I am running for re-election to the Cambridge City Council because I believe that we must do more to preserve and enhance our communities here in Cambridge. Cambridge is going to grow – that is a fact. The question is how does it grow, and how should we direct that growth. Over the years, I have seen development unnecessarily displace many of our middle and working class residents. Affordability has truly become a crisis in Cambridge.
In my view, there are two visions for the future of Cambridge. One view is that of a high tech, luxury skyscraper city where only the wealthy can afford to live. The second view is one where communities thrive and residents can afford to raise a family, run a small business, and not face being pushed out of the city. I strongly believe in the second vision, and am uniquely qualified to advocate for those communities. Together, we can accomplish this vision by finding development solutions that enhance the community and not overwhelm it. Please join me in this fight and support me with your #1 vote so that I may continue to Plan For The People.
Master Plan for Cambridge Development
Cambridge is an extremely desirable place to live, work, and play. People want to be here, and are willing to pay more to be here, which means land value will increase. However, the City Council can do more, and should do more, to mitigate the effects of the market. Urban planning is the most important way to do this.
As an urban designer of more than 40 years, I have extensive experience in zoning and urban planning projects. This is why I proposed and led efforts to pass the Cambridge Master Plan, in order to study and plan for the future of Cambridge. The City Council must lead efforts to rewrite the zoning code based on that Master Plan. The city’s urban planning team is beginning the Master Plan process, but the final plan and implementation will depend upon your city councillors.
Cambridge is at a crossroads. This election is about deciding what the future of our city should be. I believe my knowledge and expertise in this area is essential for creating a community focused plan, which will preserve and enhance what’s special about the communities of Cambridge.
Reforming the Zoning Code
The cost of buying a house in Cambridge has increased as land values have dramatically increased. Land values have increased because of market demand and due to speculation. Demand is not a bad thing but speculation is. Speculative buying is what causes skyrocketing land values. Responsible action by the Council, such as not approving major increases in height and density for developers who overpaid for their land, would make speculation unprofitable and uncommon.
One way to stabilize increasing land values in Cambridge is by reforming the zoning code. Currently, neighborhood squares and major roads in Cambridge are zoned so that developers may choose whether to build residential, commercial, or even laboratory buildings. In the majority of cases, developers choose the more profitable commercial uses, which add more stress on our already overwhelmed infrastructure. Additionally, since more people wish to live near their work, this drives up demand for housing without increasing the supply.
As the market recognizes the increased value of the land next to the new project, developers speculate on the next plot and charge more for the property in order to maximize their profit margin. This situation continues to keep spiraling and spiraling until there is no plot of land that exists at a price that residents can pay. Runaway development is a crisis for the residents of Cambridge.
If we change the zoning code so that ‘mixed-use’ areas require an affordable housing portion, then we can stabilize the increase of land values in those zoned areas. This results in more people being able to stay in their homes while also preserving the character of the neighborhoods throughout Cambridge. Additionally, the city would receive more affordable housing units in order to support low and middle-income families. This is a law that could be passed tomorrow if the majority of the City Council were willing to approve it. This is one of the many solutions that can be achieved through smart zoning reform.
By using the correct zoning tools, we will have the ability to truly enhance our community and combat out of control development. Recently, the City Council debated and then voted to approve a project called “Normandy-Twining” in Central Square. The development team (Normandy Properties and Twining Properties) petitioned the city for a massive exception to the zoning code, literally rewriting it, in order to allow the developer to build a significantly taller and denser building. I was one of two councilors who opposed the project. This project will be 17-story structure completely out of place within Central Square.
More concerning is that this ‘over-sized’ building will increase the market value of the land that surrounds it even more than usual, because a new zoning precedent has been established. Some believe that the small extra number of affordable housing units in that taller building is worth the cost to the character of the community. This is flawed logic because more residents will be pushed out by the increase in land values than new units are being created. In the Council’s review of the zoning variance petition, no economic analysis was done and no urban design review was completed. My opponents either do not want to know the true effects of these projects or don't care. I am not sure which is worse.
Many members of the current City Council accepted money from developers during the very same month as the “Normandy Twining” project was being discussed. I will not ascribe any motive to my colleagues' actions but the only way to negotiate successfully is if we have both the scientific knowledge and the political will to stand up to damaging developer requests.
Density Alone is Not the Answer
It has been argued that we can make Cambridge more affordable by building larger buildings and increasing density. Cambridge is already the 8th densest city in the United States. At the current rate of affordable housing construction, we would need to double the size of the city’s population just to meet today's affordability needs, never mind the needs of a population twice the size. This is a very flawed approach.
Yet this flawed approach is embraced by my opponents. It leads to a Cambridge filled with skyscrapers and high tech business. I don't want Cambridge to become a city like that and I know that most of the voters don’t want that for their city. If we are ever going to do something, now is the time to act, while Cambridge is in its ‘economic golden years.’
We need to focus on creating a Cambridge in which our communities thrive. My sons were raised here, attended Cambridge schools, have good careers and yet neither can afford to raise a family here. Many of my neighbors have been forced out of the city because their rent became too expensive. Cambridge should be a place where people can live, where public space and parks exist for the people, where every child is guaranteed a place in early education, and where neighborhoods are not threatened by high-rise towers and the possibility of displacement.
My experience as a nationally recognized urban planner and designer makes me uniquely qualified to lead these efforts. If you agree with my vision of Cambridge, then please join me – and support me with your #1 vote on November 3rd.
Dennis Carlone, Cambridge City Councillor
P.S. Voting in Cambridge can seem complicated. Here's what's important.
Just vote in descending order for the candidates you would like to have on the council. Your vote can transfer if your favorite candidate does not receive enough votes and your voice will still be heard. I hope that you will put me #1, but if not please consider voting for me with your #2 or #3 vote as those votes will affect who is elected!