- What do you see as the two most important issues facing the Fresh Pond-Alewife area?
- What specific policy or regulatory actions would you take as a City Councilor to address them?
I believe the two most important issues facing the Fresh Pond/Alewife area both relate to the infill of the area along Concord Avenue to the north of Fresh Pond itself. Namely, we must focus on the need for strong neighborhood building and the need for true sustainability of any new development in the area.
We must design with, rather than on top of nature to strike an environmental balance. This means building with flood mitigation and retention in mind, limiting heat island buildup, and buffering the residential neighborhood from surrounding traffic noise. A key component of this effort would be maximizing non-auto travel around Fresh Pond and Alewife. We could do this by establishing shuttle bridges and internal shuttles that serve the Alewife station and encourage Commuter Rail and Red Line use instead of solo car travel. Focusing on residential over commercial development would help reduce added car traffic and meet some of the City and region’s housing needs. This type of nature and transit-centric design will aid us in building a strong Alewife neighborhood that can connect naturally to the existing Fresh Pond neighborhood.
Building a strong neighborhood requires creating a district identity: something that expresses Cambridge’s best attributes in a way that suits this specific area. New development in the area should be primarily residential and human-scaled. Residential use more easily creates a sense of Place as public infrastructure improvements would be geared, naturally, to serve the localized neighborhood needs and desires. This includes a strong network of local and highly walkable and bike-able low-speed streets/paths and residential squares/fields; community facilities like elementary schools, pre-K centers, and a neighborhood library; open space; and small, local retail. Human-scale development encourages personal community connections and helps support local businesses better than commercial development can.
To bring these ideas to fruition, I would incorporate them into the city-wide master plan which I have championed since my first term. I would also re-evaluate the present Envision Alewife plan to better integrate all the above issues in a unified way. With mostly residential and limited, small-scale commercial development, we could build the required infrastructure using a tax increment financing strategy.
As the founding president of the FPRA, I am keenly aware of the organization’s priorities since these seemingly intractable issues are what drew me into the political process in the first place. I am grateful that the neighborhood’s strong support helped elect me as the only new councilor in 2015, and I hope you all feel I have continued to champion your interests as a councilor. Our interests are closely aligned: living within a stone’s throw of Fresh Pond Parkway and the Reservoir I see daily how the poorly planned built environment and the pass-through traffic are detracting from the livability of our area and compromising our health and safety. Reducing, or at least better managing, the volume and speed of traffic (both on the parkway and cutting though our neighbors to avoid the parkway) and reducing the potential for major flooding remain the two greatest challenges for the area. I was a member of the stakeholder group for the state’s recent Mount Auburn-Fresh Pond Parkway Corridor Study, and I will push for its recommendations to be funded and implemented. I have also been a strong supporter of completing the Cambridge Watertown Greenway multi-use path, which will finally be constructed in 2018, and which will provide a vital non-auto connection to the fast-growing Arsenal area.
In as much as Cambridge alone cannot solve the regional public transit deficit that gives commuters few options over driving through Cambridge on Routes 2 and 16, we must create more and safer non-auto connections for our own residents to navigate the area, starting with the long-promised ped/bike bridge over the railroad tracks to connect the “Quad” to the Alewife “Triangle” and T station. I also want to create a complete streets connection between Terminal Road and Wheeler Street and through the Fresh Pond Mall parking lot to New Street; the parking lot is used as a de facto street now and the circulation pattern is chaotic and unsafe for all modes. We cannot wait decades for it to be redeveloped — the City should take by eminent domain the portion we need to create a street that connects New Street with Terminal Road. As I said at the candidate forum, I feel that the Envision Alewife plan has so far not confronted the magnitude of the area’s traffic and flooding challenges and that we should pause permitting new development in the Quad or on Cambridge Park Drive (the Vecna and Summer Shack sites could be the next major projects) for up to two years to allow time to develop a plan for increasing the green infrastructure and open space that will be needed to protect residents and critical public infrastructure including our water supply from the anticipated flooding. I also am very interested in the Tobin School reconstruction since I live around the corner from Vassal Lane. I think my continued presence on the Council will be important to ensuring that residents’ needs are addressed in the site plan, design and demolition and construction process.
The most pressing issue for the Fresh Pond/Alewife area is crossing the railroad tracks near the T station. I was the only “No” vote to rezone the Alewife area over a decade ago because the zoning change lacked a plan to connect new development to the T and I worried we’d get the overly car-dependent development we wound up getting. It is not too late to create that crossing, though it has become more complicated as parcels have been developed. I will continue to push to create this crossing, which, which at this stage will probably involve MBTA air rights over the train tracks and a development plan that incorporates both a crossing of the tracks and a commuter rail station there.
The second most pressing issue for the Fresh Pond/Alewife area is to improve the interior traffic flow to advantage cyclists and pedestrians on either side of the commuter rail. Walkers and bicyclists of all ages and abilities need to feel comfortable with the thought of getting to Fresh Pond, the T, the shopping center and, perhaps most importantly, the rest of Cambridge at all times and in all seasons. I would support a non-traditional approach to transportation infrastructure that either minimizes street size and gives cyclists and pedestrians their own transportation venues or completely rethinks surface transportation and makes many of the streets in the quadrangle and triangle bike and pedestrian priority where drivers expect to share the roadway with other users in a plaza-type configuration where the average speed is 10 MPH or less.
The two most important issues facing the Fresh Pond/Alewife area are development and traffic. Unfortunately, neither have simple answers. Let’s start with traffic. It would be naive to think that an area going from no development to significant development hasn’t impacted traffic, however, we know that over 80% of the traffic neither starts nor ends in Cambridge. It is people passing through from suburban communities both west and north. That is a tough nut to crack. Getting folks in suburban communities out of their cars would be challenging. The state needs to expand the MBTA and the Commuter Rail to provide other options for commuters. Of course, the service needs to be fast and reliable if it is going to be meaningful. What the city can do is limit the amount of parking in new residential developments in the area and require developers to provide Zip Car and Charlie Cars to their residents to discourage car ownership. City wide shuttle service should also be a consideration. We also need to require that developers properly fund a pedestrian/bike/motor bridge to make it easier for residents to get to the T.
Development. I support additional development, especially housing, in the Alewife area. But don’t confuse my support with a free pass for developers. I want to hold developers to the highest standards when it comes to flood mitigation, infrastructure and affordable housing. As I have often said, “I want developers to scream but not run away.” I think there has been a lost opportunity at Alewife that we need to correct. As these buildings were being built there should have been a greater focus on retail, infrastructure, open space and amenities. There should have been greater emphasis on creating a neighborhood where residents could meet their daily needs (which would also help to decrease car ownership). Moving forward, we must have high standards and a clear vision for the area, which is why I supported Alewife being the first neighborhood in the Envision Cambridge process.
I look forward to continuing to work with the FPRA and others to ensure that we move forward in a positive way and I appreciate the opportunity to submit my comments.
To me, the two most important issues facing the Fresh Pond/Alewife area are climate change mitigation/resilience efforts and ensuring affordable housing, but I see these issues as closely intertwined with issues of transportation and expanded greenspace.
My top priorities within a climate action framework include focusing on the Net Zero Action Plan, the Climate Change Preparedness Plan, and improving infrastructure around the Cambridgeport area to stop flooding.
In the Fiscal Year 2016 Progress Report for the Net Zero Action Plan, one of the objectives listed as at risk for falling behind included the market-based incentive program. The goal for the upcoming year is to partner with both Harvard and MIT to recruit student researchers to identify successful incentives for the Cambridge area. I believe I’m well positioned to facilitate this critical process. I fully support goals to increase green building requirements via zoning ordinances in Cambridge. As a city councilor, I’d speed goals toward increased building insulation within the Net Zero Action Plan. I’d also be actively involved in monitoring and engaging the Climate Change Preparedness Plan. I plan to act on the results of the Fresh Pond-Alewife neighborhood pilot, taking into account community responses to expand preparedness for all of Cambridge. Through partnership with Envision Cambridge and other community organizations, I hope to develop comprehensive plans to combat the threat of flooding within Cambridge. The economic cost and toll on families within Cambridge is something I want to actively prevent.
In the context of climate action, I would expand the Safe Routes to School program, work to create more protected bike lanes, and add more greenspace along sidewalks with native plant species. Additionally, based on suggestions from the 2016 Cambridge Climate Congress, I believe we can host more community meetings with city councilors focused on informing residents about how to install solar panels, compost, use public transportation, bike, and reduce environmental impact.
I fully support the inclusionary zoning increase to 20 percent and I also believe that we can continue taking other actions to address affordable housing in the city. I believe in greater open communication with residents to assess the status and impact of increasing inclusionary zoning. Additionally, I would work for increased university housing to decrease competition Cambridge residents face when trying to find affordable housing. I would also form a taskforce composed of representatives from the universities, the City Council, and the Community Development Department to find the most adequate solution for all. One possible solution is a city-sponsored facility that is financed by the different institutions in Cambridge for the multitude of graduate students. As a city councilor, I would also work take into account both low and middle-income housing needs.
The two most important issues that I see as facing the Fresh Pond/Alewife area are:
- Preparing for the impacts of climate change.
- Mitigating the impacts of traffic in Fresh Pond/Alewife.
Having grown up in the this area (specifically in the Rindge Towers), I am also keen on our City preserving the long term affordability of the Fresh Pond Apartments, an expiring use property, expiring in 2020. Additionally, I spoke about Jerry’s Pond at the climate forum. It’s a complex topic, and I am still learning about what actions could be taken, but I would like our City to think about the environmental injustices that exist in our city. We have to continually think about issues of social equity and displacement and who in our City who may have the most challenges.
As a City Councilor, preparing for the impacts of climate change includes:
- adapting existing buildings to better manage flooding,
- Designing neighborhood emergency response plans to natural disasters, and
- Requiring that new construction in Fresh Pond/Alewife present plans which use both existing natural resources and new innovations to control potential flooding.
As a City Councilor, mitigating the impact of traffic in Fresh Pond/Alewife includes:
- Mitigating existing traffic conditions by improving pedestrian infrastructure, such as building the pedestrian bridge between the Alewife Triangle and the Quadrangle, which could decrease vehicle trips to the Alewife MBTA station.
- Requiring Transportation Impact Studies for new, large-scale commercial and mixed use developments in all of Cambridge, with an eye to the potential vehicle trips through the Alewife/Fresh Pond area.
- Encouraging more companies in Cambridge to implement ridesharing/ridematching programs, and explore the use of private commuter shuttles, such as the Biogen bus, by multiple companies. This could reduce duplicative trips and even open up the possibility of use by members of the public who would otherwise drive to work.
Many Fresh Pond/Alewife residents have told me that they are concerned about development in an area that (1) suffers from significant traffic congestion and (2) is an at-risk flood zone. Residents are especially concerned that development does not have a clear plan for implementation and accountability.
Affordability is also a major problem for many Cambridge residents, including those who live in the Fresh Pond/Alewife area. Concerns about affordability involve housing, income equality, quality transportation, and environmental justice, among other issues.
Finding solutions to these problems will require diverse voices, broad community outreach, collaboration, and accountability.
To address these issues of unplanned development and affordability in an equitable way, I will work to:
- Create a community-led engagement and accountability process to meet housing, development, open-space, and infrastructure goals; to address resiliency planning, emergency response, and public health concerns; and to ensure that all residents–especially underrepresented groups including communities of color, women, low-income residents, immigrants, people with disabilities, and small businesses have a voice;
- Expand affordable and diverse housing for lower-to middle-income households in housing plan and inclusionary zoning requirements to achieve housing affordability and stability;
- Build a stronger workforce development pipeline for youth and adults by increasing partnerships with higher education, research and nonprofit organizations, and engaging the business community to connect youth and adults with living wage jobs;
- Expand access to quality early education and childcare so that families have a chance to climb up the ladder of opportunity.
Affordable housing is the primary issue for most Cantabrigians, including those who live in Alewife and Fresh Pond. Inclusionary zoning is an important initiative and becoming a larger portion of the affordable housing block. The voucher program has also successfully allowed working class people find housing in Cambridge and the surrounding areas. There are more ideas that have not been tested such as a property surtax tilted toward high-end homes that would be deductible against the owner’s income tax (concessions for local retirees); This would only tax out of town owners. Recently the Council began looking into a transfer tax via an order to the City Manager. Also, on 9/18 an order was issued by the City Council that the Housing Committee begin hearings on a comprehensive Housing Plan that listed most initiatives that have been brought up as possible solutions. Although, at the time of me writing this the next Housing Committee meeting isn’t scheduled. I do agree with this approach, however. If elected I will utilize my engineering and program management professional background to implement every feasible initiative to help with Affordable Housing. I will also use my experience to measure the current status looking at an array of metrics and make the measured progress and scorecards public and easily viewable to all residents. I want to be able to confidently show the exact impact each initiative has on specific affordable housing metrics.
Secondly, the effects of climate change, specifically storm surge flooding from Alewife Brook is a threat to the Alewife and Fresh Pond areas which cannot be ignored or put off. Many if not most of our neighbors will be vulnerable. Non-English speakers and ESOL residents who might have difficulty receiving critical information, elderly and people with mobility handicaps especially if they live alone, families with young children might not be able to react quickly and people with pets create a unique but serious issue during large flooding events. After a severe climate event every neighbor who is financially stretched is at risk. In 2018 the CCPR (Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience) Plan will be released and a portion of it will focus on what will be needed for this specific issue. Adapting and implementing flood protections for current infrastructure and residences and especially new construction will mitigate future damage and help maintain equitable living in Cambridge and not further exacerbate wealth gaps. If elected I will utilize my professional skills to communicate the situation to every resident and implement the resiliency plan effectively. Also, Cambridge’s CCPR plan should be reviewed regularly and include ongoing assessments of other cities after they are impacted by climate events so best practices can be leveraged and initiatives which proved impractical excluded.
The Fresh Pond/Alewife Neighborhood is an incredibly important community for families, but it will not remain that way if the factors that create community are not preserved. These include, but are not limited to, walk-able neighborhoods with access to community-building commercial amenities. There is much talk about the rental crisis forcing families out of their homes, but just as insidious, there is another rental crisis forcing small and locally-owned businesses out of Cambridge. Many of these are not being replaced. In order for family-oriented communities to thrive, there must be walk-able access not only to schools and libraries, but also to bakeries and flower shops and book stores. I am committed to protecting small and locally-owned businesses by restricting formula businesses, incentivizing building-owners to sell ground-floor real estate instead of renting, and seizing vacant properties if the owner has demonstrated no intent to maintain or put it into use.
This same neighborhood is home to a large flood plain which will likely host Cambridge’s next environmental disaster if not properly taken care of. I am committed to moving Cambridge toward Net Zero, and especially to protecting the Fresh Pond/Alewife area through building regulations, maintenance of open space, and protection from aggressive and short-sided development. A commitment to environmental protection also requires that we reduce the number of idling cars in the Alewife area by improving and increasing local transit options, including bike and multi-use routes and public transit.
This vibrant community, home to thousands of Cantabrigians, must be both preserved and modernized. We need a city council that can strike that delicate balance. Visit votegwen.org to learn more, and vote Gwen #1 on November 7th!
The two most important issues for Fresh Pond/Alewife imho are flood protection and open space. I spent years fighting the destruction of the Silver Maple Forest, and I was heartened to recently see a preliminary study by the city of Cambridge showing that green infrastructure can significantly reduce flood risk in the area by aggressively depaving (removing asphalt) and replacing it with permeable surfaces (allowing water to soak into the ground through e.g. gravel, cobblestones or grass). Of course most of this area used to be a swamp, providing both green space and flood storage. While we won’t return to that state of nature anytime soon, we can certainly reduce pavement in the area and build in a way that is smarter and less destructive. We need to take a good hard look at climate change and ask if it makes sense to keep building the way we are in this area of the city. My sense is that we need to do more wetlands reconstruction and green space restoration. I’m in favor of zoning the area appropriately given these concerns. We have important opportunities to rethink how we use this part of our city to address the challenges of climate change and environmental destruction. For example, there is an amazing non-profit called City Soil in Boston, and they need to relocate. Could the Fresh Pond/Alewife area be their new home, providing a site where composting, biochar and soil creation can take place? Only if we take the appropriate steps to provide a home to this kind of activity in our city. Storing carbon in the soil is an important component of our collective response to the climate crisis, yet mostly not on people’s radar screens yet. We have an opportunity to be forward thinking leaders in Cambridge, setting an important example for other cities and communities globally. How we plan out the future of Fresh Pond/Alewife is critical to the future of life on this planet.
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We invited all City Council Candidates to attend our Oct. 3 Community Meeting, the second hour of which was devoted to 3-minute candidate statements and Q&A with the audience. Ten attended the meeting, five candidates could not attend and sent regrets. We gave all who RSVP’d an opportunity to submit a half-page written statement. Candidates attending: Dennis Carlone (Aide Andrew Smith second hour), Olivia D’Ambriosio, Jan Devereux, Craig Kelley, Nadya Okamoto, Vatsady Sivongxay, Bryan Sutton, Sean Tierney, Gwen Volmar, and Quinton Zondervan. (Gregg Moree first hour only). Regrets from: Sumbul Siddiqui, Adriane Musgrave, Marc McGovern, Samuel Gebru, Allana Mallon, Paul Toner, Tim Toomey, and Ilan Levy.
FPRA is very grateful for the time and effort the candidates took to thoughtfully address the complex issues facing our neighborhoods. Thank You!
Other election info
See: vote.cambridgecivic.com for links to all the City Council and School Committee candidates’ campaign information.
See: www.greencambridge.org/2017forum.html for candidate Q&As and video of the Candidates’ Night Climate Resilience Forum sponsored by Green Cambridge, in collaboration with Cambridge Mothers Out Front, the Cambridge Residents Alliance, A Better Cambridge, and Cambridge Bicycle Safety, on Sept. 26th.