I was dismayed to read the recently published op-ed by Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and others regarding a proposed affordable housing development in North Cambridge.

I live a block and a half from the proposed site, and have been involved in neighborhood discussions on this topic in person (aka over Zoom) and in social media. The discussions regarding the proposed building at 2072 Massachusetts Ave. have been strikingly heated, escalating in this op-ed piece and strident voices on various social media and in neighborhood discussion groups. The lines are drawn and the noisy rhetoric of some city officials appears to have lost any connection with the actual people who would be involved, indeed, whose lives will be seriously influenced. Ideology and selected (and often irrelevant) examples of “victims” are used in place of practical, humane and respectful reasoning.

Some of us have wrongly been characterized as “the enemy.”

I want there to be respect. It is a value we espouse, all of us. Instead, there’s hypocrisy (“affordable housing” begins to stand for much more than a nuanced view of its complexities – it looks like a sacred object on a civic altar, instead of something that is indeed very much needed but must also serve the needs both of its residents and its neighborhoods). In the case of 2072 Massachusetts Ave. you have at the very least three constituencies to respect: the tenants of the building, of course; the vulnerable elderly and disabled residents only a few feet away who already feel left out of the discussion; and the wider neighborhood, which wants to welcome the new neighbors but has also experienced no genuine communication and conversation about the proposed out-of-scale building, on a relatively small site, at a dangerous, congested intersection. It should be noted that the density of this development (as measured by floor-area ratio) is three times the average of the other affordable housing units within a half-mile of Porter Square. In addition, the building as proposed will tower at 102 feet over the abutting Russell Apartments (at 57.6 feet), and loom over the Henderson Carriage Building (at 68 feet), not to mention casting its shadow over the neighboring 12- to 13-foot building across Walden.

We too are talking to many people: city officials, journalists, experts on zoning law and above all, the growing number of neighbors wanting to be heard, and signing on to be counted. These people are not “elitists” or Nimbys. We find the easy slurs doled out by the defenders of the project insulting, and they end discussion rather than engaging in possibly productive talk that could lead to a useful and livable solution – and a more livable and safer streetscape.

I’ve lived in Cambridge since 1953. I love Cambridge for a whole slew of reasons and I have walked, biked and roller-skated (well, not recently) almost every block of our city, from elementary school on. And I will fight to make it better. I don’t oppose affordable housing – I want to improve it.

What do I want in this case? A building that is set back, offering a better “built environment” – a building that is at the most six stories on Massachusetts Avenue and three to the rear, a building that doesn’t heavily shadow Russell Apartments and impose itself on the privacy and comfort of the neighboring community of seniors. Above all, I want it to be part of the neighborhood, created in cooperation and consultation. Tell me what I can do to help.

We can do this, Cambridge!

Merry White, Cypress Street

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