WHY THE CAMBRIDGE RESIDENTS ALLIANCE MATTERS: The Power of Community Acting as a Bulwark Against The Influence Of Money

WHY THE CAMBRIDGE RESIDENTS ALLIANCE MATTERS: The Power of Community Acting as a Bulwark Against The Influence Of Money

The Cambridge Residents Alliance Fighting 4 U, Fighting 4 Cambridge

Take a drive on the Leverett Connector alongside Route 93, and you’ll notice a curious sight. There’s a partially-built exit ramp, hanging out from the road; its suddenly halted steel girders and roughened concrete startle you, offend your eye, like the aftermath of an amputation. As if the phantom exit ramp had been brutally excised to prevent a cancer from spreading. Which is true, in a manner of speaking. For this is a ghastly reminder of one of the most ill-conceived highway transit projects never perpetrated—the Inner Belt, which would have sliced through the cities of Somerville and Cambridge to funnel many thousands of cars daily into the City of Boston.

This amputated exit ramp also serves as a mute tribute to the power of an aroused citizenry. For that highway would have been built 42 years ago, and Somerville and Cambridge would have been split in two, had it not been for the raised voices and continuous resistance of an engaged and outraged local community.

Today, we know the cost to a community’s social fabric when you run an elevated highway through the heart of a city, but back then many of these raised voices were denounced as fighters of progress or NIMBY’s (not-in-my-backyard-ers) or advocates of the status quo. When in fact, they were authentic voices of Cambridge sticking up—and speaking up!—for the city they loved.

Today, there’s a parallel situation arising in Cambridge, and once again the sellers of progress, unstoppable and unsuitable development and unbridled profits are railing against a group of citizens who have risen up to demand due diligence and a steady hand on the helm before we chart a ruinous course for Cambridge from which we will never recover.

I am proud to be a member of the Cambridge Residents Alliance. Proud to stand alongside members of the community who have worked tirelessly over the years to serve Cambridge and its residents. People like Nancy Ryan, who has a long history of community service, Jonathan King, an MIT professor and veteran of many citizen initiatives, Cathy Hoffman, who served on the Cambridge Peace Commission, Bill Cunningham, advocate for public housing tenants, Lee Farris, activist for affordable housing, Rich Goldberg, a leader of the Area 4 Coalition, Steve Kaiser, Traffic Engineer and outspoken critic of the city's lax transportation study practices, to mention just a few. These people have no bone to pick with progress or appropriate development. But they will not be silenced, or frightened off, by the size of a developer’s war chest, the shrillness of the arguments and accusations made by pro-development forces, or the vision and machinations of Cambridge’s own city management and Community Development Department.

We have witnessed those forces engage in a focused effort to guide a supposedly objective study of Central Square’s future toward recommendations so drastic they endanger the character and livability of the area they’re ostensibly trying to improve.

More to the point, we have witnessed these studies move ahead without anyone—except members of our alliance—conducting studies or collecting information to project the impacts of these recommendations and other projected developments on the city as a whole. Using the city’s own statistics, we have been able to project a minimum of 18 million additional square feet of development—a virtual tsunami of new offices, residences and labs—about to wash over the city during the next 20 years. Plus a minimum of 50,000 additional car trips daily, and 50,000 additional public transit trips—on subways and buses that today have little if any additional capacity.

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 believe the innovative and creative character of the Cambridge economy derives in part from the multi-cultural, cooperative and inclusive social fabric of our city, which needs to be protected, not dissolved.

We support preserving, enhancing and expanding our public and affordable housing.

We believe that choking of travel on streets, buses and trains through over-development is not in the interest of the community.

We value sunlight, sky views, and our very limited open community spaces and parks, and seek to limit shadowed canyon-like streets from over-size buildings.

We believe traffic has to be limited to levels such that children can go to and from school and afterschool activities safely.

We oppose the construction of high-rise buildings designed primarily to make large profits for developers.

We need continuing comprehensive urban planning efforts to improve the quality of life and work for Cambridge residents.

And lastly, like those activists in the 1960’s & 1970’s, we will not be silenced by those who propose development at all costs, who will not learn from the lessons or the amputated highway ramps of the past. 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.

Comments

Well said Mr. Stone. I'm glad to see you pointing out the areas where the goals of The Cambridge Residents Alliance and those of A Better Cambridge overlap. There are some hale and hale and hearty differences on how to get there, but I really think that both sides do want much of the same thing. I would like to see this discussion take a collaborative turn. There is much to accomplish and much to lose. It's time to turn down the rhetoric and turn up the seeking of a better Cambridge.

I'm proud to stand with you as well.

Mark:

I greatly appreciate your comments and the good will that clearly propels them. I agree with you about the overlapping goals of the CRA and ABC. For some time it has seemed obvious our two organizations share a positive vision for Cambridge. Both want to preserve or enhance diversity, make the city more accessible to families, create vibrant neighborhoods and be responsible stewards, so that the city we leave behind will hopefully be somewhat better for our having lived here, or at least bear signs of improvement or, at the very least, show indications we slowed down the slide into the abyss. My memory is that some of our CRA leaders have offered in the past to meet with a few of ABC's leaders, certainly with the one member who has been most vocal and vitriolic in his comments about us.

Mark, you are absolutely correct that there is too much at stake and too much we could all lose. That is exactly the point we in the CRA have been making all along. We have been trying to slow down what is basically a runaway train. The city, in the person of the Assistant City Manager, and the CDD he manages, and a few of the city council members, are rushing heedlessly (I believe) towards massive up-zoning while all the signs point to projections of more than 18 million square feet of new development and 50-plus thousand new car trips for the city in the next 20 years. Don't you think someone should say, "Wait a minute!" And question how the heck we are going to handle all that new activity, instead of adding to it in large increments?

And that is where, I believe, we in the CRA have failed to find common ground with our friends over in A Better Cambridge. Just last week I heard the president of ABC, Jesse (forgive me, I can't recall his last name), state that if we follow a Smart Growth development plan, and bring thousands of new T riders to the Red Line, we will force the state to spend money on the new signals and cars the T needs if it is ever going to climb out of its maxed-out, Crush Hour status. Those of us familiar with how the state works would rather not depend on such need, or logic, having the power to drive MBTA budget allocations. And we would also prefer fewer new riders until such time as there are additional Red Line cars to carry them.

Still, if there is some common ground the two organizations can meet upon, I would cheer that eventuality. At the very least it might be helpful if both parties agree to a difference in vision and going forward avoid demonizing each other.

Again, Mark, thank you for your well-meaning and helpful comments. I look forward to seeing you up on the battlements!