In Race, Candidates Touch on Quality-of-Life, Environment

Despite consensus on problems, strategies to combat rats, ensure sustainable development differ

Unnamed photo
Julia A Sokol

Cambridge Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72 presides over the weekly City Council meeting in the Sullivan Chamber in City Hall. Constituents are allocated three minutes each to speak during the public comment before the start of the meeting.

Space on the Cambridge City Council isn’t the only thing at stake in Tuesday’s local elections. In the third most densely populated city in the state, how votes will affect the distribution of land space ranks high in residents’ minds.

For the 15 candidates competing to claim one of the nine seats on the Council, the complicated equation that combines neighbors’ concerns with the green tenets of sustainable development in order to yield an amenable solution to development, is a tricky one to solve.

Incumbent candidate Craig A. Kelley, who is known for his anti-development rhetoric, said he champions the voices of residents when they are up against developmental forces.

“That’s something we need to worry about when we do any development,” he said. “How much of a ricochet effect of what we’re proposing is going to have on neighborhoods and the businesses in the community.”

Cambridge residents are frequently at the center of the city’s heated land debates. Last month, residents in Shady Hill Square filed a lawsuit to halt a development project that would place a 5,000 square-foot mansion in the middle of a 90-year-old green space. The city issued a stop work order after a tense standoff occurred between construction crews and Shady Hill residents.

Council incumbent Brian P. Murphy ’86 -’87 said that development could be beneficial only if did not eliminate a substantial portion of the city’s open spaces.

“We’re 6.2 miles of a very dense city, you have to balance out the interests involved here,” he said. “When you do live in a city that’s so dense and so much of your open space is shared in common...there’s a greater need for some space where you can get a respite from the intensity of urban living.”

“Nobody’s going to get 100 percent of what they want and nor are they going to be 100 percent happy with the development,” urban planner and council hopeful Sam Seidel said of the tension between resident concerns and development. “But if it’s perceived as being fair that’s what you have to aim for.”

Seidel, a graduate of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design who was narrowly defeated in the 2005 election, said he would solve this equation in two ways: developing higher densities around transit nodes, such as Porter Square, and making new building conform to environmental standards.

But for Kelley, who was elected for the first time two years ago, the most sustainable road is the one not traveled.

“The most sustainable new building project is a building that is not built,” he said. “No matter how LEED certified the building is...buildings use up an immense amount of energy as does the stuff in the building.”