The first step toward building A Better Cambridge

Last year, the city launched a long-term planning process for Kendall and Central squares to chart the future for these vital neighborhoods. This week, the city’s Community Development Department released detailed recommendations forged by that inclusive process. Those recommendations present Cambridge with an unusual opportunity to address its lingering problems, build on its remarkable strengths and ensure that its best days lie in its future.

Most residents value the distinctive character of our city and agree that we must preserve it, even as they part ways as to how that might best be achieved. Over the last several months, however, the intense debate over zoning, development and the future of Cambridge has produced heated disagreement among the parties to the discussion. It is our hope that these new recommendations will reorient that important conversation in a more positive, thoughtful direction.

As a supplement to the city’s reports, all 20 active members of the Central Square Advisory Committee took the remarkable step of issuing, on their own initiative, a letter to the community explaining their vision for that portion of our city. They want to ensure, they wrote, that any new developments in Central Square remain “consistent with its civic identity, support sustainability and provide for appropriate density, while being transparent to the community.”

These recommendations may be specific to one neighborhood, but they represent a positive, progressive vision of development that might fruitfully be applied across the entire city. In fact, recognizing the mutual interdependence of Cambridge’s wonderful neighborhoods and crafting a unified vision for the city, as a whole, is a necessary prerequisite for achieving those goals.

No single neighborhood can ensure that the city retains an adequate supply of housing that is affordable to its families; a rich network of social services; open space and public parks; commercial spaces hosting a full range of nonprofit and entrepreneurial activities; a vibrant mix of retailers and small businesses; or any of the other constituent elements of our unique community. The remarkable social, cultural and economic diversity of our city rests not only on the mix of residents and uses within any one square, but also on the overall mix of neighborhoods that comprise the city.

Over the coming months, we hope that our friends and neighbors will join us in a constructive discussion of Cambridge’s future. We believe that by working collaboratively we can build a diverse and dynamic city on a path toward sustainable growth. Ensuring that Kendall and Central squares each retains their distinctive characters, even as new development builds upon and enhances their defining traits, should be the first step toward building A Better Cambridge.

Jesse Kanson-Benanav, chairman, and Yoni Appelbaum, members of the leadership team of A Better Cambridge

 

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