My frustration is on multiple levels. First, I stand with a broken heart that a young member of our community lost his life to gun violence last week. Even though our state has strict laws, the scourge of guns continues to plague people across the country, state and our own city.
And I’ll admit, my frustration boiled over on Wednesday. The Ordinance Committee was meeting to discuss the Green Roofs Petition, submitted by the wonderful effective dedicated Mothers Out Front. Instead of forging forward with this important and necessary step, we were hearing from developers (including MIT and Harvard, to my dismay) about their preference that green roofs not be mandatory. Thankfully, after much discussion, the committee voted to forward the petition to the full Council with a favorable recommendation. But the discussion alone – and the fact that we are years behind other cities in implementing this ordinance – was enough to feel disillusioned.
For all of you who know how immediate the climate crisis is, you know that we cannot wait, delay, or lag for any longer than we already have! One of my main frustrations being on the Council is the lack of urgency I see in the city. To combat that, I have been meeting with city staff from numerous departments regularly to understand our work in sustainability. These meetings have confirmed what many of us fear: that we are not doing nearly enough. As I said on Wednesday night: We have had twenty years to make progress on the 2002 Climate Protection Plan vision, and we are way, WAY behind. Almost no green roofs have been installed, the tree canopy is shrinking, and open space per capita is decreasing as our population grows and the city does not add additional green space. Furthermore, we have installed few EV chargers, our city funds have exposure to fossil fuels, and none of the goals for reducing the city’s GHG emissions have been met. These are all issues that I have been working on and figuring out how to make progress. And on this week’s council agenda, there is a policy order to amend our zoning to include emissions data and ensure renewable transmission. That is the type of planning we need to do. If you have other ideas, do not hesitate to reach out.
Below is my statement – not exactly a transcript, but close from Wednesday’s hearing (or if you would prefer, here is a 10 minute video clip, half is information presentated by an expert on green roofs and half is my statement) – as well as some upcoming events. Please read and send any feedback.
And despite my frustration, I remain committed to hopefulness. This week started with Passover/Pesach which we celebrated with just a few vaccinated close friends. I love that the Jewish traditions evolve – for many years on our seder plate, we included an orange, representative of feminism and inclusion of women. This year we added an acorn, representing indigenous people on whose land we live. And this weekend is Easter, which I celebrated as a child as a joyful time of rebirth. Joy and happiness to all who celebrate this spring season – whether a religious tradition, a spiritual tradition, or any tradition.
May your vaccination appointment come soon – my first shot was this past Monday. Cases are still going up, likely due to pandemic fatigue, notably among younger people. Stay masked, be vigilant and get vaccinated as soon as you can.
P.S. I have been told that this newsletter is helpful for those who want to be informed about what’s happening on the Council and in Cambridge – and I hope so. If you agree, please forward to anyone you think might want to sign up. I would like more people to know about it, but don’t buy lists or blast it out without permission.
STATEMENT at ORDINANCE MEETING March 31, 2021 on GreenRoofs petition:
I want to start by thanking Mothers Out Front (MOF) for putting so much work into this petition and working with the planning board and the Council and the community to refine it. They have been extremely diligent in crafting this petition, working with experts and following the lead of other cities across the country to take this step in the battle against climate change. Numerous cities have had a form of this ordinance for years now – Denver, San Francisco, New York City, and our neighbor Watertown, to name a few. And Portland, Oregon has required green roofs since 2018. Toronto since 2010. We know green roofs work and are effective ways to address the climate crisis – and are the new wave of steps that forward-thinking cities are taking.
We also know that green infrastructure is absolutely critical for fighting heat islands in the short term and slowing the longer term effects of climate change as well. Green roofs provide insulation, extend the life of roofs, retain water and mitigate runoff. How do we know this? Because we have studied it, and discussed it, and put it in writing multiple times over the 20 plus years! The Climate Protection Plan in 2002, the Cambridge Green Building Task Force in 2009, and Envision in 2018 all directly cited the need for green roofs.
I want to read from the 2002 Climate Protection Plan, which will give you a sense of how far behind we are and how serious this is. This is from section 3 – the vision statement for 2025: “In 2025…Rooftop gardens and green roofs will be routinely installed on buildings of all types to reduce the need for air conditioners in the summer and to reduce storm water runoff to the Charles and Mystic rivers. The city’s tree canopy has expanded as a result of aggressive planting and maintenance, reducing energy needs for adjacent buildings and increasing shading to offset the urban heat island effect.”
We have had twenty years to make progress on that vision, and we are way, WAY behind. Almost no green roofs have been installed, the tree canopy is shrinking, and open space per capita is decreasing as our population grows and the city does not add additional green space. Almost none of the goals for reducing the city’s GHG emissions have been met. Now is the time to act – we can’t wait any longer, or we’ll find ourselves in 2030 – a tipping point for the entire planet – having made no additional progress.
Since passing a zoning change to try and incentive green roofs (but not require), few have been built. As we heard from analysis by the petitioners, and never countered by opponents: had a law mandating green roofs on new and highly renovated buildings been passed in 2012 (instead of our dormant one), we would have an estimated 1.5 million square feet of green roof space on a range of buildings across the city. We tried encouragement. We failed. We need a requirement.
The petition before us is already watered down. Since the petition was before the Planning Board, MOF has asked for amendments that weaken the requirements, including an increase from 20K to 25k SF and adding various exemptions. Personally, I would prefer all new buildings above 10,000 SF and major renovations. It needs to be pointed out that we are already watering down past what other cities have had for years. Toronto has had a mandate in place for more than a decade. Portland, Oregon made eco/green roofs a mandate as of July 2018 for buildings of 20K SF or more. Their mandate followed an effort to encourage green roofs – and in just 4 years, 2008-2012 helped “over 130 projects that created more than 8 acres of ecoroofs that manage an average of 4.4 million gallons of stormwater annually.” They started with incentives, but because they saw the effectiveness firsthand AND because they understand the urgency of climate change, in 2018, they made it required. This is tested, and the only thing better than passing this now would be going back in time and passing it when Portland did.
Some say that this petition should not be adopted until the Climate Resiliency Zoning Task Force (CRZTF) has finished its work. There is no reason to wait and every reason NOT to wait. This petition is additive. Adoption need not inhibit that work at all, which involves looking at factors – mostly about climate resilience related to flooding. Passing this requirement is compatible with all that work. And, I am concerned that the draft recommendations the task Force came out with in February of this year do not go far enough. They will do very little to actually reduce GHG emissions or create green roofs…And there is NO mandate for solar or green roofs. The cool factor the Task Force is discussing could mean that a project meets the requirement with NO solar or green roof. As we heard from a roofing expert, green roofs are not only compatible with solar roofs, they help solar arrays be more productive. The one specific recommendation related to green roofs in the CRZTF is that instead of a special permit for a green roof, it is as of right. That is all – it is minimal and not enough. The CRZTF proposes green roofs be slightly easier to install – it does not suggest requiring green roofs, solar, or bio-solar.
The petition before us does that and more. We NEED a prescriptive approach. The approach to date has not worked. We must act. If we keep waiting, and delaying, and watering down, we will never reach our own goals on which we are already behind. We’re not talking about an outlandish proposal – we are talking about something other cities have had on the books for years. While I wish that we could have been the first, we now have the benefit of knowing how effective green roofs are. The task force will finish its work, and we will act on their recommendations, but this is before us now and we cannot delay, and let it be watered down any more than it already has.
Ordinance meeting on the Missing Middle petition (4/8, 5:30pm): I ‘ve written about this petition before – it is the wrong way to amend our zoning ordinance to address exclusionary policies. It also subverts the concept of the “Missing Middle” since Cambridge already has the middle as envisioned by the movement for a middle tier of housing. It would produce no affordable housing, and it would be environmentally harmful, not helpful. I recently chaired a hearing (joint NLTP+Housing Committee) to discuss the future of single-family zoning in Cambridge. It was a productive discussion and I look forward to another hearing on the topic in the near future.
Riverbend Park: we just confirmed that Riverbend Park will be open starting April 10th, and will stay open on Saturdays and Sundays (11am-7pm) until the end of November. This is great news, and I will continue to push for an expansion further down Memorial Drive. Go enjoy the open space next weekend!
CitySprouts: While I am at the Ordinance meeting on Thursday, April 8, if you are not, consider joining CitySprouts virtual gals DigIt 2021.
Cambridge Science Festival kicks off a month of activities. While not in person for the most part, this festival is one of the great things about living in Cambridge.
No complete answer from last week! Does anyone have a guess? $15 gift card to a local business for the first to send!
Who was the first woman to address the Massachusetts State legislature? And what is her story?