Cambridge Civic Journal Forum

June 15, 2013

Silver Maple Forest – letter from Kristen von Hoffmann

Filed under: 2013 Election,Cambridge — Tags: — Robert Winters @ 12:14 pm

On Friday, June 14th I attended the Silver Maple Forest Day of Action, a peaceful gathering organized by Green Cambridge, TROMP, and Friends of Alewife Reservation to protest cutting down the Silver Maple Forest in the Belmont Uplands adjoining the Alewife Reservation. Cutting down this forest would be required to build new condominiums that are part of the proposed development plan for this area.

Kristen von HoffmannWhile we need to focus on planning for density in and near Cambridge, we must do so with the intent to create sustainable systems, and to build a city that can thrive well into the future. By sustainable, I mean a city that preserves critical aspects of Cambridge that are unique and special, while also accounting for elements that must change.

Sustainability means building and planning with the natural environment in mind, and with respect to neighborhoods, businesses, and universities. When I look at an issue like the development of our precious, few remaining acres of wetlands, I am appalled.

How can we be so short-sighted? We are living in a world, a city, and a context that demands leadership that will fight to preserve our precious remaining open spaces. We are living in a world that demands innovative leadership, not the status quo. Instead of destroying this forest, we need to think creatively about how to design for the future, and how to build housing in places that can accommodate new development with the least hazardous impact. Razing a beautiful and rare space such as the Silver Maple Forest and uprooting a rich wildlife corridor that runs through Cambridge, Belmont, and Arlington is simply unacceptable.

The forest and wetlands are extremely important in the age of climate change, as they absorb water runoff after storms and flooding. As we are seeing greater increases in rainfall and more destructive storms, it is crucial to preserve this important open space that acts as a natural sponge and mitigates the effects of these storms.

The citizen-based Belmont Coalition and the Friends of Alewife Reservation are both plaintiffs in an active lawsuit to stop this development, and their continuous appeals have kept the forest intact so far. But time is running out. I urge you to contact your city councilors, town selectman and state legislators directly, and to ask them to stop this development from happening.

This is not the time for complacency. Please make your voices heard.

Thank you,
Kristen von Hoffmann
Candidate for Cambridge City Council


  1. I’m not sure complacency is the correct word to use. Everyone is looking for housing yet no one wants it anywhere in Cambridge. I guess in this instance there might be cause for a rethink, but I do not see it as black and white as you’ve presented it. Further, you throw around the word “sustainable” way too much, its lost any punch it may have had. I hope your opposition to this development truly stems from a desire to engage development in a meaningful dialogue and not your not just another hopeful chasing the “no” vote. Cambridge doesn’t need you if its the latter.

    Comment by Patrick Barret — June 15, 2013 @ 1:35 pm

  2. The days of killing trees to make room for housing are gone for good. We have to stop. We can and will add denstity but there is not enough space in Cambridge to ever satisfy the demand for more housing, so we need a big rethink not just on this forest but on how, where and what we build.

    As for sustainability, please do not shoot the messenger. It’s simply the opposite of decline. Since I assume you don’t want to experience decline, we had better start to think about how to be sustainable. Infinite growth is not possible on a finite planet, and we have already exceeded her capacity to support our life style. Only two options remain: sustainability or decline.

    Comment by Quinton Zondervan — June 15, 2013 @ 1:58 pm

  3. I don’t dispute the wisdom of preserving natural areas that are a benefit to both wildlife and human beings and a good case can be made that this area bordering on Little Pond serves that purpose. For those unfamiliar with the location, here’s a satellite view:

    The area in question is north of Perch Pond and bordering on the eastern edge of Little Pond. Its value is best understood in the context of the other nearby natural areas.

    I do believe Cambridge (as well as all other surrounding communities) needs to provide more housing opportunities, and this definitely includes housing in the Alewife area. However, I have never been convinced that housing in the area of the so-called “Silver Maple Forest” and elsewhere along the Route 2 highway will ever be more than transient motel-style living. It’s cut off from everywhere except via the highway, and I don’t believe it will ever become a neighborhood in any sense of the word.

    Let’s not forget that building housing with greater density and height where appropriate can also be an important strategy to further sustainability.

    Comment by Robert Winters — June 15, 2013 @ 2:10 pm

  4. The Silver Maple Forest and the Alewife Reservation are a valuable resource for Cambridge and all the surrounding communities. However, I think what is happening there is also a reminder about what can happen when you have prescriptive laws that do not provide for flexibility. Such is the case with 40B. There is no doubt that the law has its uses, but it also has its drawbacks and this is one area where we are seeing the desires for a more thoughtful approach overridden by a prescriptive law, a law which needs to be changed.

    As for additional heigh, density, etc. yes, we need to have the discussion and in the context of Cambridge as a city of neighborhoods. It is one of Cambridge’s great qualities that helps it feel smaller than it is. Our neighborhoods are truly where people identify and differentiate themselves. There is no question that East Cambridge, West. Cambridge, Mid Cambridge and Cambridgeport will all be different in terms of look feel and texture. There is places where height is warranted and will fit in nicely and places where height is out of place and not conducive to good urban planning.

    I hope we are able to make good progress on Central Square in the coming months to help the City’s center realize its full potential. I also hope we revisit the heigh limits in North Point as, if there is any place in the City whe height, real height, can be supported, it is there.

    True, Cambridge alone cannot support the housing problem, but let’s talk about how large we envision Cambridge becoming and how we work to get there. Seem may prefer a Cambridge smaller than we have today. Others, myself included, look towards the a larger Cambridge with opportunities for all who wish to take advantage of them.

    I hope we have a great debate and not a series of talking points and fear monkeying which, unfortunately, is what policy debate has become these days.

    Comment by Charlie Marquardt — June 15, 2013 @ 5:41 pm

  5. With an election coming up Central Square will not get its dues until next year. I think we must all realize this. Cambridge shouldn’t be subject to 40b housing as we are well above the 10% requirement. However I do not believe there is a threshold, so one could conceivably build as much of it as the city could tolerate. Lots of folks are torn on the issue and I think instinct overrides logic and we continue to build under 40b.

    Cambridge alone can’t support the housing problem, however if you look at the latest “heat map” from Cambridge is the only city refusing to pitch in. I think Dr. Winters is right about that location though, its no man’s land and we could leave it alone in favor of more transit orientated projects closer in to place like Central and Kendall. Now that my friends would be … wait for it … sustainable!

    I do not think the days of knocking down trees for housing are over though. Cambridge has an abundance of parks, trees, greenery, and that new-ish North Point Park is incredible. My wife an I just walked through it and I was amazed … it was like being transported (kind of…the Boston Sand and Gravel kind of broke the illusion). There is no lack of tree in Cambridge, nor do I think bulldozing this forest would usher in an era of darkness. However the flooding issue may be valid, and Winter’s point about location also adds to the weight of the argument that this project is a dud.

    Comment by Patrick Barret — June 15, 2013 @ 7:41 pm

  6. Bob why did you put this rather silly excuse for a campaign ad on your site?
    She’s just mugging for face time a-la John “live shot” Kerry.

    By the way, Kristen, don’t think we forgot that other grub for attention after
    the Marathon bombing when you went all “oh, what a horrible thing” (master of the
    obvious) in that press release to the Chronicle. A sick and disgusting exploitation
    of a public tragedy to get your name in the papers.
    People, please do not vote for this person.
    My but I don’t miss Cambridge.

    Comment by Fred Baker — June 15, 2013 @ 10:06 pm

  7. Fred – I would take it a little easier on a first-time candidate who might misstep a bit on her first try at elected office. I think Kristen fundamentally means well. Many of the new candidates are trying to get their names out in front of people, and sometimes their choices are less than perfect. I don’t know that anyone was thinking too clearly immediately after the Marathon bombing. If Kristen made a poor choice, it was nothing compared to some of the opportunism exhibited by at least one other candidate leading up to the vote on the recent MIT-Kendall zoning petition.

    Comment by Robert Winters — June 15, 2013 @ 10:25 pm

  8. No can do, Bob. I’m too astute politically to not see
    the real motivations here. How much do you want to bet
    she puts out a “great job guys, but wait ’til next year” press
    release if the Red Sox do anything short of winning the
    World Series in the heart of campaign season? Or a
    different one if they do win it all? Probably already penned
    both versions.

    I know another Tracy Flick type when I see one.
    The council’s losing theirs at the end of this term.
    People, don’t replace her with a clone of herself.
    Last one didn’t work out so well.

    Comment by Fred Baker — June 15, 2013 @ 11:50 pm

  9. Fred – My name is Robert. It has always been Robert, never “Bob”, and everyone who knows me is aware of it.

    If your notion of being politically astute includes the observation that a candidate issuing a press release would like some attention, well congratulations on your keen insight. Personally, I’m not especially astute. I don’t even know who Tracy Flick is. [Actually, I just Googled it – yet another movie I never saw.]

    By the way, Fred, are you always this hostile? I’m not shy about commenting about elected officials and candidates, but I would prefer to encourage new candidates rather than just cynically cut them off at the knees.

    Comment by Robert Winters — June 16, 2013 @ 12:03 am

  10. Fred you sound like one of the internet wags on the chronicle that always derail the conversation before it starts. That being said I do appreciate the “Tracy Flick” reference. Election is a fine little film.

    There are several candidates that irk the hell out of me, I do not know Hoffman at all, though I’ve heard she aligns herself with the “no” crowd and that is enough to lose my vote. The piece in the Chronicle was rather insensitive, but I’ve seen/heard a lot worse from current council members and other hopefuls. With Connolly out of the game I guess Hoffman is poised to fill his shoes.

    Comment by Patrick Barret — June 16, 2013 @ 9:06 am

  11. If the “everyone” who knows you knows enough to call you Robert then you’ve got some educating to do because I’ve heard you referred to as Bob in many circles: at MIT, at the S&S, in private conversations, and online. But if Robert’s your preference then so be it.

    No I’m not always hostile, just truthful. Tell me I’m wrong about this woman. I get this level of skepticism from many influences, most notably Howie Carr. It’s not a matter of knee-jerk cynicism but rather an understanding of human nature. In politics, when you suspect the worst about someone, you’re usually right. Those who like to believe in people’s sincerity and the prospect of “good government” both misunderstand human nature and kid themselves about the intentions of those who aspire in that realm. Over time, one gets a sense about these people. And I sensed this candidate’s true intentions as a showboater from the start.

    For contrast, I was a School Committee candidate in 2001. Look back and show me how many municipal candidates issued blatant “Oh the horror of it” press releases on September 12th. I never saw one as overt as her release, at least not that soon. She wasted neither any time nor a good crisis, as the saying goes (paraphrasing).

    Much like “jumping the shark” and “nuking the fridge” have entered the popular consciousness, I think Cantabrigians can talk of “punching the cake”. When she does that, know well I’ll be there to remind you of how early I called it.

    Comment by Fred Baker — June 16, 2013 @ 11:32 am

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