Guest commentary: Cambridge riverfront gets planning attention


Guest commentary by Renata von Tscharner, Cambridge Chronicle

With the first days of spring and sunshine, I feel particularly lucky to live and work in Cambridge and to have the Charles River as our front yard. If you use the parklands for walking, running or biking you might feel the same. But while we are in Cambridge , we are reminded that the shoreline, the parklands and the parkways are not under the jurisdiction of Cambridge, but are in fact owned and managed by the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation.

This state agency, that many still know by its pervious name of the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) developed a masterplan about ten years ago how to improve these parklands and bring them closer to their world class potential. 19th century landscape architect and visionary called these parklands “ the democratic common ground”.

The widening of the green-space in front of MIT was part of that master plan and was implemented a few years ago. And in case you have not taken a stroll to the North Point Park next to EF on Education Street, there are several acres of new waterfront parks with lagoons and lush plantings now open for public enjoyment.

As I recently attended the Cambridge Planning Board meeting, the city planners Roger Booth, Stuart Dash and Iram Farooq presented the draft of the Cambridge Riverfront plan. “The goal of this plan is to expand the formal and informal use of the riverfront through enhanced connections, more and better recreational opportunities, and a focus on positive change when development opportunities arise.”

They presented a comprehensive overview and analysis of the over 5 miles of Cambridge riverfront from the Zakim Bridge to the Watertown border near Galen Street. They looked at sites for potential improvement such as water access, sites for redevelopment, pedestrian and bike connections to and along the river, potential for open space improvements, and sites for possible activities and recreation.

This plan is a work in progress, and just as the MDC master plan 10 years ago, will benefit from the input of abutters and interested citizens.

One example where the city of Cambridge already had a very positive impact on the shoreline, is the Lechmere development, where the permission to develop was linked with the obligation of maintaining those waterfront parks around the Lechmere Canal.

This planning effort comes at a very good moment for two reasons. The state and its park agency, the DCR, are financially strapped as the urban parks budget has been cut by over 20 percent with more cuts expected. In the next few years, a major planning effort is also under way by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) in preparation of restoring several bridges that connect Cambridge with Boston (Craigie Bridge, Longfellow Bridge, BU Bridge, River Street Bridge, Western Av Bridge and Anderson Bridge).

To see those bridge restorations in the larger transportation and parklands context is crucial as walking, biking and public transportation become increasingly important for both environmental reasons as well as for public health and recreational reasons. The addition of pathway underpasses could be part of that Riverfront plan.

The Cambridge Community Development team has started to present this plan to neighborhood groups and is gathering input. The city of Cambridge deserves great praise for starting this process and preparing the way for a better Cambridge Riverfront.

Renata von Tscharner, founder and president of the Charles River Conservancy (, providing stewardship and renewal for these urban parklands and making them more active, attractive and accessible for all.

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