Planning and Educational Institutions

Cambridge is distinguished by an extraordinary range of institutions for a city of its size. Clearly, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are the most well-known institutional presences, and their campuses and land holdings tend to generate the most physical growth and change, and merit the most attention from the point of view of City policy.

The community’s mid-size post-secondary schools, Lesley University and Hult International School of Business, also play important roles in the life of their neighborhoods. It is also worth noting that Cambridge’s character is influenced significantly by the many other smaller institutions—such as the three hospitals, a YMCA and a YWCA, many churches, and an array of smaller non-profits—that are scattered throughout the community.

Annual Town Gown Reports, Institutional Planning, and the Planning Board

In 1991 the Mayor's Committee on University-Community Relationships issued a report addressing the relationship between the Cambridge community and the educational institutions that play an important role in the City's landscape and economy. The four primary post-secondary educational institutions then located in Cambridge -- Cambridge College, Harvard University, Lesley University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- all participated in deliberations that lead to the drafting of the Committee's report, known as the Town-Gown Report.

Go to the 1991 Mayor's Report on University-Community Relationships.

The Mayor's Committee sought to provide a productive foundation for future efforts in the arena of university-community relations in Cambridge. The signatories to the Report agreed amongst themselves that several activities could contribute to a mutually beneficial relationship, one which minimizes the likelihood for conflict, while allowing institutions and the community to enter into joint efforts to achieve their respective planning goals.

Among the recommendations is one that the Planning Board conduct an "annual joint review of university and community needs and plans." This review takes two forms. Every year each school first submits a Town Gown Annual Report; this is then followed by a presentation to the Cambridge Planning Board. In recent years, this formal reporting has frequently been supplemented by updates from the schools at Planning Board meetings, whenever plans for growth and change develop mid-year, and as a result, there is a need for informing the community before the formal annual review.

Harvard and MIT PILOT Agreements

Due the extent of their land holdings and large numbers of students and workers, both Harvard and MIT have entered into Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreements with the City of Cambridge.  these agreements to support municipal services.  These agreements offset the effect of the nontaxable status of institutional property holdings. 

Institutional Growth Management Plan

By two special acts of the legislature, Cambridge has been granted the authority to regulate certain educational and religious uses in its residential neighborhoods that the state zoning act otherwise denies to other communities in the Commonwealth.

The Cambridge Institutional Growth Management Plan, published in 1981, is the planning document that serves as the policy underpinning for the regulation of institutional uses in the City as set out in Section 4.50 of the Zoning Ordinance. The Plan assesses the relative impact on residential neighborhoods of a wide range of institutional uses and serves as a guide to the Board of Zoning Appeal when it is considering the issuance of a special permit under the provisions of the Institutional Use Regulations contained in Section 4.50.

For More Information

For more information about institutions, zoning, and the Planning Board contact Jeff Roberts, Zoning and Development Director, at 617/349-4639 or

For more information about the Annual Town Gown Reports contact Cliff Cook, Senior Planning Information Manager, at 617/349-4656 or