Planning and Educational Institutions

As described in more detail in the 1993 growth policy document and the 2007 update, 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 thus merit the most attention from the point of view of City policy.

The community’s mid-size post-secondary schools, Lesley University and Cambridge College, 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 Episcopal Divinity School, three hospitals, a YMCA and a YWCA, many churches, and an array of smaller non-profits—that are scattered throughout the community.

Over the last decade, the City itself has made extensive improvements to its physical plant. These include a new waterworks in western Cambridge, renovations to fire stations and schools, a completely renovated City Hall Annex at 344 Broadway, a major expansion of the Main Library in Mid-Cambridge, a new police station headquarters in the eastern part of the city, a significantly upgraded high school, and extensive and ongoing upgrading of its street system and related sewer and water distribution systems. The City administration manages the planning of these municipal institutions through the efforts of the relevant departments, as described on other portions of the City website. With regard to the private institutions, planning is managed by the City as described below.

The Mayor's Committee on University-Community Relationships

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 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.

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

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.

Go the most recent Annual Town Gown Reports.

Go to Town Gown Reports from prior years.

Map of Institutional Ownership in Cambridge

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.

Go to the Institutional Growth Management Plan.

For More Information

For more information about institutions 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 at 617/349-4656 or