Other corrections to the earlier version of the chart are outlined below.
CAMBRIDGE POLITICAL GROUP ENDORSEMENTS (and what they mean)
Cambridge voters are voicing confusion about the various Cambridge political groupings in play this year. Who are they? What do they stand for? How will this impact City Council decisions. This is our take.
BROADER POLITICAL GROUP FRAMING
Local Political Groups
CCC (Cambridge Citizens Coalition) Founded in 2019
CRESA (Cambridge Residents Alliance) Founded in 2012
Local Political Groups with Area Linkages
CBS (Cambridge Bicycle Safety) – Promoting safer bicycle routes
Local Political Groups with National Alliances
DSA (Democratic Socialists of America)
OR (Our Revolution) – Alliance with Bernie Sanders
SM (Sunrise Movement) – Climate; better jobs
Local Groups with National Linkages
ABC (A Better Cambridge) – YIMBY, builders, market solutions
CAMBRIDGE GROUP AFFILIATIONS (those names in italics are incumbents)
Burhan Azeem – ABC, CBS
Dana Bullister – CCC, CBS, SM
Dennis Carlone – CCC, CBS, CresA, OR
Robert Eckstut – CBS
Tonia Hicks – ABC, CBS, OR, CresA
Alanna Mallon – ABC, CBS
Marc McGovern – ABC, CBS
Joe McGuirk – ABC
Patty Nolan – CCC, CBS, CresA
Sumbul Siddiqui – ABC, CBS
Denise Simmons – ABC
Theodora Skeadas - CBS, CresA, OR, SM
Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler – ABC, CBS, CresA, DSA, OR, SM
Paul Toner – ABC
Nicola Williams – CCC, CBS, CresA, OR
Quinton Zondervan – CBS, CresA, DSA, OR, SM
LOCAL CAMBRIDGE GROUPS
CAMBRIDGE CITIZENS COALITION (CCC) https://www.cccoalition.org/
CAMBRIDGE RESIDENTS ALLIANCE (CRESA) https://www.cambridgeresidentsalliance.org/
National Alliances: none
Local Target Audience: progressives, activists
LOCAL AND AREA GROUPS
CAMBRIDGE BICYCLE SAFETY (CBS) https://www.cambridgebikesafety.org/
Patty Nolan (has faulted the way rollouts achieved)
Nicola Williams (states all business & other stakeholders must be involved in decisions)
NOTE: While both Paul Toner and Joe McGuirk initially advocated for more bicycle lanes with stakeholder input per
their Vision Zero Coalition statements, more recently they have come down in opposition to safe bicycle lanes.
Principal Outreach Format: Facebook, email, Twitter
National Alliances: none known
Local target audience: bicyclists
NATIONAL GROUPS WITH LOCAL CHAPTERS
DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISTS OF AMERICA (DSA) Cambridge Branch https://www.dsausa.org/ (no local website)
Funding: area and national
National Alliances: strong
Local Target Audience: progressives, activists, people pushing hard left
OUR REVOLUTION (OR) https://ourrevolution.com/ (Affiliated with Bernie Sanders). No local website
Local Engagements in Council and in the Community
Funding: local and area
Get commercial funding out of local politics
Local Target Audience: progressives, activists, people pushing left
SUNRISE MOVEMENT (SM) https://www.sunrisemovement.org/ Cambridge Branch (no local website)
Funding: national and regional
Green New Deal
Government funding over commercial interests
Supported Sanders in 2020 election
Local Target Audience
Young people, strong left progressives
LOCAL GROUP WITH NATIONAL LINKAGES
A BETTER CAMBRIDGE (ABC): https://www.abettercambridge.org/
Funding: Some candidates receive significant funding from real estate and non-Cambridge donors.
National alliances: YIMBY (“Yes in My Back Yard”) which supports up-zoning (altering or removing
current zoning) and opposes local preservation initiatives.
Local Target Audience: commercial interests, residents wanting more development, more building, and greater density in every neighborhood.
Corrections: 10.19.21. We have updated the chart to correct a couple of typos and to show DSA within the CBS (pledge signers) circle. Note while Toner and McGuirk did not sign the bicycle pledge, they did write that they support bicycle lanes in principle in another document.