Sunday, February 25, 2024

There have been a number of attempts to characterize, fairly or unfairly, the emergent movement in Cambridge toward a one-year moratorium on upzoning approvals. This movement, a spontaneous response on the part of Cambridge residents and neighborhood groups, flared up dramatically in light of two planned developments that seemed to be moving rapidly down the approval pipeline. One threatened to eviscerate Newtowne Court, a low-income housing community, while the other proposed the taking of public parkland for a 14-story tower near Central Square.

The concern of Cambridge residents was inflamed further when a survey of all known proposed developments citywide revealed that, if approved, they represented more than 18 million square feet of new office, lab and living space. And if approved, they would bring an additional 65,112 cars onto Cambridge’s already congested streets. They would also result in an additional 65,775 public transit trips on a system that is already maxed out, according to a recent study.

Anyone who tries to drive through Cambridge at rush hour knows there’s already more density on our streets than we can handle. Doesn’t it seem sensible to discuss the impact of 65,000 additional cars on our roadways — and on the air we breathe — before we disembowel our zoning regulations to let those cars in? Or to analyze the impact of these developments on housing costs, school populations, community diversity, open space and our access to sun and sky?

What worried anyone who took a close look at this oncoming train wreck was that nobody appeared to be analyzing this aggregated activity’s impact on Cambridge’s residents, neighborhoods and quality of life. Each project was being considered individually, on the basis of its own merits, ignoring the impact from all other projects. The current mindset in City Hall appeared to be directed toward maximizing the give-back from developers rather than ensuring the protection and viability of the fabric of our community.

It wasn’t anybody’s fault, just a good example of how the power of money and the weight of traditional political behavior is moving us ever closer to the disappearance of all that makes Cambridge livable and worth living in.

The Cambridge Residents Alliance is not looking to rewrite the rules of the game, but to call timeout so we — the residents and stakeholders of Cambridge — can consider where the game is taking us. And whether that’s where we want to go. We owe that much to ourselves and to future generations whose lives will be greatly affected by the decisions we make today.