Almost a year has passed since my essay, “Why The Cambridge Residents Alliance Matters,” appeared on these pages, and though much has changed in that time, much has also remained the same.
At the time of my original article it appeared as though the powers that be—our city council, our planning board and our Community Development Department—were rushing feverishly towards recommendations and decisions that would further gentrify Cambridge and, by spiking the already unaffordable cost of housing in our city, force out additional families and dismantle our precious but fragile diversity. Decisions that would forever change the face, the personality and character of Central Square and its adjoining neighborhoods. Decisions that would have served a gilded circle of developers, business interests and affluent renters at the expense of the city’s current residents.
Fortunately, there is a new awareness throughout our city that we have been navigating dangerous waters, that we have been traveling much too close to the perilous rocks of gentrification and ill-considered over-development. That rising awareness can be seen in the growing numbers of Cambridge residents who have tuned into city politics, either by joining our organization or by expressing their views and concerns through their votes. And consequently the makeup of this year’s city council has changed in a precedent-setting election that saw incumbents challenged as they never had been before, and new voices of reason brought on; voices that are questioning the council’s automatic green-lighting of almost every up-zoning request; voices that are calling for realistic traffic studies and the development of an honest citywide master plan.
But, as I said before, much has changed and much has remained the same. The same people who bobble-headed “Yes!” to almost every development proposal that came before the Ordnance Committee still make up a majority on the city council. The same Community Development Department whose biased and pre-determined pursuit of apartment towers for Central Square are still advocating for their C2 Advisory Committee recommendations as if those zoning changes represent the will of the people. The same rubber-stamping Zoning Board members who seemingly spend little time questioning the impact of their approvals—Alewife’s almost-terminal traffic congestion being a prime example—are still sitting at their table waiting to approve whatever the CDD puts before them.
Which is why we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. And why it’s increasingly important that neighborhood groups and concerned citizens stay involved. Make no mistake, the folks who put themselves on the line to support the massive rezoning of Central Square are not going to step aside willingly. There’s far too much at stake. From all I’ve been able to see, the C2 advisory process was set up to provide cover to a massive up-zoning of Central Square that will benefit MIT most directly, and a whole host of varied business interests. A lot of money is at stake. Money that will go into developers’ pockets, money that will lubricate the wheels and avarice of business interests and, yes, money that will also go into the city’s coffers and prove what great managers we have running our city.
As we state on our CambridgeResidentsAlliance.org web site…”The Cambridge Residents Alliance represents individuals and neighborhood organizations committed to preserving and promoting a livable, affordable and diverse Cambridge community.” We owe no allegiance to future populations whose interests must be served at the expense of our current families and economically disadvantaged residents.
We are also concerned about the choking of travel on our streets, buses and trains through over-development that is erroneously termed “Smart Development” because it happens to take place near a transit line that is maxed out and gasping for relief.
We also believe you can’t place a value on sunlight, sky views, shadow-free streets or open spaces. But we also know the price we’re being asked to pay when those intangible treasures are whittled away by policies and recommendations wholly unsuited to a city already choking on its density.
And lastly, like those activists who stopped the Inner Belt highway in its tracks all those years ago, we will not be silenced by those who propose development at all costs, who will not learn from the lessons of the past, and who refuse to honestly study the impacts of their proposals. Cambridge is a city of people from diverse backgrounds, economic levels, ethnicities and visions. Rather than put any of those parties at risk by serving the vision of taxes-hungry city managers or profit-hungry developers we’re calling for an unbiased citywide study of development and growth issues from which we can fashion a sensible approach to creating a future we all can share.
For all these reason, and more—much more!—the Cambridge Residents Alliance is STILL of critical importance to the future of our city.
Now more than ever!
Paul Steven Stone is a member of The Cambridge Residents Alliance, but is solely expressing personal opinions in the above essay, and not the official views of the Cambridge Residents Alliance.