City Councilor Michelle Wu
Franklin Park. Residents from across the city come to this incredible place to experience the beauty of nature, attend cultural festivals and community events, and use the thoughtfully designed recreational spaces for a mix of uses and activities.
Many Boston residents live in areas at severe risk of flooding. Flood protection projects come at high cost, but doing nothing will be even more costly. How will you prioritize projects to address climate resilience and whose responsibility is it to pay for them?
In partnership with community activists and organizations, I released Planning for a Boston Green New Deal & Just Recovery that lays out an ambitious policy roadmap for Boston to deliver the kinds of changes we need in order to create a future built on sustainable energy, good jobs, and healthy, connected, resilient communities. The foundation of our Boston Green New Deal is that climate justice is racial and economic justice. BIPOC communities, working-class families, and immigrant communities are more likely to live near environmental hazards and face exposure not only to flooding, but also pollution, urban heat island effect, and other climate change impacts. From accelerating decarbonization, to implementing net zero building requirements and sustainable transportation access, we must act urgently to mitigate these threats and build resiliency, through following the lead of our most impacted communities. Green infrastructure improvements must be intertwined with community stabilization, creation of green jobs for the future, and closing the racial wealth gap. People must be able to benefit from green investments in their neighborhoods without fear of displacement.
I have also called for a Green New Deal for Boston Public Schools (chapter 2 of A Community Vision for Boston’s Students and Families). This provides a blueprint for overhauling aging infrastructure to address crumbling buildings and disparities across our school district so every student and teacher are in a healthy, inspiring learning environment.
Every City budget and every policy we pass communicates the priority we place on the life or death issues of climate justice, racial justice, economic justice, and transportation justice. As Mayor, I will work in partnership with community to align policies and budgets around equity and justice so that we are using our shared resources to achieve justice in all areas for all people. In the short term, Boston will be receiving an infusion of one-time federal relief funds for pandemic recovery, and we must plan sustainably to use these funds not as bandaids on longstanding challenges, but to align this spending for long-term needs such as climate resiliency. It’s the Mayor’s responsibility to demonstrate the vision and leadership to bring everyone to the table—from the business community to our legislators at the state and federal level—to accelerate the climate resilience projects that Boston needs for future generations to thrive in our city.
Given the urgency of climate change and the momentum towards net zero buildings, what actions will you take to support swift implementation of the Zero Carbon Zoning for new buildings and Emissions Performance Standard for existing buildings?
Buildings and transportation together account for a large portion of our carbon footprint. Retrofitting our buildings with solar panels, high-efficiency heaters, and resilient stormwater infrastructure will make buildings safer and more comfortable for residents, students and workers, while also cutting down on utility costs for renters and homeowners. Accelerating decarbonization is the baseline for protecting against the most destructive impacts of climate change and grasping our just and equitable future. Our Boston Green New Deal Agenda includes a commitment to citywide carbon neutrality by 2040, 100% renewable electricity by 2030, and a net-zero municipal footprint by 2024.
I’m proud to support the proposed amendments to the Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO 2.0), which would require large existing buildings to meet emissions standards that decrease over time. As Mayor, I’ll draw on the expertise of our planning, architecture, construction, and development communities to ensure that all buildings can meet these standards in ways that fit their local context. On the City Council, I’ve proposed the creation of an Urban Conservation Corps to build sustainable career pathways in climate resilience. Through partnerships with Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, our community colleges, and labor unions, I’ll work to ensure that retrofitting projects create high-quality union jobs for Boston residents, prioritizing our historically disinvested communities. Meeting zero carbon standards will also improve indoor air quality for Boston residents and workers, yielding public health benefits.
How can the City overcome challenges in housing production and better provide housing of all shapes and sizes at a range of affordability levels?
Safe, healthy, affordable housing is the foundation for thriving families and communities. We must create the array of housing types needed to close the racial wealth gap, stabilize communities, and support climate resiliency.
To address Boston’s housing crisis, we must grow the supply of housing, with a focus on low-income and workforce housing.
- Reform zoning to achieve housing justice and expedite the creation of affordable, climate resilient housing connected to transit and open space, accessory dwelling units, density bonuses for affordability, and other changes to reduce the soft costs of sustainable, affordable housing.
- Reform the public land disposition process to produce better economies of scale and cost savings, which can then be passed on to ensure lower rents and home sales prices for residents.
- Take advantage of the City’s bond rating and historically low interest rates to lean in with our capital budget, including through green and social bonds, to directly build new deeply-affordable, energy-efficient housing.
- Leverage the City’s capital budget, public housing subsidies and project-based vouchers to integrate affordable housing into the redevelopment of municipal assets such as libraries, community centers, and parking lots.
- Finance the conversion of owner-occupied properties to social housing, including limited equity housing co-ops and community land trusts, which allow residents to build wealth while stemming the risk of displacement embedded in the speculative market.
- Integrate affordable housing into the redevelopment of City-owned buildings
Many Boston neighborhoods do not see new development as positive. Would you agree or disagree with this statement? Is there a neighborhood or part of Boston where you think that new development has had positive impacts on the surrounding community? Which area and why did it work?
New development has the potential to help our city grow equitably and sustainably, while generating resources to close gaps and invest in infrastructure. But right now we’re falling short with a complex, opaque, and sometimes arbitrary approvals process layered onto an outdated zoning code. We’re not planning for our best future. By managing our development on a case-by-base basis, we’re asking our residents to become local zoning experts on each and every proposed project in order to have a voice in their neighborhood’s future—leading to frustration on all sides, expensive delays, and a failure to adequately plan for climate resilience, transit access, and healthy, connected communities.
I’ve outlined the steps that Boston can take on its own to overhaul our development process for predictability, affordability, and resiliency. In recent years, Boston has seen unprecedented mobilization and engagement and newly energized community coalitions, demonstrating to our city what development can look like when it connects to community needs.
For example, a proposed project in Roslindale to upgrade and enlarge the 10.5-acre Roslindale Wetlands Urban Wilds and create affordable homeownership opportunities using CPA funds is one which I believe will have a number of positive impacts for the surrounding community. This visionary project also demonstrates how we as a city can simultaneously make progress on climate justice, housing justice, economic justice, and racial justice.
We are seeing unprecedentedly large projects in the City, like Suffolk Downs and Bay City. Are the plans for these, and past development areas, like the Seaport, being made the right way? Who should lead the planning of future projects like these, developers or the City? Are there opportunities for the City to be more proactive, while respecting the interests of impacted communities and property owners?
The vast majority of new development projects require a mix of variances granted by the Zoning Board of Appeals or spot-zoning approved by the Boston Planning and Development Agency. This not only creates a costly, complex, lengthy process to secure approvals, also means that the resulting development can be a patchwork of inconsistent development that doesn’t match community needs. The Seaport highlights how our development approvals process has exacerbated inequities, falling short of integrating transportation access and failing to meet our climate resiliency needs. I’ve proposed restructuring our development agency to separate planning, implement comprehensive master planning to update our zoning code, and streamline approvals processes. (See my op-ed, “Business as usual is hurting Boston.”)
We need to ensure that we have community-led master plans to begin with. Our current development approval process depends on exceptions to the zoning code given out by the BPDA and ZBA, parcel by parcel, and requires community members to become zoning experts if they wish to have a voice in the growth and development of their communities. We need to restructure this process and engage in community-led planning that centers housing stability, shared prosperity, affordability, transportation and food access, and climate resiliency. We must also undertake citywide planning to update the zoning code to include the community visions articulated in these plans as well as provisions to increase the creation of affordable housing, support small businesses, increase access to parks and open space, and advance transit justice.
How else can the BSA and the architecture community best be involved in decision making and shaping Boston's future?
Meeting this moment requires that we take bold, urgent steps together. Securing a climate-just future is a generational project—one that no elected office can manage alone. As Mayor, I’ll look forward to partnering with BSA and its community of visionary leaders, doers, and creators, knowing that the answers to our city’s greatest challenges can be found in each and every one of our neighborhoods, across generations and historical divides. We must come together as a community to create the policies that will advance a built environment based on climate justice, racial justice, economic justice, and transit justice now and for the generations to come.