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Planning & Urban Design

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What We Do

There are many kinds of planning—for finances, for health care, or for almost any human endeavor. The Community Development Department engages in what is typically considered to be” traditional” land use planning.

Cambridge requires a complex and extensive planning effort due to the high density of people and activities found in a relatively small area, as well as the amount and rate of change the community has been undergoing over the last few decades. As a result, Cambridge undertakes more types of planning than most cities of around 100,000 residents. While there is constant interaction among all the specialized planning groups at CDD (community planning including urban design, zoning and development, open space planning and park design, neighborhood planning; transportation planning; climate and energyeconomic development; and housing) the work described in this section of the web site covers general land use planning endeavors.

Planning and urban design staff members work on many fronts to help the Cambridge community—residents, businesses, and institutions-- prepare for future growth and change. Initiatives include near-term projects, such as review of buildings seeking special permits from the Planning Board. Longer-term projects include city-wide planning studies such as the Kendall Square/Central Square Planning Study and Toward a Sustainable Future, which is the city’s master plan with its statements of policies for growth over time.

City staff members advise the Planning Board about the impact of development proposals with in the context of the City’s long term plans, and they facilitate public participation, urban design review, and analysis of special permit applications and proposed zoning ordinance amendments. These planning activities are coordinated with other City departments and institutional, state and federal agency participants. Such planning requires a set of preliminary assessments and strategies to ensure that all participants, especially low- and moderate-income residents, are involved in the process, from setting goals and priorities through implementation. Projects may be initiated by the City, neighborhood groups or non-profit organizations in response to identified needs of the neighborhood. Planning work may also involve integrating into the City‘s plans the goals of other entities, such as institutions, developers or other government agencies.

The planning staff works in an interdisciplinary fashion with other Community Development staff on topics ranging from the review of green building to promoting healthy retail environments throughout the city. Planning initiatives include multi-purpose planning work for major projects such as the Kendall Square/Central Square project, with outcomes such as master plans and rezoning proposals.

The urban design staff works to improve the quality of Cambridge's built environment and preserve the human scale of the city's neighborhoods and commercial districts. Tools used in this endeavor include:

  • Development of master plans, such as the Eastern Cambridge Planning Study, Concord Alewife Planning Study, and the Rooftop Mechanicals Task Force.
  • Creation of design guidelines, such as the Central Square and Harvard Square Overlay District Guidelines and the Eastern Cambridge Design Guidelines.
  • Design and implementation of public space improvements, including Central Square, Lechmere Canal, Quincy Square and Lafayette Square.
  • Review of projects that come before the Planning Board for permits, including Project Review Special Permits required by Article 19 of the zoning ordinance

For More Information

For more information please contact Melissa Peters, Director of Community Planning, at 617/349-4605 or mpeters@cambridgema.gov.