Sprawl zoning is unsustainable
Sprawl Zoning Hurts the Environment
We are proud of our city’s commitment to sustainability. Cambridge’s density, as well as its small businesses, community resources, institutions, and parks, and public spaces make it an easy place to live car-free. Cambridge is also expanding our commitment to resilient development and climate justice; we’ve laid out ambitious goals to reduce our carbon footprint and make a positive environmental impact on our city, region, and planet.
Unfortunately, our current “sprawl zoning” is in conflict with this commitment. This approach to zoning does not reflect the inherent sustainability of our historically dense neighborhoods. Furthermore, it is standing in the way of our climate goals by limiting new “missing middle” housing, such as duplexes, triple-deckers, and other slightly denser building types, that better reflect our environmental values.
Our Current Zoning Forces Bad Environmental Choices
Car storage - including access paths - takes up significant space
Zoning for Sustainable Neighborhoods for All
In sharp contrast with the limits of low-density residential zones, the Missing Middle Housing Zoning Amendment's proposed “Res N” zoning would:
Legalize car-free housing development, allowing units to be developed instead of parking spaces as-of-right,
Preserve a high open space percentage citywide - allowing three-story housing on up to 40% of the lot,
Create flexible dimensional standards and increase dwelling unit caps. With slightly more units per lot, more Cambridge residents will:
Have access to more private open space
Share our walkable communities
Reduce their carbon footprint.
Our proposed setbacks and open space minimums will create livable homes, preserving residential comfort and privacy while incentivizing green, permeable spaces on private property. Owners will have the flexibility to create shade trees, native plantings, and setbacks that are consistent with surrounding homes - Res N will help owners reduce their building’s carbon footprint.
This zoning reform reflects key climate goals from Envision Cambridge, including:
Ecological Protection, reducing pollution and enhancing Cambridge’s biodiversity, open spaces, and habitats; and
Environmental Justice, ensuring that Cambridge residents are protected from environmental impacts and benefit equally from environmental resources and health.
Permeability and Private Open Space
The proposed neighborhood zoning (“Res N”) preserves open space requirements and will support high percentages of permeable and native landscaping that doesn’t require irrigation. Residential zones that currently cite low FAR maximums (e.g. Res A) also have the highest percentage of impervious land per unit (see Figure 1); linking denser development with both open space and no parking requirements will support the inclusion for permeable space citywide.
The Missing Middle Zoning reform will help match Cambridge's zoning to both our built environment and our values of environmental justice, access to affordable housing, and neighborhoods for all.
Neighborhoods with exclusionary zoning have more impervious surface per dwelling unit than other residential neighborhoods.