A Carfree Neighborhood in Cambridge: North Point

New: article about this proposal in the Cambridge Chronicle

Update (3/05): the developer is going ahead with a "car-light" plan beginning this spring, the largest construction project in New England. We are looking for help developing an alternative plan to show concretely the advantages that a carfree project would have. See also the news section.

Between Cambridge, Charlestown and Somerville, Massachusetts lies an area known as North Point. For over a century, it has been the site of railyards and other industrial uses. Now, this area, the largest remaining undeveloped parcel in Cambridge, is proposed for complete redevelopment. This site describes why North Point should become a car-free neighborhood, and what it could look like.

New Carfree neighborhood in Freiburg
Street in Venice
(Joel Crawford)


There is an important option missing from the dialogue on future development in Cambridge. It is generally assumed that new neighborhoods must be planned to provide automobile access to all points. As the census statistics show, a majority of Cambridge residents do not use cars daily. Although Cambridge has made great strides in making its urban environment more livable, providing car access in a dense urban area imposes high tangible and intangible costs which must be borne by all residents, whether or not they use cars.

We propose that the North Point area be developed as a car-free neighborhood, one which has only pedestrian access to most points, with some parking located in garages on the edge of the neighborhood. The North Point area is ideal for a car-free neighborhood: good public transport already exists, and a significant fraction of area residents do without cars for most of their transportation needs. We also believe that the North Point area presents a historic opportunity to begin to turn the national planning agenda back towards the quality of life of residents, and not just the convenience of cars. We are looking for help in presenting the case for a carfree neighborhood.

This site shows what the neighborhood might look like; shows ways in which planning new neighborhoods as carfree can help achieve city objectives such as increased quality of life for residents and more affordable housing; and lists costs to residents and the city associated with planning new neighborhoods for the automobile which are eliminated when planning a carfree neighborhood.

Given these high costs, we believe planners have a choice: spend resources on making the new neighborhood accessible by automobile, or spend these resources in ways that much more cost-effectively improve residents' quality of life.

Important Contacts

Only 38% of Cambridge residents commute to work in their own cars

Intro | Why car-free | Costs saved | What it could be like | Car-free neighborhoods | Resources