Let’s plan the type of sustainable growth we want to see.
Setting citywide growth goals and zoning priorities is a major focus of the Council. Before I was elected, I was one of the resident-activists who pushed for a comprehensive citywide master plan. We are one year into the three-year Envision Cambridge process, and I have been closely following the progress, especially the initial phase that focuses on managing growth around the Fresh Pond/Alewife area where there are numerous planning challenges.
Inevitably, all cities change, and cities suffer if they do not plan carefully for growth. I am not against development; I am for better planning. The challenge for us policymakers is to ensure that the growth is balanced across socio-economic segments, environmentally sustainable, and socially responsible. Growth also must be well supported by transit infrastructure, neighborhood-serving retail, public open spaces, and other community amenities, so that the result is a diverse, prosperous and livable city. The recent rapid piecemeal development of a succession of large residential projects around the gridlocked and flood-prone Alewife area should be a cautionary tale for us all.
“Smart growth” was originally coined by critics of suburban sprawl. As such, the term does not apply to Cambridge, which is already one of the nation’s densest cities. First as a community organizer and now as a Councillor, I have instead championed “sustainable growth.” I support holistic planning that begins by listening to residents and neighborhood businesses and engages all stakeholders early and often throughout the planning and permitting process. Yes, we need to create more workforce and affordable housing to meet regional demand, but we also need to improve our transportation infrastructure, preserve public open space and add neighborhood amenities to support the additional density. I supported the Central Square Restoration Zoning Petition, which aims to boost residential development along Mass Ave, while protecting the human-scale neighborhood edges and preferencing local retail over chains.
Our roads do not have room for more cars, and building parking adds significantly to construction costs. I have found that often peoples’ objections to new development are based on their legitimate concerns about the impact more cars will have on traffic and parking in their neighborhoods. If we can provide people with safe, affordable and efficient options other than driving, we will be able welcome more people into our community. Since campaigning on a cargo bike, I have fought for a network of protected bike lanes, better connections to transit, and reduced speed limits. I have also advocated for more public open space to promote both health and placemaking.
As Chair of the Economic Development & University Relations Committee, I have focused on enhancing and protecting local, independent retail. In Harvard Square in particular, it feels as if a store closes nearly every week. I have heard from independent business owners citywide that rising “triple net” rents — topping $200/sf in some areas — are unsustainable. I am working on policies to protect existing retailers and to limit national chains, putting local ahead of global.
In planning for the needs of future Cambridge residents I think we can do even better by those who currently live here. My goal continues to be to ensure that policies and plans respect and balance the needs of both groups.