Letter from the Executive Director for July 2023: Looking Abroad to Understand Home

June turned out to be a month of climate-related work. We gave a well-attended event on heat pumps, testified on our Climate Resilient Capital bill, and more. I was at a reduced pace for two weeks during a four-week trip to Europe, where I visited with family. I used the opportunity to also see housing and transportation infrastructure in the Netherlands, the UK and France. This perspective informs our advocacy in Massachusetts, where some things are better and some things are not.

More and more, it’s clear one of our housing problems in Massachusetts is our transportation infrastructure. As we have written about before, housing and transportation are two sides of the same coin. We’ve got a vicious cycle with parking especially. If we don’t have room for parking, we don’t allow more housing. If we don’t allow more housing, people have to drive in from far away, creating demand for yet more parking. Yet look at any downtown parking garage or lot on a weekend: it’s empty. We’ve made some questionable decisions.

Cambridge, Massachusetts, where MassLandlords has our headquarters, has eliminated parking minimums. They have road, bus, rail and bike options in roughly equally useful proportions. People can rationally choose from among a set of transportation options including owning a car or not. Cambridge is still plagued by rush hour car traffic, so the transportation mix is still off. But it’s moving in the right direction.

Compare this to downtown Utrecht, in the Netherlands, which I saw for the first time last month. I watched rush hour from a hotel window as thousands of bicyclists streamed in towards the world’s largest bicycle parking garages. Cars, buses and trains also made equally fast progress on their own dedicated roads. No one was stuck in traffic as far as I could see. This looked like a well conceived city to me! There were lots of cars, but since cars were clearly not mandatory in Utrecht, traffic flowed.

Or compare our highways to intercity travel in Europe. Once I landed in London, I traveled three countries without needing to set foot in a car once, and without emitting much CO2. The subways made it easy to bring my luggage. The trains ran at over 180 mph, even to places with small populations. If the MBTA commuter rail ran from Worcester (population 200,000) to Boston like the train from Bayonne (population 50,000) to Paris, I’d be able to get from my home to the State House in less than 15 minutes, instead of the hour and 40 it presently takes me. And I’d have had a sit-down breakfast along the way.

Our Massachusetts properties statewide would almost all be more valuable if better transportation were closer to us. And yet, the housing crisis would be greatly abated, too: people could live as far away as they liked, near farmland or forest, at relatively low rent, and still get to work and social connections quickly, cheaply and without needing a car. And if you want or need a car, great, because rush hour traffic jams would be a thing of the past. Europe has a lot to teach us in this respect.

For reasons besides low-emissions transportation infrastructure, my June was a lot about climate change besides. I testified at the State House (via Zoom and in writing) about the need for flood risk management. I attended part of the Advanced Water Heating Initiative’s quarterly stakeholder meeting. And I attended my first Equity Working Group meeting for the Department of Energy Resources (think Mass Save).

MassLandlords’ expertise and advocacy benefits owners, managers and service providers of rental housing across the industry. And there is so much work to do! Please join as a member, become a property rights supporter or increase your level of support.


Douglas Quattrochi

Executive Director

MassLandlords, Inc.

2 Responses to Letter from the Executive Director for July 2023: Looking Abroad to Understand Home

  1. Paula D says:

    Transportation was often the deciding factor for our 21st Century Summer Science Camp in Western MA. Often, the camper population we targeted to stem summer learning loss struggled with transportation issues due to families having unreliable (or no) transportation, or inflexible work hours enabling families to timely drop-off and pick-up their children. Our town lacked bike lanes and continuous sidewalks. The local public bus system could never have accommodated our cause. Luckily, our public school district provided transportation in kind. As the majority of the school qualified for free and reduced lunch, this was key. Not all 21st Century Camps were as fortunate as ours regarding transportation.

    This seems like a small thing, but for an ~5 week camp, besides learning to appreciate raw snap peas over snacks of potato chips, standing with their friends screaming with delight under icy cold waterfalls, learning to swim, ice-skate, write thank you cards, and walk more than a mile without getting winded, the social support and academic gains were evident.

    While teaching a compare/contrast lesson between two short poems about stars, I asked who could explain the noun “constellation.” Four 3rd graders volunteered a correct response. One student was the son of two teachers, and the family summered in Europe. The other 3 children were all participants from the previous “Reach for the Stars” theme summer camp. Campers even knew the root word “stellar.”

    A few years fast forward, and the bus line connecting western MA towns reduced their schedule. A recently unemployed high school graduate told me he could no longer commute to work at the needed hours without walking (with a nighttime return) or sacrificing a chunk of his pay to hire an Uber.

    It can be a recursive connection: housing, transportation, opportunity.

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