Shaping a city’s future
Cambridge is a dense and dynamic city that is constantly evolving, a place where long-time residents and world-renowned institutions coexist with university students, recent immigrants, and new residents and businesses. It is also well-known for its progressive environmental tradition and ambitious environmental planning underway.
The City is working diligently to enhance environmental quality for all and dramatically decrease its carbon footprint. Indeed, Cambridge’s soil, air, water, and waste stream have improved with shifts in industrial practices, a growing awareness of environmental issues, and concerted action by local government.
However, as the city is faced with tremendous growth pressures and the impacts of global climate change become more apparent, Cambridge must also contend with competing land uses, increased risk of flooding, and extreme heat. These risks stem from a changing physical environment, but social and economic conditions will also affect who is most impacted by climate change. As Cambridge takes on these varied issues, the city must work to address its aging infrastructure, its regional role as a growth center, and the need for coordinated action.
Since the end of the Great Recession in 2009, the pace of Cambridge’s change and development has accelerated. Locally, a strong real estate market and Cambridge’s top-tier universities have been important drivers of this change. Nationally, a renewed desire for living in urban centers has further accelerated Cambridge’s growth. The challenge for Cambridge lies in how to manage this urban change – and preserve the city’s core values of being a sustainable, inclusive, and connected community.
Cambridge has a strong and bold commitment to reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with a goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 through a combination of energy efficiency in existing buildings, net zero new construction, and a low carbon energy supply. Development trends have increased the difficulty of achieving this, particularly with an increase in the number of research laboratories. Additionally, projected increases in heat as a result of climate change are likely to result in increased electricity demand.
Envision Cambridge was initiated in 2016 as a community-wide process to develop a comprehensive plan for a more livable, sustainable, and equitable Cambridge. It provides a framework for managing growth and change across six key focus areas – housing, economy, climate and the environment, mobility, urban form, and community interaction. With input from the community, Envision Cambridge created a shared vision for the future, articulated the city’s core values that will guide future change, and developed goals, strategies, and actions for each focus area to help realize this shared vision.
Deploying our experience in climate change mitigation and adaptation, strategic planning, and stakeholder engagement, BuroHappold has been the lead consultant for the climate and environment focus area. As the widest-ranging focus area, we have worked in close collaboration with City departments and a cross-sector working group to identify a comprehensive set of goals, strategies, and actions – as well as the indicators and targets against which progress will be measured. One of the key challenges in this process was bringing together the policies, plans, and initiatives already underway – from the Net Zero Action Plan, the Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience Plan, and the Zero Waste Master Plan, to name a few – as well as identifying the most impactful and implementable new strategies and actions.
Among the new actions that emerged throughout the process were the commissioning of an Urban Forest Master Plan that would specifically address neighborhood-level differences in urban tree canopy coverage, new policies to procure 100% of municipal electricity from renewable sources and require electric vehicle charging in new developments, and a pay-as-you-throw program to reduce waste.
The citywide plan will be delivered at the end of 2018, and will address how the City and the members of the community can work together to achieve the shared vision for the future, continuing to grow in diversity, equity, livability, and resilience.
BuroHappold has also been commissioned to develop the City’s Climate Action Plan, to add depth and detail around GHG mitigation actions, and advise on buildings strategies for the Climate Change Preparedness and Resilience Plan.
Chris Rhie, Associate
Cities are constantly faced with new pressures, whether its growth or decline, internal or external economic forces, or an increase in climate-related shocks and stresses. A citywide plan is no small feat, but articulating core values, investing in robust community and stakeholder engagement, and allowing for cross-disciplinary solutions to arise to the surface are key to achieving sustainable and equitable outcomes. The processes developed through Envision Cambridge may be applied to communities across the globe – particularly those that are facing exceptional change.
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