Sunday, June 16, 2024

Envision Cambridge is a remarkable collaborative plan. From 2016 to 2018, more than 5,000 Cantabrigians participated to usher in a comprehensive plan to guide Cambridge in the following years, including more than 2,000 survey respondents, more than 115 committee members and more than 74 public meetings.

Circumstances around Envision changed when certain assumptions were off target, though. The need for an update is apparent. 

The Covid pandemic disrupted the plan materially, exacerbating a housing affordability crisis by changing the nature of work to work-from-home. 

We also contradicted ourselves in some areas in execution. While we highlighted learning as one of our cherished values, we discontinued our support for some foreign-language schools, at least for some time. We bemoan that 40 percent of our surface is impervious, yet want to turn the Fresh Pond Golf Course from a green space into a residential area. While we celebrated our city as a city of neighborhoods, we jumped to the fast implementation of several policies amid a noticeable outcry of social neglect. 

It is time for us to reenvision and adjust. We should add emergency preparedness as one of the domains of our discussion. The pandemic, the opioid abuse epidemic and the emerging crisis of migrants will require a different touch to our policy priority and city workforce. We should also add government competency as one of our desired goals. Otherwise, we can have all the lofty goals we want but won’t see better outcomes anytime soon. 

We also need to think outside the box. We may not need to build any Burj Khalifa in Cambridge, but why can’t we build two or three John Hancocks in places such as the Fresh Pond Shopping Mall? Will it not add 3,000 housing units and bountiful businesses to solve our collective problem? Will it not spare many squares and corridors near and dear to the hearts of neighborhoods? 

Adding 3,175 affordable-housing units is equivalent to adding three Prudential or John Hancock buildings, which will save us from adding at least two dozen 12-story buildings across the city. This seems a plausible option, especially if we also want to enlarge our open spaces as asked by the plan. 

Hao Wang, candidate for Cambridge City Council