Cambridge Climate Congress at City Hall

Cambridge Climate Congress at City Hall

The City of Cambridge hosted part one of the 2009-2010 Cambridge Climate Congress at City Hall today. The purpose of the Congress is to recommend ways for the community and city of Cambridge to respond more effectively to climate change. The members of the 2009 Cambridge Climate Emergency Congress Steering Committee that organized this event include John Bolduc, Joanna Herlihy, John Pitkin, Minka vanBeuzekom, Steve Wineman and Quinton Zondervan. School Committee member Patty Nolan and councillor elect Leland Cheung and many others were also involved in organizing the Congress. Participants were solicited from all parts of the city, and at least one “delegate” from another town was invited for his expertise.

There were about a hundred delegates present. The format was to break into groups of ten or fewer and come up with ideas that might be effective in changing residents’ behavior and help the city be more productive on this front. The event started in the usual fashion of city officials patting themselves on the back for a truly fabulous job well done. In this case the patters were Mayor Simmons and Councillor Davis (who by the way is off to Copenhagen with a couple of staffers). The fact of our presence was a clue that all is not well. So too is the fact that city’s 2002 Climate Protection Plan (cover pictured above) aspired to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions produced in the city to 20% below 1990 levels by 2010 but they have instead increased by 27%. Perhaps only the pretty side of the picture was being presented. Deja-vu all over again, as the man said.

That is not to say that the city’s activities have been a complete failure. Far from it. The city vehicle fleet is going hybrid, new city construction is much greener than it was, and there are compact fluorescent light bulbs in at least some fixtures in City Hall. Two things struck me while going over the 2002 plan. The first is that it looks like an excellent plan. Second, its implementation is so spotty. Clearly, the City Manager has failed to carry out many of the recommendations in this policy document and get the message through to many of his employees. In at least one case the Council itself is responsible. When Alexandria Real Estate Equities was given somewhere around a half billion dollars’ worth of development rights over what zoning had previously allowed, the city only got a vague commitment to build only to the LEED silver standard. My understanding is that level of “green” is pretty much standard in new large scale buildings built these days. Most of the breakout groups came back with a request that some kind of honest evaluation be done of the progress and lack thereof toward reaching the goals stated in this plan.

Here are a few items I have pulled out of the 2002 report that seem to lack follow-through.

Optimize building design and the use of vegetation to shade buildings and reduce the urban heat island effect. Use geographic information systems to map the city’s tree canopy coverage and assess the environmental services provided by the urban forest; maximize the tree canopy cover, particularly over parking lots and air-conditioning units; install roofs with high reflectance or “green” landscaped roofs; incorporate reflectance and shading standards in designs for parking lots and building construction.

I know of no green roofs that have been created in response to this plan, and the city seems not to do a good job or maintaining or replacing its trees.

Promote Transit Improvements. Support extension of the Green Line, acquisition of alternative fuel buses, and plans for the Urban Ring.

To date, I have only seen one Green Line Extension meeting at which our city had official representation.

Improve facilities for walking and cycling. Install more bicycle lanes and parking facilities; create and improve off-road paths including railroad rights-of-way; expand efforts to retrofit streets and intersections to better accommodate bicycles and pedestrians.

Monitor Progress. Indicators such as energy use, transportation factors, and waste volumes should be tracked and reported at regular intervals to assess progress toward the emissions reduction target.

Establish a Coordinating Committee. The City should establish a standing committee to monitor progress and advise the City Administration on implementation of the plan.

Both of these seem to have suffered the usual fate of plans to monitor and report on city activities.

A section titled Why Waiting is not an Option

What can I say?

Strategy 3: Increase Use of East Cambridge District Steam

Hasn’t happened.

Community Preservation Act
In November 2001, Cambridge voters adopted the Community Preservation Act (CPA). The CPA allows communities to increase their property taxes and devote the funds to open space protection, affordable housing, and historic preservation. The allocation of the funds is determined through the preparation of a community preservation plan.

The City of Cambridge allocates the minimum allowable of this money to be spent on anything except “affordable” housing. I have nothing against providing people with a place to live, quite the contrary, but the allocations should be adjusted to allow for significantly more dollars for open space acquisition.

Strategy 4: Promote the Design and Construction of Green Buildings

Maybe the policies formulated by the Green Building/Zoning Task Force will help here, but that won’t be in front of the Council until next year.

Part two of this affair will be in January, at which time our recommendations will be consolidated and forwarded to the City Council for their consideration.

I hope we do better over the next decade.

PDF icon COC climate_plan_full.pdf3.51 MB


Thanks for reporting on this. We need to let our representatives know that there's public support for environmental issues.

Hey Mark, I was there toon and had a queestion or 2 for you, could you email me at

Thanks Tom Meek

Thanks for the best laugh I've had in weeks. I can't wait for people to start moving out of Cambridge due to the intended repressive regime. I, for one, would never want to live in a town where a stated goal is for them to change my behavior.

Laughing stocks, all of you. LOL!

I'm glad you enjoyed it Senator Imhoff.