The Cambridge Neighborhood Summit Summary. The following is a recap of the June 7th 2014 event. This resource can serve to inform any who were unable to attend as well as be used as a recap for attendees and friends alike. It includes an introduction and description of each panel and their presentations as well as additional major topics, all of which are listed in order as follows: Winthrop Square, Fresh Pond/Alewife, East Cambridge and the Courthouse, Area 4 and Central Square, Overall Integrated Impacts, Improving City Planning, Master Plan, STEAM Project and the Foundry, Preserving and building Affordable Housing, Neighborhood Summit II Planned, Neighborhood Summit Mission.
In the first-of-its-kind gathering, neighborhood groups from across the city came together for a Neighborhood Summit on Saturday June 7th to wrestle with widespread concerns about over-development in Cambridge.
More than 100 residents packed into the Senior Center to hear speakers describe the particular issues confronting each neighborhood, and to participate in round-table “circle” discussions that began to consider alternative visions. Video of the sessions can be viewed at http://www.CambridgeResidentsAlliance.org.
Nancy Ryan of the Cambridge Residents Alliance opened the meeting and welcomed the participants, noting the importance of bringing together residents from different parts of the city. Renae Gray of the Area 4/Port Coalition set the tone:
“Today just feels like that kind of milestone day, where everyone is bringing their best selves to the table to make this event happen and to bring forth agendas that everyone can work with. And the time, treasure and talent is all of you, bringing your brains, your artistic talent, your creativity forth to make this a milestone event “.
Nancy made clear that this gathering was a first step.
“ We know we’re going to come back together in the fall, for another summit, focusing on the environment, focusing on other neighborhoods, focusing on traffic and transit. This is just really the beginning.”
Winthrop Square: Carole Perrault and Ken Taylor described the recent efforts to protect Winthrop Park in Harvard Square (in front of Grendel’s Den and Peets). This is the oldest continually used public space in Harvard Square and one of the oldest in the U.S. Winthrop Street survives from 1630s. The owner of the adjoining mall housing Staples was planning to add four stories of single unit residences that would cast shadows on the park, block off sky view, and undermine the historic and architectural integrity of the historic district. In a theme repeated throughout the summit, the developer proposed a project that would enrich them, but offer no public benefits. With Kitty Dukakis and Pebble Gifford joining the critique, the Historical Commission denied the application. Carole warned us to expect further efforts at this site.
Fresh Pond/Alewife: Jan Devereux, Peggy Barnes Lenart and Jay Yesselman reported on the worsening situation in Fresh Pond / Alewife. Thousands of new market rate residences are being constructed willy-nilly, without expanding the road or transit infrastructure needed to support the thousands of new residents. “Real estate investment trusts are seeing a gold mine in building what we call space ships – large luxury rental buildings with amenities for their residents like pools on the roof or in a courtyard, but really nothing that enlivens the surrounding area”. The increasing congestion of the Fresh Pond Parkway and Route 2 intersection is a serious burden not only on local residents but also on the broader Cambridge community.
East Cambridge and the Courthouse: Bethany Stevens, Mark Jaquith and Seth Teller described experiences in East Cambridge, with a focus on the fight to prevent the oversize former Courthouse from being converted to an oversize commercial office building bringing thousands of employees and their cars into East Cambridge and continuing the horrendous original error in inserting a 300 foot building into a residential neighborhood of two and three story houses. They recited a long history of city agencies and elected officials failing to protect the interests of the community, as well as complete insensitivity of state agencies. They called upon all those at the Summit to support their call to downsize or replace the courthouse with a much smaller building in tune with East Cambridge.
Area 4 and Central Square: Jackie Dee King, Paul Stone, Charlotte Seid and Richard Krushnic discussed the intense development pressure on Area 4 and Central Square. This has been the most diverse area of the city, but also most subject to displacement, as increasing rents and housing costs drive residents out of Cambridge. Jackie described the pressure of Kendall Square commercial developments marching toward Central Square, and the difficulties in protecting the low-rise residential communities from the upzoning proposals coming out of the K2 and C2 advisory committees. Paul Stone described the neighborhood critique of the failure of those committees to properly represent residents, and their bias toward real estate interests. Charlotte described the failure of MIT to build housing on its campus land for the more than 4,000 graduate students forced to find housing within the neighboring communities.
Overall Integrated Impacts: Richard Krushnic and Jonathan King focused on the overall impact of overdevelopment. Richard described the many millions of square feet of new commercial and residential buildings already under construction, permitted, or planned, equivalent to an increase in more than 20% in the built space in Cambridge. The character of this employment and the high price of housing is reducing the number of families and children in the city, and changing its character. Jonathan pointed out that this translated into many thousands of additional employees and residents, leading to tens of thousands of additional daily auto trips and transit trips. The city’s key intersections are already heavily congested, and the Tis near capacity. The current rate of development threatens to choke the city through traffic and transit congestion. King called for first insuring the new state investment in Red Line cars, power stations and signaling, before building further large developments that depend on public transit.
Improving City Planning: Nancy Ryan and Pebble Gifford described serious problems with the Planning Board, including unfilled vacancies, excessive tenure, failure to attend to community and neighborhood needs, and continually putting developers interests ahead of resident’s concerns. They suggested an organized effort would be needed to bring the Planning Board actions into compliance with its statutory responsibility to protect community needs.
Master Plan: City Councilors Dennis Carlone and Nadeem Mazen gave stimulating presentations on the possibilities offered by the emerging Master Plan process being undertaken by the Community Development Department together with the City Councilor. Many at the Summit were enthusiastic over the prospect of developing an inclusive Master Plan. Others were concerned that development would proceed full speed ahead during the multiple years of deliberation needed to develop a comprehensive Master Plan, and wanted an interim moratorium on new large projects.
STEAM Project and the Foundry: Cathy Hoffman, Maisha Moses and Ilan Levy focused on the opportunities provided by the city maintaining ownership of the Foundry building in East Cambridge, and using it for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) enrichment programs.
Preserving and building Affordable Housing: Kathy Watkins, Lee Farris and Rashmi Ramaswamy called for a sharply increased commitment of the city to building affordable housing, including increasing the inclusionary affordable units on new projects to 25% of the total, building 100% affordable units on city-owned lots in Central Square, and increasing developer’s payments to the city’s housing fund.
The Summit closed with a sense that learning of the concerns of other neighborhoods was very valuable, including the many common concerns, and that the Neighborhood Summit should continue. There was broad agreement that the Master Plan process provided an arena for residents to work together for common goals.
Neighborhood Summit II Planned:
A follow-up Neighborhood Summit is planned for the fall. Issues and Neighborhood concerns not addressed at this gathering will be leading items on the fall agenda. These include: Sustainability; Environmental and Open Space Protection; Water and Air Quality; Net Zero Emissions; Flooding Threats; Reducing Traffic Congestion; North Cambridge concerns; Cambridgeport concerns.
Information and follow-up plans will be available at:
Planning Committee for this Neighborhood Summit:
Sylvia Barnes*, Nina Berg, Doug Brown, Mike Connolly, Peter Crawley, Jan Devereux*, Terry Drucker, Lee Farris*, Pebble Gifford, Renae Gray, Michael Hawley, Cathy Hoffman*, Heather Hoffman, Mark Jaquith*, Jackie King, Jonathan King*, Richard Krushnic, Kari Kuelzer, Peggy Barnes Lenart, Ilan Levy, Marilee Meyer, Maisha Moses, Carole Perrault, Rashmi Ramaswamy. Luis Rieman, Shelley Rieman*, Nancy Ryan*, Charlotte Seid, Beth Stevens, Nancy Seymour, Barbara Taggart*, Paul Steven Stone, Seth Teller, Ken Taylor, Larry Ward, Kathy Watkins*, Jay Yesselman.
Thanks to the many volunteers that helped with set-up, registration, food and drinks, and Circles.
Neighborhood Summit Mission:
To bring together concerned residents who have been engaged in local battles to protect the quality of life in their communities, in order to share their concerns with those in other neighborhoods. A central theme is our recognition that decisions that might be considered local according to zoning ordinances, are affecting lives of people across the city. We can’t deal with these impacts effectively as strictly local neighborhood groups.
The Planning Committee and participants represent a network of individuals and organizations coming together to identify shared concerns, and possibly agree on shared priorities for the regulation of further growth and development in Cambridge.
One meeting cannot produce solutions to the problems facing us, but can provide increased clarity about the issues needing solutions, and paths and programs in which we may agree to work together.