History of Comprehensive Planning

From 2016 to 2019, the city undertook a process, Envision Cambridge, which resulted in a series of recommendations guiding the City to a more sustainable and equitable future by the year 2030. Click here to find out more about Envision Cambridge.

Growth Policy: 1993

The creation of a growth policy document was initiated in 1992 to analyze the previous decade of extensive development and provide a framework for managing future growth. In 1993, the City published Towards a Sustainable Future, which, in combination with the zoning and area-wide plans, serves as the city’s comprehensive plan.

Prior to the creation of the 1993 document, planning policies had been expressed in a series of plans for discrete areas of the city, such as the 1978 East Cambridge Riverfront Plan, the 1979 Alewife Revitalization Plan, and the 1983 Cambridgeport Revitalization Plan. These plans helped the City guide both public and private development, and were incorporated by reference into the Zoning Ordinance. The City had also developed objectives for other topics of concern, such as affordable housing, recreational programming, and institutional planning. Given the major redevelopment that was occurring in the 1980s, it seemed useful to coordinate all those underlying policies and objectives into a single comprehensive plan.

In addition to providing the policy context for an urban design or land use plan for portions of the community, the growth policy document helps guide the rezoning process that may be needed from time to time to achieve the visions of such plans. It also provides a policy context for evaluating specific actions, such as the creation of new open space areas on public or private land. Further, it is helpful at a more detailed level in evaluating small-scale zoning changes in neighborhoods and in considering permitting conditions such as those that may be appropriate to attach to special permits or variances.

Moving into the 2000's

In 2007, the city published an update of the original document incorporating the City Council’s Citywide and Eastern Cambridge zoning revisions of 2001 and the Concord-Alewife zoning changes of 2006. The 2007 update describes the many significant community-building accomplishments that had occurred in Cambridge since the publication of the original document. Specifically, the 2007 update highlights the many changes in public policy that influenced development over the last decade, including the complete overhaul of zoning; the end of rent control; the ramping up of the city’s affordable housing development efforts through Inclusionary Zoning; the adoption of the Community Preservation Act; the adoption of the Parking and Transportation Demand Management (PTDM) Ordinance; the rise of biotechnology and life sciences as a mainstay of our local economy; the continued push to expand and improve the city’s supply of open space; and the city’s ground-breaking efforts to address the effects of climate change.

Looking to the Future: Envision Cambridge

Envision Cambridge, the City’s comprehensive plan, is a roadmap to the year 2030, setting out a course of action to promote sustainable and inclusive growth. It establishes a framework for growth management that builds upon and complements existing patterns of development, while meeting the needs of today’s community and future generations.

The Envision Cambridge comprehensive planning process built upon past planning, and engaged the community to develop a shared vision for  a sustainable and equitable future for Cambridge.

Related Initiatives

It is useful to note the range of planning initiatives that have been undertaken with reference to the growth policy document in recent years, including the following area-wide plans:

The Citywide Growth Management process and Citywide Rezoning, adopted 1998 through 2001
Eastern Cambridge Planning Study and Eastern Cambridge Rezoning, adopted October 2001
Concord-Alewife Planning Study and Rezoning, adopted June 2006
• Kendall Square/Central Square (K2C2) Study, 2013
North Massachusetts Avenue Study, 2012
Healthy Parks & Playgrounds Initiative, 2009
Green Ribbon Report, 2000
Aging in the Cambridge Community: A Study of the Human Services and Physical Environment of Cambridge Relative to the Needs of the Senior Population, 2010
Cambridge Riverfront Plan, 2010.

In addition, a series of studies address issues of growth and change in the neighborhoods:

Agassiz Neighborhood Study, 2003 and 2008 Update
Area Four Neighborhood Study Updates, 2004 and 2010
Cambridgeport Neighborhood Study Updates, 2004 and 2010
Central Square Action Plan, 1987
Harvard Square Development Guidelines, 2002
East Cambridge Neighborhood Study Update, 2006
Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Study Updates, 2005 and 2011
Neighborhood Nine Neighborhood Study Updates, 2004 and 2010
Riverside Neighborhood Study, 2003 and 2012 Update
Strawberry Hill Neighborhood Study Update, 2007
Wellington Harrington Neighborhood Study Updates, 2005 and 2009
West Cambridge Neighborhood Study, 2007