Earlier this month I was able to visit Kansas City, MO for a “City Summit” conference sponsored by the National League of Cities. The conference was useful and will enhance my work in Cambridge. The first thing we all celebrated was that all buses in Kansas City are free. There is a network of buses serving the area and a cable car that runs along Main Street. Cambridge and Boston have been working on a fare free pilot. Other cities in Massachusetts and elsewhere are making buses free – to incentivize travel, reduce car usage and help residents struggling financially. I hope that eventually all public transit will be Frequent, Affordable (if not free then reduced), and Reliable.
I attended sessions on climate resiliency, housing and sustainability, mobility (think e-scooters), civic engagement, and urban planning. I heard inspiring speakers at general sessions and met other civic leaders from around the country. Takeaways are that Cambridge is already doing A LOT and is a leader in many ways. AND Cambridge can learn from other cities which are doing things we could be doing and innovating in ways we can emulate. The downtown library in Kansas city is breathtaking – in an old bank building, with a rooftop terrace that was empty when we were there, and is filled in warmer weather months. The same issues facing Cambridge : supporting local business, responding to climate change, building affordable housing, installing bike infrastructure and others – are facing municipalities across the country. I came away impressed with local leadership and hopeful in our collective ability to move the needle on some issues… even as we all recognized that federal funding was key to many of the successes on display.
Although I am no longer on the School Committee, I care deeply about education. This week I went to a Breakthrough Greater Boston [BTGB] event and heard a talk by Prof. Givens on the pedagogy of black educators historically who managed to teach some important history despite Jim Crow era laws and policies that sought to prohibit advancement by Black students. And as always I celebrated and appreciated the results of BTGB – in student achievement for the overwhelmingly low income students of color in the programs, and in teacher recruitment – of an extremely high proportion of teachers of color, with alums of BTGB now teachers and leaders in schools and in districts.
Below are some comments on a few top line items including some comments on some items from the last two City Council meetings and a few quick notes for this Monday’s meeting. This holiday season we are able to gather in person – which is a wonderful change from the last two years. However, Covid is still with us – as much as we wish it had disappeared it has not. Please be aware and take care of yourself – and take time out to appreciate something, small or large, every day. And while you are thinking of supporting small local folks, check out the Artists work at the Smith Center in Harvard Square – today, tomorrow and next weekend.
Vote on Participatory Budgeting Projects December 1-11 2022
Participatory Budgeting (PB) is open to all Cambridge residents age 12 and older (and all 6th graders), regardless of citizenship status, including university students. PB is a democratic process that empowers community members to decide how to spend part of a public budget. Approximately 1,320 ideas were submitted. Over 70 volunteer PB Delegates researched and evaluated those ideas, and developed 20 final proposals for the PB ballot. In addition to online voting Dec. 1-11, residents can vote over the phone by calling the Budget Office at 617-349-4270 during regular business hours, or vote at one of our in-person PB events. Paper ballots are also available in the Budget Office at Cambridge City Hall, 795 Massachusetts Avenue.
Vote on Participatory Budgeting Projects
Winter Classic 5K
Expect brief road closures and traffic impacts near Central Square and Riverside due to the Winter Classic 5K, which will take place on Sunday, December 4, at 9:30 a.m. The course begins and ends at University Park Commons near Central Square. For more information on road closures, please see the link below.
Winter Classic 5K – Dec. 4
Some more pictures from the beautiful library in Kansas City! me on the roofdeck (with chess board) and an interior shot
City Council Updates
First I wanted to touch base on a few items from the last two City Council Meetings before hitting on a few notes for the next meeting this Monday, December 5.
Municipal Broadband Roundtable
This Monday we had the long awaited report on the Municipal Broadband Feasibility study. I was thrilled to hear the report – although disappointed that the report was an update without the financial modeling that will be crucial to making a decision on how to move forward. Cambridge Day, as always, did an excellent job summarizing the meeting. With the internet being an important utility for residents of every background and age, I am hopeful that the city will start installing a network that we own – with perhaps private partnership to operate. Those who wonder if a network would become obsolete need to remember that a fiber optic network transmits at basically the speed of light – which can never be surpassed. The cities that have municipal broadband are mostly ones that own the electric utility – but there are many other cities exploring how to ensure privacy, net neutrality, equitable access, and affordability – all attributes we need to offer to residents to be a world class city. I look forward to the full report early next year, and am ready to vote in favor of a plan to install a municipal broadband network.
Human Services & Veterans Committee
On Tuesday, Councillor McGovern held a Human Services & Veterans Committee meeting on addressing issues related to Central Square. I was not able to attend, although my aide was able to attend – it was an important conversation about balancing the need for residents to feel safe and the need to provide support for folks who are unhoused and/or present challenging situations like using drugs openly or behavior that can make residents feel unsafe. Many residents have brought forward concerns about safety and unlawful behavior to the council, all while recognizing that all people deserve support.
Cambridge Day – Handling Homelessness and Substance Abuse – Central Sq
Back to Cambridge Water
On November 19, 2022, the City switched back from MWRA Water to Cambridge City Water. During the council meeting two weeks ago I talked with the City Manager about continuing to improve communication efforts – especially around important issues like this. I was disappointed that the City did not give us more information in advance and will continue to work with the City to improve our efforts in this regard.
Affordable Housing Overlay Amendments
We received an outpouring of public interest in the recent Policy Order regarding the zoning amendments to the Affordable Housing Overlay. Last week the City Council began their deliberation process on the Policy Order, which should take several months. The Policy Order was referred to the Housing and Neighborhood and Long-Term Planning Committees for further deliberation. The decision to refer to those committees instead of Ordinance committee was made since a majority of the council believe that this change to the AHO deserves a review and discussion, and input from all stakeholders prior to being considered for formal adoption through the ordinance process.
At the end of this newsletter is my general statement on the matter.
Since passing a policy order two weeks ago, there has been a lot of discussion in the community about the recent changes on Garden Street. The City has begun a series of listening sessions to get more input from residents. I always support monitoring the impact of these changes and increasing communication with residents. I do want to ensure that residents are clear that the bike lanes will continue to be installed. Whether one-way is the only option is something the city is being asked to consider. As we monitor and assess, we know that the first couple of months people will be adjusting to the new traffic patterns. I travel through that area regularly – by car, by bike, and as a pedestrian. I know it well, and know that we need to take time to analyze the changes and understand the impact. I was able to attend one of these listening sessions so far and I made it clear to the City that the input from these meetings needs to be considered – not just heard. And we need to be as inclusive as possible so that we can gather a broad understanding of the effects of the Garden Street changes on the ENTIRE community.
Upcoming Listening Sessions on Garden St:
Garden Street Safety Improvement Project – City of Cambridge, MA
Climate Resilience Zoning
An item on the City Manager’s Agenda from two weeks ago that I am particularly interested in working on is the Climate Resilience Zoning proposal. This zoning proposal is one part of the Resilient Cambridge Plan which works to prepare the city for a future that will include drastic changes caused by the climate crisis. We are in the process of scheduling a Health and Environment Committee meeting to discuss the proposal in more depth before moving onto Ordinance. I’m looking forward to digging into the details of the proposal and to continuing the hard work of preparing our City for the future.
Climate Resilience Zoning
Green Plus Cambridge Community Electricity
I sponsored a policy order with the help of Councillor Zondervan, Vice Mayor Mallon, and Mayor Siddiqui which addressed the communication efforts of the City regarding the Cambridge Community Electricity program (CCE). As you know, improving the effective communication of the City is something I’ve been very focused on lately and the CCE is an incredibly important program, not only in our mission to reduce emissions pollution, but also in our goals of lowering energy cost for residents. It’s a program that every resident in Cambridge should know about and take advantage of – especially the 100% renewable option (which I do!). If you’re one of the 40,000 customers of CCE in Cambridge but NOT one of the 1,000 customers who choose 100% Green Plus, please consider switching! Good policies are only as good as the effectiveness of implementing them and we cannot let good programs like the CCE run the risk of losing effectiveness due to limited advertising and poor marketing. I hope this policy order will help the City revamp their efforts to promote this great program.
Cambridge – MassPowerChoice.com
It’s been a while since I posed a trivia question:
Where is or was Birds Pond? (picture below)
Local gift card to correct answer (if more than one, random draw will determine winner)
STATEMENT on introduced amendments to the AHO [Affordable Housing Overlay]
If you missed the City Council meeting where we discussed this issue, here is a quick summary of my statement from the meeting with some thoughts on the amendment and the amendment process. This City Council has been focused on making the City more affordable for all residents. We have taken great strides in this regard, and I have been committed to taking deliberate and focused steps to increase our affordable housing stock. The most important factor has been the more than doubling of funds available for affordable housing – an effort started several years ago which led last year to more than $30 million for affordable housing.
When looking to increase affordable housing, I believe there are two methods we need to consider and take advantage of – that is, by building affordable public housing leveraging City resources, and also by creating zoning laws that incentivize private developers to invest in affordable housing. Both serve a role and both have a process by which we can achieve them. In fact, both processes were on display last week. As the lead on a policy order to end single and two-family only zones, I am not afraid of zoning changes. With the AHO, I couldn’t support the change because it did not require net zero buildings or middle-income housing to be part of every project. And I had concerns about its impact on the city. I still support much of the concept of making it easier to build affordable housing. To date, the AHO has made it easier to build some projects. However, those projects were all ones that would have been built – and most are expansions of existing affordable housing, which further concentrates low income residents.
The proposal is to make it easier to build higher projects along corridors and in the squares. The reason for the widespread concern is that many people don’t realize that the ordinance language presented last night was the FIRST step in a process. However, since the original AHO ordinance language was presented only after many committee meetings, it seemed like a shock to some that these amendments were being presented without committee meetings. AND, presented without a couple of years of assessment of the AHO.
The City Manager’s Awaiting Report looking into municipal owned property is something I’ve been pushing on for a long time. Identifying city-owned land and resources allows the City and the Council to strategize our priorities as we look to develop housing solutions. This is indicative of a public process which begins with research and continues through a public process of planning and implementation. The zoning process was also on display last week, albeit with a bit of irregular framing. I must admit that I was as surprised to see this Policy Order as many of you obviously were. I am committed to working to create more affordable housing stock, and I believe that the sponsors of the Policy Order used an approach that unnecessarily alarmed people in the community. As the Vice Mayor and others including me said last night, the previous process for creating the AHO included several months of discussions over goals and strategies, in consultation with developers, residents, and other stakeholders. This process will undoubtedly include this as well, but I was surprised to see zoning language already being proposed, without any public process. Thankfully, the Policy Order will now be heading to committee so that we can begin the work of doing the research and engaging in a robust public process.
I don’t know where the specific proposals for height and other elements of the amendments came from. Or what data was used to inform the proposal. Without that information, I cannot responsibly have a position. As we discuss, and reform and rework the legislation, I am hopeful that we will come up with a zoning plan that incentivizes affordable housing production and expands the work that the AHO has produced. I have to note though that the AHO created rifts and divisions in our community, and I worry that this proposal will do the same. And it is unclear to me whether the amendments would lead to more housing – since the key limiting factor is funding, which is unrelated to this proposal. Thank you for reaching out about this policy order, and I hope I was able to clear up some of the confusion last week. I look forward to working with my fellow Councillors to continue to make our City more affordable.
Thank you to everyone for reading. If there are any topics you want me to cover in future newsletters, I’m always happy for the input! As always, please feel free to reach out to my aide, Patrick, or me for any of your City Council needs.
You can find all previous newsletters on my website. Please share with anyone you think would be interested: https://pattynolan.org/news/