Why We Should Scrap K2C2 and Start Some Real Planning. And do it NOW!

In case you haven’t noticed, the residents of Cambridge are fed up! They’ve had their fill of the city collaborating with developers and business interests to cash in on Cambridge’s rocketing real estate values at the expense of families, the middle class and the diversity that makes this town so special.

Fresh Pond/Alewife residents at the Tobin School

Fresh Pond/Alewife residents at the Tobin School

Something Brewing In Fresh Pond (in addition to more traffic)

Earlier this week at a meeting of the freshly-minted Fresh Pond Residents Alliance, 150 residents from the Fresh Pond and Alewife areas joined together to call for an honest response from our municipal leaders—our city managers, City Council and Planning Board—to what has become an almost non-stop and overwhelming tide of development. Development that has clogged roadways from one side of the city to the other. Development that has traded on Red Line proximity to justify the approval of more condos and apartments than the existing infrastructure can accommodate. Development that is changing the makeup of the city’s population, its rhythms, and its basic livability without anyone stopping to question where we’re going or whether we want to go there.

It was clear—to those newly gathered folks at least—the game needs to be changed. The old rules won’t work anymore. No longer can inclusionary zoning serve as a convenient excuse for up-zoning giveaways worth millions. No longer should we accept an anemic inclusionary zoning formula that results in far fewer affordable units than the numbers gentrification will ultimately displace. And no longer should our city councilors be allowed to hide behind that same inclusionary zoning argument while green-lighting developments that sacrifice the well-being of current residents to benefit affluent people who don’t even live here yet.

Jan Devereux

Jan Devereux

Let’s Talk About The K2C2 Planning Process

I came along too late to witness the K2 (for Kendall Square) part of the process, but if it was anything like C2 (for Central Square), it was flawed, biased and flagrantly disinterested in the participation of the affected neighborhoods. Without a single advisory committee representative from either the Cambridgeport or Area IV neighborhood associations, C2 pretended to seek resident input while aggressively pushing for increased densification and towering building heights.

K2C2 is a prime example of how not to plan for Cambridge’s future. The fact that a city planning department would submit recommendations for massive zoning increases without first studying the impacts of their recommendations is not only shocking, but unconscionable. To act as if decisions made concerning Kendall or Central Squares would not have consequences citywide—on traffic, public transportation and public safety—is an indicator of how hard the sponsors of K2C2 were working toward a desired outcome, and feared doing anything that might undermine it.

With inclusionary zoning, in its current formula, obviously a Trojan Horse for developers, there are fewer meaningful arguments one can make for continued over-development. So-called ‘Smart Growth’ quickly becomes Stupid Growth once you admit the Red Line is maxed out, or when new residents are asked to risk life and limb to access the ‘nearby’ Alewife station. Also stupid, if not downright criminal, is that NOBODY in charge in Cambridge, up till now, has asked for an honest look at what’s going on; or what’s coming down the road. Our Planning Board and City Council have approved thousands of new apartments and office units without comprehending the impact of their decisions or the context of growth within which those decisions are being made. Nobody apparently wants to discover, yet alone admit, that development is not just leading to gentrification, but is actually microwaving gentrification.

Microwave Gentrification 

In a report soon to be released by the Cambridge Residents Alliance, Richard Krushnic, Alliance member and an analyst with Boston’s Dept. of Neighborhood Development, projects over 22 million square feet of new commercial and residential construction in Cambridge between 2011 and 2035—half of which has already been built, permitted or begun the permitting process in just the last three years!*

No, you didn’t read it wrong—half of the construction anticipated between now and 2035 has been built, permitted or applied for a permit in the last three years!

The Need For An Honest Master Plan

Above all that construction noise, if you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of…change, though it may at first sound like angry raised voices. What’s happening in Fresh Pond and Alewife is happening all around the city. In East Cambridge, Central Square, Cambridgeport, North Cambridge, too. City residents are banding together to question the wisdom of recent decisions and ongoing policies. At the same time, newly-elected City Councilor Dennis Carlone is circulating a petition calling for a comprehensive citywide Master Plan, something the Cambridge Residents Alliance has been promoting for over two years. A Master Plan that calls for the input and support of the people most affected by such a plan, we the citizens of Cambridge.

If you want to give Cambridge a chance to grow without sacrificing its character, diversity and livability, sign Dennis’ petition. And plan to participate in the resulting process which, if done right, should finally provide a cohesive and integrated approach to growing our city while protecting our neighbors and our quality of life.

It may not generate untold millions for our city’s coffers or turn developers into millionaires, but it will result in a city we can all afford to love.

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*These figures do not represent a citywide total, as they only reflect larger sized projects in the hot spots of Alewife, North Point, Central Square, Kendall Square and The Osborn Triangle. They do however account for half of the city’s projected 22 million square feet.

31 thoughts on “Why We Should Scrap K2C2 and Start Some Real Planning. And do it NOW!

  1. Phyllis Bretholtz

    Thank you for your very thoughtful analysis of what has been happening and is projected in terms of development. Please submit this to The Chronicle. It needs to be read more widely.

    Reply
  2. paulsteven

    Thank you, Phyllis. The Chronicle requires submitted commentaries to be shorter than this. I’ll try whittling it down and see where I end up. Please forward the link to your friends and neighbors in the meantime.

    Reply
  3. Ellen Mass

    Thanks Steve for this insightful and painful critique. Painful for me because we have been alone for so long. Carolyn Mieth and Richard Clarey and her Alewife Coalition group fought the density for years with the Alewife Coalition, and then the North Cambridge Stabilization was a strong opponent which went into demise just as the buildings went up. Then Friends of Alewife Reservation (my group) has been having concerts to raise money and protect the floodplain silver maple forest, (3 acres in Cambridge) which is miraculously still standing from billionaire Pa. developer whom some of us feel is investing in the surrounding properties (LLC’s investors cannot be found) and maybe needs the woods now to attract tenants.
    We researched how he took apart the ADLIttle (largest management co. in the world at the time) parcels and helped it go bankrupt by purchasing the Arsenal Mall. Don’t get me started.

    All of this was in the newspaper, so we are seeing a disconnect between Alewife folks and Fresh Pond. Very Fresh Pond neighborhood based. “Fresh Pond Residents” needs to be “Alewife/Fresh Pond” or at least broadened to include west Cambridge. But this is less important of course.

    Organizing might be smaller neighborhood by neighborhood. We blew opportunity at the meeting to try to get a consensus of how best to do it. I am not good at this and outreach to environmental people in education and stewarding and work with the watershed people mainly.

    Right now our hotel appeal is pending for an 85 thousand sq. ft. hotel where ADL was coming in behind Alewife T ramp from Route 2. We asked DEP to hold off permitting until the city’s Vulnerability Assessment (VA) study was complete in June. They may be holding off giving recommendations from the Study untill the hotel is built- cynical but true. Kleinfelder Inc. is doing the study. Not only are the building products wrong, but we have found no one looks into the “Who” of the matter. Some of these developers are truly rouges. And have a rotten track record a mile long. An urban plan would have caught some of this.

    But citizens need to know who it is who is building next door. For example the building on CPDrive in the cul de sac by the new storm water wetlands (please visit- the one amenity
    from the over-development), never had any metal placed during construction between walls, as I visit the wetland.

    The more we vent, the more little gets done except a new elected someone. So we need someone to help organize for urban planning and list those permits pending and have at least 5 at those meetings, including conservation commission which gives the permits. Developers try out each one to see their standing, and then come back fully gunned. And Hugh and Jennifer usually permit with a slick engineer such as from BSC group. And a developer they know well such as Richie. Without naming names, we should throw in towel.

    My group is having a first new Board meeting (two of my best board members expanded their family and now we are having to recruit). If you want to join our board and start an Alewife
    storm water run off committee that would be great. Such a group would have much better regulatory teeth, more than building code impossibilities. On the books, the city has adopted an up to code storm water program by US-EPA called National Pollution Discharge Elimination Standards which require heavy expense. I doubt if the standard is being reached and the new Director of the VA Study feels NPDES is too expensive as he has written in quite a few professional journals. Think about it: head of our city’s future climate change adaptation plan says new US-EPA standards are too stringent. These national standards are written for a reason, and we should try to comply to the letter. Hopefully we will at our DPW with new Commissioner.

    Requires much neighborhood participation and some meeting attendance but not so much to disrupt anyone’s life, I expect. Venting is a waste, I have found while trying to run our group and perhaps a bit even here in Steve’s blog.

    We are trying to make our FAR group a broad network of friends representing different constituencies which would plan Alewife Reservation activities on their own and use the Board for networking and for mutual support for his or her plan. Don’t forget to come to Earth Day at Alewife on the 26th (10-2). Coming out to the Reservation and walking around the boardwalk overlooking Little River and the 4 levels of marshes and Islands is a joyful endeavor and hope you all can do so. Fresh Pond/ Alewife residents are welcome to be represented in our group, and you could do as you please. We have no idea what will happen if we were to win or lose the hotel appeal because no nest egg here.

    Best,
    Ellen

    Reply
    1. paulsteven

      Thanks, Ellen, for your thoughtful note and for sharing the somewhat painful history of trying to save and protect important environmental assets. I must plead guilty to some of that venting you mention; fighting to preserve something ephemeral like quality of life is very difficult and these days with people’s lives being so busy it is hard to get folks to commit for anything that takes hard and persistent effort. Sorry I won’t be able to join you in your noble work; we each have chosen our own battles and mine lie elsewhere.

      Reply
  4. Ellen Mass

    One geographical clarifying suggestion: Everything NORTH of Fresh Pond or Commuter Rail tracks is Alewife with thousands of Cambridge residents. Alewife area also includes East Arlington which has been impacted by the pollution and contamination in Little River with Belmont’s high e-coli counts over the years. So not taking this area into account with our urban planning thinking is a mistake, I believe.

    There are over 1 million sq. feet recently built, and another million planned- We are starting with 85th. sq.ft. of appeal AND ataving off the silver maple forest development (300 units) with Belmont folks. Belmont public lib. meeting April 2 on this and Belmont’s new Comm. for storm water by-law.

    We are really talking about regional planning.

    Reply
  5. Steve Laniel

    Hi Paul,

    I respectfully disagree. There’s a wide range of voices on this topic, and I know plenty of us who want *more* density. I’ve lived in Cambridge since 2001, and I’d love to buy property here. But I can’t. Prices are rising rapidly, which is a sure sign that there are more people who want to live here than there are places for them to live. Is there any way to solve that problem other than to build more housing? It’s hard to see any other solution.

    I love Cambridge’s density, and I want more of it. Density means that fewer of us need cars, because we can walk everywhere. (I’m lucky in Central Square: I’m a 15-minute walk from a small Whole Foods, a large Whole Foods, a Star Market, a Trader Joe’s, a Harvest Co-Op, and soon to be an H-Mart.) Since we can walk everywhere, small businesspeople can start businesses without assuming that their customers need cars. In this way, density becomes self-reinforcing. We need a city built around greater density: better support for pedestrians, better support for bicyclists, less space devoted to cars, and a better T.

    Of course some people will disagree. That’s a good thing! Let’s discuss.

    Cheers,
    Steve

    Reply
    1. paulsteven

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Steve. Can’t say I disagree with some of your points, but I could easily suggest you move to a city with more density, like Boston or New York, rather than push to transform Cambridge into something it hasn’t yet become. As for rising prices, there’s no question of there being a shortage of supply, given the obvious demand, but whether unbridled construction of market-rate housing (read housing for the affluent) will ever satiate that demand is an open question. Cambridge, I’ve been told, was only one of two municipalities that didn’t see a loss in real estate values during the recent depression, Wellfleet being the other. So, the question is, do you allow an insatiable demand for housing to totally transform the Cambridge landscape, chase out all lower-income residents and families and overwhelm current transportation facilities in the hope that everything will end up all right? Doesn’t work for me.

      Reply
      1. Steve Laniel

        Hi Paul,

        Naturally I don’t want to push out low-income residents. But I don’t see how low-income residents are served by keeping supply artificially low. It may be the case that increasing supply a little bit only provides enough new units for the wealthy. Then what we need to do is increase supply *a lot*. I don’t ask the question rhetorically: is there any solution to rising home prices that doesn’t involve increasing supply?

        One solution, I suppose, is that the city would mandate that a certain set of units be designated affordable. That’s not a bad option, but it does seem like piling one regulatory failure on top of another: the city fails to allow supply to match demand, which is a regulatory failure on its own; so prices rise; so now the city mandates that prices have to stay below a certain level for certain units. That hardly seems like the best approach.

        I’m not talking about building 20-story apartment buildings on every street. But four- or five-story buildings, possibly with ground-level retail, all within a short walk of the amenities that Cambridge is famous for? That sounds lovely to me, and to a lot of people.

        The conversation continues…

        Cheers,
        Steve

        Reply
        1. paulsteven

          Steve:

          You’ve hit on the crux of the issue. Property values will continue to rise without sufficient new housing stock constructed. But short of building apartment towers all over the 7 square mile landscape of Cambridge we’re not going to build enough to meet the demand—and maybe not even then. On top of that, all the housing we build will exert upward pressure on rents as market-place properties push up everyone else’s rents. Judging by the downward trend of school-age children in the city and other indicators, we’ve already lost many families and lower-income residents; and need to move very carefully not to chase out those still hanging on by their fingernails. Your idea of building four- or five-story mixed-income buildings with sufficient allocations for affordable or sub-affordable units strikes me as a great idea; perhaps we can initiate some sort of Marshall-type plan, understanding that Cambridge is not geographically large enough to meet everyone’s needs. That being the case, we should give more concern and focus to those who currently live here rather than those who would love to move in.Good thinking, Steve. Good conversation!

          Reply
          1. Sally Eaton Arnold

            Paul, You don’t seem to understand that housing is a regional issue. More housing has to be built along the commuter rail lines. Affluent suburbs have prohibited this. You may want to stay in Cambridge, but not everybody cares that much. Most people need a convenient place to live that does not involve a miserable commute. There is no possible way that low and moderate income people will prosper if more housing is not built in the region and the city.

          2. paulsteven

            Sally: Many thanks for the lecture. Whether I understand that housing is a regional issue or not, it still stands that each municipality gets to decide what housing CAN be built within their borders. If someone wants to build a 30-story skyscraper next to your single family home you’ll be damn glad about the zoning that prevents them, assuming the Planning Board and City Council don’t agree to up-zone the property. As I’ve said many time in these comments, I am not against development or building housing, I am against poor or pretend planning that doesn’t look at the overall context of the plans being made. And, if I can be honest here, I have two primary concerns: one, that we act as good stewards of the city we’ve inherited, and two, that we act now, and act responsibly, to protect those who gentrification will impact the hardest. Allowing Cambridge to become the sole province of the wealthy or well-to-do would be a violation of everything Cambridge stands for.

          3. Sally Eaton Arnold

            We disagree. Cambridge is not in danger of becoming the sole province if the wealthy and no one is going to build a skyscraper. There are plenty of areas for improvement, especially with regard to traffic in Fresh Pond, but the sky is not falling. As cities go, this one is very well governed with lots of opportunity for citizen input.

      2. mike g

        ” I could easily suggest you move to a city with more density, like Boston or New York, rather than push to transform Cambridge into something it hasn’t yet become. ”

        This argument confuses me. Cambridge has a population density of 16k ppsm. That’s higher than Boston, and every other major city in North America other than NYC (the clear king at around 26k ppsm) and San Francisco (which at around 18k ppsm we are slightly below). That means Cambridge more dense than not only Boston but Chicago, Philadelphia, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, etc. I know you can argue that the high population figure comes from small city limits but I think it’d be similarly easy to argue that Cambridge functions more like an inner neighborhood of a major city than a municipality of roughly 100k. In other words, it already is one of the most dense places on the continent. That’s what makes it so desirable – density in this age is in demand and we don’t have nearly enough.

        I sympathize with and share the concern over too much “luxury” housing and agree with you that increasing supply alone won’t help with the affordability problem, but I can’t get on board with the arguments against density. Increasing supply in itself is not going to solve all our problems, but it still seems like a necessary action to take. In fact part of what makes me unhappy about recent development is that it’s not dense enough. I realize more people brings concerns with traffic and overcrowding, but that’s part of the price of admission for living in a very desirable area. If avoiding those things is a big priority for somebody, I wouldn’t suggest Cambridge as a place to live.

        Reply
        1. Ellen Mass

          Mike, Every city you mention was well planned. If only we were half as well planned. Much of the non-planning could have been pressed into a better city process by we residents. If we had been able to tackle the two main permit givers, and had forced the Council to go beyond Healy for the tax dollar approach. This is the result when Cambridge got hot, and Boston decided to move here. Thus, Cambridge has become up for grabs by Mr. or Ms. Moneybucks, and few know who the developers are: Hanover, Blackstone, Hines (gigantic international firms). There are two local developer representatives and now developers who have gotten many of them permitted and none of us have been there to ask some questions. Perhaps Jan or some of you can give us the whole list. We need it. It would help to know who the city will be indebted to few years down the road. And each of the bloggers agrees to go to some of these meetings with a petition stating no permit until
          the “Master Plan” everyone keeps bringing up.

          Reply
          1. paulsteven

            Just to jump on the back of Ellen’s argument about our lack of planning, for the last month or two the city of Somerville has been holding displacement meetings in anticipation of the Green Line extension to Union Square. Why don’t we have such a marshaling of people and talents to develop a PLAN to prevent the wide scale displacement, which has already begun? One of the CDD leaders, I believe, made a telling comment to Steve Kaiser, a transportation expert who bedevils the CDD and the city about its lack of planning. The CDDer, when asked why the city didn’t study the problem intersections rather than “safe” intersections replied something to the effect that if they studied the problems nobody would be allowed to develop anything anymore.

  6. Seth

    Hi Paul,

    I don’t think that we’ve met, but I’d like to buy you a beer sometime and talk about some of these issues. I’m sympathetic to your interests–I’m an urban planner myself, a environmental manager/climate scientist by training, and I teach sustainable community development at Boston Architectural College.

    I think that affordability is a central problem in Cambridge, and Boston in general. The cost of housing is rising rapidly because for decades very little new housing was created in places like Cambridge, Newton, Somerville, etc. and the recent surge of people moving back to the City has cause huge spike in demand by people with higher incomes. I don’t see any way out of that other than to build more housing in Cambridge. As long as Cambridge is a desirable place, people are going to bid up the limited number of houses that exist. Building more dwellings is the only way to meet that demand and ameliorate the rise in affordability. My wife and I would love to buy a place to live in Cambridge and raise a family here… but it doesn’t look like we’ll ever be able to afford it.

    I’m also concerned by your scorn for the C2 process. I live in Cambridgeport and attended a couple of those meetings and workshops and gave my input. I’ve since read the report and think that it’s a pretty good compromise of the many different positions and interests in play–some people want more density, others less, etc. If you have a deal where no one is perfectly happy, but can live with it, then chances are you’ve found a pretty good compromise.

    So my question is, let’s say we have this 2+ year master planning process you’re talking about, and I’ll show up to those meetings and give my input. What’s to say that in 2016 or 2018 a new configuration arises and they say, “through out those NIMBY’s plans! Let’s start all over again!” How can I trust that the City will follow through on my input or the compromise plan of a deliberative group? I worry that throwing out 2+ years of work will reduce the faith of people in the effectiveness of government. I don’t think that C2 was perfect, I don’t love the court house project. Is there a way that we can be proactive and constructive, though? Can we add to the work that’s already been done?

    So anyway, those are my two cents. If I have time this weekend, I may follow up with some more specific responses, but I’m sure that we could have a really good conversation in person about these issues. So, what’s your availability in the next couple weeks like?

    Thanks,
    Seth

    PS. If you’re interested in finding ways to help Cambridge move forward, consider joining A Better Cambridge (http://www.abettercambridge.org/).

    Reply
    1. paulsteven

      Hi Seth: I appreciate the tone of your comments and, especially your offer of a friendly beer. Happy to take you up on the beer, but not very interested in your invitation to join A Better Cambridge.

      As for my scorn of the C2 process, it comes from witnessing a baldfaced attempt by its leaders (perhaps under the direction of their bosses) to shepherd the group to a desired outcome. Had you sat in on the meeting where CDD brought in experts to comment on transportation issues, you would have learned there was still 40% additional capacity on the Red Line; that 50% of “city residents” living within 1/4 mile of the Red Line didn’t own cars (nobody mentioning that dormitories were filled with many of those residents); and that 9 intersections studied could handle significant additional traffic (no mention was made of over 20 intersections flagged as problem intersections in a previous traffic study).

      Had you sat in on the CDD-led ‘community input’ session I attended you would have observed a process where someone like myself with suggestions going in an opposite direction from the up-zone-C2-and-sell-city parking-lots intent of the leaders had to ask twice to have his ideas added to the flip-chart pad. There’s more, but you get the idea.

      As I mentioned in my essay, there wasn’t a single member of either adjourning neighborhood group invited to participate in the process. A woman I know, a Cambridgeport resident like yourself but of decidedly differing perspective from the pro-business makeup of the group, volunteered and was declined. There were nine non-resident members of the committee, all of them doing business in the square. Is it any wonder I question the integrity of the committee selection process as well as the committee’s recommendations?

      You ask, what’s to say that another process would be any fairer? Or more successful? Or less open to challenges by people by me? Well, given the disastrous result of trying to control the process once, I expect all eyes would be watching to make sure the next time was different. But the next time wouldn’t just be examining sections of the city, as if they existed in silos, as if cars never traveled from Alewife to Kendall, or Central Square to Fresh Pond. Next time, I assume, we would be taking into account the entire city as an integrated entity, this time including realistic growth projections and honest statistics about traffic and public transportation. Wouldn’t you like to see what that process might produce? I know I would.

      As to my availability in the next few weeks, I can always find time to meet a friendly face in the square for a beer. Send me an email at PaulStevenStone@gmail.com and we’ll make it work.

      Oh, and if you’re interested in helping Cambridge move forward, and would like to meet more of your longtime neighbors, I invite you to join the Cambridge Residents Alliance.

      Peace and Good Cheer,

      Paul

      Reply
  7. Sally Eaton Arnold

    I don’t agree with this author. I think the planning process in Cambridge is already quite effective and surely much better than in any other city I have ever heard of. We need more housing. This is a regional issue. If the suburbs west of Cambridge would allow more building, especially near the communter rail stations, considerable pressure in Cambridge would be relieved. I agree that the traffic planners dropped the ball a long time ago in Fresh Pond, but do not think that argues for no housing development there.

    Reply
    1. paulsteven

      Hi Sally:

      I go back and forth about whether to puncture your balloon. If you’re happy with the planning process in Cambridge I applaud and envy you. For me, what’s happening now in Kendall Square, Central Square, East Cambridge and elsewhere is exactly what led to things being where they are today in Fresh Pond. Only this time people are trying to catch the ball before it drops off the table.

      Reply
  8. Lawrence Bluestone

    Thank you for your thoughtful concerns about the future of Cambridge. As a fellow long-time Cambridge resident, I agree that some of the concerns you express are very real and must be addressed. However, I strongly disagree with your assumptions and conclusions about how to go forward..

    First, cities and communities change. Always have, always will. We can’t freeze ourselves in amber. The Cambridge of 1914 is not the same as the Cambridge of 1954, nor the Cambridge of 2014. As recently as the 1970s, we had become an obsolescent industrial city with a declining population and job base. (Remember the old Kendall Square as the barren wasteland it had become by then.) Now we’re a vibrant economy leading the way to the future.
    I would strongly argue we live in a much better community today than our predecessors because of many positive changes. Much of this improvement is based upon our growth over the years and how we’ve changed for the better – we’re a vibrant and world-renowned city that draws creative talent, energy and enthusiastic residents and workers from around the world.

    I, as a long time Cambridge resident of over 40 years, have greatly benefited too from all this increased vitality – with many more choices for housing, places to dine, parks to go to, and libraries to visit – much of which is paid for with new city revenues generated by our growth, not to mention benefiting from one of the lowest residential tax rates in Eastern Massachusetts.

    As housing gets built, even the luxury kind, the overall housing supply increases. Only an increase in supply will stabilize our rising housing costs for our middle class. Local university research institutes focused on housing issues have confirmed this fact over and over again. Our problem is not overbuilding. Our problem is a constrained housing supply which raises prices and rents.

    Regarding the issue of Red Line capacity, you’re right to state that it is getting more and more crowded with each passing year. But, it’s certainly not maxed out. In fact, it continues to function daily for thousands of transit riders. In fact, that increased crowding is a sign of this city’s success. As you probably know, as documented by City traffic counts, although several million square feet of new development has occurred in recent years, auto traffic in the Kendall Square area has actually declined over the years, as has parking demand, due to city policy encouraging more transit and bicycle use. There are now more bicycles owned in Cambridge than automobiles.

    Regarding the K2 process, I participated in that process over a two year period. We may disagree over the final recommendations, but, I assure you that the East Cambridge neighborhood was well represented, and often the most vocal and outspoken in representing their legitimate interests and concerns.

    I could go on and on about the positives of how our city has changed. None of this is to say that you’re not raising legitimate concerns about the livability of our city as we go forward. However, I look forward to coming up with solutions that show how new development can comfortably fit in with our established neighborhoods, how the Red Line’s capacity can be increased, and how new development can be the source of new public amenities that will increase the city’s livability for all – old and new residents alike.

    Lawrence Bluestone,
    Mid Cambridge resident

    Reply
    1. Ellen Mass

      HI, What happened to my blog piece? It is the essence of regulatory progress in the Alewife area. But I want to reply to Larry Bluestone. The Commuter Rail will soon have an Alewife stop. The developers and Hugh Russell are not as dumb as we may think. As far back as the red line installation, this talk has been on the books, and it is only a matter of time, in my surmising. I’ve heard it talked about by the developers. Don’t worry about such matters. Your quality of life is going way down with density and non-planning, and climate change will be flooding folks out of Northwest Cambridge and East Arlington according to the Army Corps of Engineers, NOAA, and Surging Seas. Think larger, please. We live in a different era than
      the new generation and must grow our thinking to another rather daunting era.

      Reply
  9. marge

    I am concerned about the future of Cambridge as well but I don’t agree with Paul Stone’s statements regarding the K2C2 planning process and I don’t agree that we should try to stop everything. I went to several of the K2C2 meetings and heard some very thoughtful discussions about how to increase housing in a way that fit into the existing neighborhoods. What I remember about the density discussions is that higher buildings were recommended in some very specific places – and there was much concern expressed for shadows and how buildings would look at the street level for pedestrians. And everyone wanted to put pressure on the MBTA for red line upgrades. (although having suffered on the green line for many years the red line is wonderful in comparison)
    In the past 2 years alone I have known at least half a dozen young families that wanted to stay in Cambridge but couldn’t afford it and moved out. It doesn’t make any sense to me (thinking of supply and demand economics) that not building more housing keeps prices more affordable. I’d like to see young families stay in Cambridge; the residential population is getting more and more polarized as measured by wealth. And many of these young families work in Cambridge so would bike or take the T to work – whereas now they often are driving here.
    So let’s not demonize the K2C2 committee and it’s work. And let’s try to manage the change that is surely coming to Cambridge in a way that benefits us all.

    Reply
    1. paulsteven

      Marge:

      I’m glad your experience of he C2 process was better than mine. I won’t repeat my difficulties with what I saw, merely reiterate that we have many problems and conflicting points of view regarding these issues and we need an unbiased, comprehensive master plan to answer the pressures and emotions swirling around these issues. If we don’t plan for Cambridge as an integrated entity with issues concerning traffic, affordable housing, pollution and the like, we will never find an answer to the problems that chased those half dozen families out of Cambridge. Check out Steve’s suggestions and my response and you may find a few ideas that I see as more practical for addressing the affordability issue. Supply and demand doesn’t appear to apply in Cambridge, which was only one of two communities in the state not to lose property values during the recession. You know what they say, when you’re hot you’re hot!

      Reply
    2. paulsteven

      I’m entering this insightful and extensive comment from Stephen Kaiser who had difficulty leaving it earlier.

      Paul,

      I can sympathize with your situation that you feel you are being
      inundated by pro-development advocates. I have seen it happen in
      other venues, and we should expect this to happen. For developers,
      their future in on the line. Being in control of public opinion to
      favor new development in Cambridge is a major motivation too. Sad to
      say, some respondents may be fronts — directed to respond by their
      bosses and some may be freelancers paid to make a pitch. With the
      fortunes to be made from development, any such expenses are pocket
      change.

      Others may be motivated more by loyalty to their real estate
      friends or a recognition that new development will require
      significant improvements in transit service.

      In my experience, pro-development respondents tend to make their
      arguments in such a way as to betray their purely monetary interests.
      Some are so rigid that they remind me of the old saw about the
      died-in-the-wool advocate of traditional religion who claims “don’t
      confuse me with facts. My mind is already made up.” To be fair, some
      of them encounter citizens adamant about defending their neighborhoods
      : some claim similar entrenched views from citizens.

      The thing you cannot get from the development advocates is a balanced
      view and perspective on the question of “when should development go
      ahead” and “when should it be stopped.” Almost all of your
      respondents cannot answer this question. But that is not to say they
      do not have some good ideas. The last commenter Ted Pyne had some
      very good ideas about transit. We have barely scratched the surface
      of how inadequate and inefficient our transit services are in Boston.
      We do not have a worldclass transit system here.

      Compare the Red Line with Tokyo, where peak hour service runs
      ten-car trains twice as frequently as the MBTA does with six-car
      trains. The Japanese keep to an exact schedule, give or take an
      average of 8 seconds or so. The Red Line operates trains on a
      supposed 4.5 minute headway as scheduled, yet the observed headways
      range from two minutes to twelve minutes. A two-minute headway means
      the arriving train is usually less than half full. A twelve-minute
      headway means the train comes in stuffed to the gills. People can’t
      get on the train and must wait for the next one. If a second train
      comes in less than half full, that train too can become stuffed from
      taking on all those who could not fit on the first train.

      With this kind of performance, we can see why people claim the MBTA
      is not being used to capacity. I say let’s prove that we can run a
      good transit system efficiently, evenly, and with additional capacity.
      Do so before we try to build new development that is so often
      “transit dependent” and thus will further overload transit systems.

      Developers want to put the cart before the horse. They want to build
      new development before they have the infrastructure in place to handle
      the new transportation demand. They will not actively work to get a
      Transportation Management Organization in place at Alewife — the area
      of the City most in need of one. They will not form a consortium to
      work for better service on the Red Line, let alone the Green Line or
      Orange Line … or to repair the battered service record of the Number
      1 bus from Harvard to Dudley, once the flagship of the T bus lines and
      its only money maker.

      At Alewife, we have the MBTA of traffic congestion, except that there
      seem to be no easy solutions. Alewife is the biggest traffic mess in
      Cambridge, with congestion even at noon-time. Areas of congestion
      extend from Mass Avenue to Huron Avenue. More and more development is
      coming on line with no place to put the cars, and the Planning Board
      and other City departments simply approve project-after-project,
      oblivious to evident traffic problems. Our City Traffic and Parking
      Department is useless to provide service or guidance.

      We have reached the situation where even Planning Board members shake
      their heads over traffic problems at Alewife. The 75 New Street
      project is symbolic of almost everything that can go wrong at Alewife.
      It is single use dense housing located in an industrial zone, on a
      street that is used for commuter cut-through traffic, lacks adequate
      sidewalks, has parking problems and no provisions for bicycles.
      Anyone wishing to leave their home at 75 New Street has a choice :
      use the car parked in the basement, or try walking to the mall along a
      street not designed for walking, or worse trying to cross the shopping
      center parking lot, climb up and over a three-foot concrete retaining
      wall and then walk up a steep dirt embankment to get to the sidewalk
      and two busy road crossings to get to the T station. Does this sound
      like planning? Transit-dependent development?

      Alewife was rezoned in 2005 after a $250,000-plus study sponsored by
      the Planning Board. The net result was a rezoning proposal that
      increased incentives for development. After the new zoning was
      approved by the Board and City Council, only then did the City issue
      its “plan” for Alewife — six months later. City officials admit that
      they did the zoning first and the plan second, and that it is
      backwards, but that this is the way they always did things. They also
      admitted that the plan was basically 80% zoning. Put the documents
      together and we get a product which is 90% zoning and 10% planning.
      Is it any wonder that the planning at Alewife has been so bad?

      After a half-century of transportation planning at Alewife extending
      from the end of world War II, state officials effectively abandoned
      further active planning in the mid 1990s. For almost two decades we
      have had virtually no transportation planning at Alewife. If anything
      the increased congestion has made travel conditions worse. One would
      think that Alewife would serve as a model for poor planning and that
      everyone from City Hall to the neighborhoods would try to learn from
      the experience.

      The bad news is that the planning does not seem to be getting any
      better. Paul began his critique with general complaints about the
      K2C2 process at Kendall and Central Squares. The bad news is that
      this planning process was worse than Alewife. At Alewife a traffic
      report was actually produced, even if it was not very useful. At K2,
      a traffic consultant was hired, did some work but never completed the
      work or produced a final report. Initial analysis of both Kendall and
      Central Squares was done using a method that ignored pedestrians.
      Does this make any sense? A different analysis for Central Square was
      prepared only when citizens complained.

      K2C2 transit analysis had only one redeeming feature. It suggested
      that there needs to be cooperation between all the communities along
      the Red Line who are seeking to do Transit-Oriented-Development. The
      City’s concern was that everyone working eagerly to build new transit
      stations would undoubtedly result in overloading the Red Line. This
      concern was legitimate, and the Urban Land Institute had issued a
      report expressing the same concern. The final result is that there
      is no final K2C2 transit report either. In the past two years, there
      has been no umbrella committee of communities getting together to
      discuss development and transit capacity. Nothing seems to be
      happening.

      The situation with the Central Square Advisory Committee was almost
      beyond belief. Several years ago, an advisory committee had been
      formed and its functions written into zoning, to deal with new
      development at Central Square. This committee met periodically until
      the former City Manager created a second Central Square Advisory
      Committee.

      Yes, it had the same name, but completely different membership.
      It included no members of any neighborhood group. Many citizens
      thought it was stacked in favor of developers, and that landowners had
      a conflict of interest. The second committee began regularly and
      issued its final “plan” in November 2012. City staff drafted up
      zoning language that was being discussed by the Planning Board in May
      2013, when it suddenly stopped. City Staff then prepared a final
      “report” which was issued in December 2013.

      Here are some good questions : Where do we stand on Central Square
      planning? Zoning? Traffic report? Transit study? Credibility?

      Yes, I too have some complaints about Paul’s original blog. It would
      have been useful if he had the time (which he may not) to have
      canvassed citizens for specific examples of a failed planning process.
      It would have been nice if he could have put his finger on at least
      some positive achievements of the K2C2 study. There were not many
      good ideas, but they were there.

      Let us suppose for a moment that every one of the K2C2
      recommendations made sense and that the plan and zoning ideas made
      sense. Let us assume that there was a good transit plan and a
      recognition of traffic and parking problems. Let us assume that the
      process followed the same pattern of meetings with no hearings and
      scant opportunity for public comment. I think there would still be
      good reason for citizens to feel upset because they were not involved.
      They had not been given the opportunity to make their opinions heard,
      and on the whole had been kept in the dark. Simple stated, the
      participatory process — including the two advisory committees with
      the same name — left much to be desired.

      I feel compelled to go further and to question the K2C2 process :
      was it worthwhile? What can be salvaged?

      The K2C2 process was so limited in effectiveness that its credibility
      must be suspect in almost all regards. The planning process must be
      done over and done right, just as a good planning process is needed at
      Alewife. There should be no room for defective planning processes.
      We should be learning from the mistakes in Quincy. We should look at
      what if any aspects of the K2C2 process can be revived or modified to
      become more useful. Any thought that the K2C2 process is ready to
      move into zoning deliberations is completely premature.

      Stephen H. Kaiser

      Reply
      1. sethzeren

        Hi Stephen,

        Not sure if you’ll see this, but I thought I’d respond back.

        We haven’t met. But I am a human. I’m complex, I have many motivations. I don’t agree with your approach or ideas, but I’m pretty left-wing. I live on Chestnut Street. Nice to meet you.

        I’m not sure how you think your message is supposed to help further a constructive conversation about the future of Cambridge… I think that walls of text like this, with their casual ad hominem attacks on your fellow citizens are not constructive. Cambridge is not on the brink of destruction, it’s one of the very best places to live in the United States, which is why so many of the rest of us choose to live here. How will we be able to have a constructive planning process that doesn’t shut out voices, as you suggest, if you want to shout people down who don’t agree with you?

        Respectfully, please tone it down,
        Seth

        Reply
        1. Sally Eaton Arnold

          Mr. Kaiser casts aspersions on people who disagree with him. In so doing, he makes this blog an inhospitable place. He should apologize and refrain from doing it again.

          Reply
  10. paulsteven

    Hi Lawrence:

    Thank you for your thoughtful words. I, too, am happy with Cambridge today in myriad ways, and I would like to keep things that way. I just witnessed the C2 process (as described in my reply above) as the perfect example of how city planners can screw up a good thing. My assertion is that C2 was entered into and constructed with a specific outcome in mind. What kind of planning process is that? And what kind of result could one expect from a process like that? Probably something unexpected.

    Lawrence, you accuse me of fighting change when I am only fighting for master plan that will sensibly and realistically guide change, as best any city can accomplish that. I’m not arguing that Cambridge should be dipped in amber. I am arguing that our civic leaders and government need to act responsibly. If they’re going to repeatedly approve up-zoning petitions and PUD districts, then they—and we—need to understand the larger context in which those decisions are made. If you read my essay above, you saw that HALF the 20-year growth projections for the entire city were reached in the last THREE YEARS. Why does it take a private group to unearth that information when the city employs a sizable planning department? Don’t you think that information would be critical to any planning process? It’s precisely because change will inevitably come that I want a master plan that arises from an honest, all-inclusive and comprehensive process; not one that pretends to be objective, pretends to be inclusive, pretends to feed facts to its advisory committee, or examines sections of the city as if they existed in silos.

    As for the Red Line, we need better information about its additional capacity. Let’s agree that its capacity lies somewhere between ‘60% filled’ during rush hour, as the CDD suggests, and ‘maxed out,’ as I perhaps mistakenly described it. For an honest answer, we should question people who ride the T to work daily. What do you think they would say?

    Reply
    1. Ted Pyne

      As an amateur transportation planer, I’d like to propose a third option: with signal upgrades, there is no reason why the red line is anywhere close to its “hard” capacity limit, determined by track and (due to Boston’s difficult tunneling), platform length. Several years back, the T did a study of CBTC signaling the Red Line and ordering enough cars for bi-directional two minute headways, meaning a tripling of capacity. In the event that headways only decrease to three minutes, there is still a doubling of “bodies per minute”. The cost o0f upgrading the entire red line with CBTC and ordering additional cars was around half a billion dollars, and it would have induced 20,000 trips per day. Whether that’s a price we want to pay is up to debate, but acting like the red line is at hard capacity ceilings, or will be for decades, is misguided. (Another option would be Green Line Union Square to Porter via the Fitchburg line ROW. This would encourage people at Harvard to take a train out to Porter and transfer there, easing the pinch on Park St. and opening up more seats for people at Central. Unfortunately, due to GLX delays that is at least a decade away.)

      Reply
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