Below are the responses from former economic development chief John Barros to the 2021 BSA Mayoral Questionnaire on the built environment.
Name a place in the City where everyone feels comfortable and tell us why you think it works.
Libraries are a place in the City where everyone can feel comfortable—no matter your race, gender, age, neighborhood, financial resources, or educational background, libraries provide opportunities and resources for any aspiration. While physical books may be less common in our digital age, libraries are not just a repository for paperbacks, they represent access to information and serve as a hub of community. Whether searching for documents for a thesis, applying for jobs, collaborating on a new business plan, reaching out for social connection, or seeking social and developmental activities for small children, libraries are an open door to these opportunities.
As Chief of Economic Development, I led a pilot initiative with the Upham’s Corner community to foster the neighborhood as an arts and innovation district, anchored by the historic Strand Theatre and a new Upham’s Corner branch library. Investing in libraries is investing in communities, and as Mayor I will work with the community to ensure that the vision is executed and continue to grow this model in neighborhoods across the City, including building upon the recent investments in the Central Library and the Dudley and Adams library branches.
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?
As a coastal city, Boston is on the front lines of climate change. It is a serious threat to the health and safety of Bostonians. And given the disproportionate impact that climate risks have on low-income families and people of color, it’s also one of the most pressing racial, economic, and health justice issues facing the city right now. I will continue to build upon and fully implement the Climate Action Plan, “Climate Ready Boston,” and commit 20% of the City’s Capital Plan to climate resilience projects to be a leader and sponsor of climate action.
Our residents are already being affected by the environmental effects associated with climate change - sea level rise, coastal flooding, extreme precipitation, and extreme heat - and the high levels of pollution associated with the carbon emissions that are rapidly worsening these issues. The severity of these issues, both today and in the future, varies from neighborhood to neighborhood throughout our city. But one constant fact is that low-income families, and people of color are hit hardest by them, which is why environmental justice must be at the core of any climate resilience work and why I will continue to lead by engaging community stakeholders to make the process as inclusive as possible.
We must prepare our neighborhoods for the impacts of climate change. I will accelerate our neighborhood-level resilience planning through Climate Ready Boston in order to protect residents from climate impacts including flooding, storms, extreme heat, and power disruptions. I will focus especially on communities that are at the greatest risk from climate impacts, particularly communities of color and lower income communities. I will accelerate the renovation of Moakley Park, which stands between the ocean and a diverse neighborhood with thousands of units of public and affordable housing. This will protect residents from the increasingly frequent floods we have been experiencing during storms and high tides, and improve public health and quality of life because it will increase the amount of quality green space, athletic facilities, and public gathering places for the community.
The City of Boston must continue to be a climate leader and implement bold, urgent, and equitable climate solutions. It is the single greatest investment we can make in the long term strength of our economy, but we will only be successful with partnership from property owners, businesses, and the community. I am committed to making sure developers are contributing to district-scale sustainability and resilience projects, and we must work together. I will issue more Green Bonds, pursue funding opportunities with the Federal and State government and philanthropy, and explore new approaches to funding.
Investing in climate resilience and clean energy is a no-brainer to protect homes and infrastructure, lower emissions, and it’s an unparalleled opportunity to create green jobs for local residents. Now is also the time to grow our citywide commitment to job training programs, work with our network of partners, leverage Federal relief dollars, and make sure we're preparing local residents to do those jobs. We can also use Federal infrastructure funds to tackle retrofits and help residents and property owners move toward electrification, renewable energy utilization, and invest in resilience measures.
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?
All of our strategies to protect communities and reduce carbon emissions also must enhance quality of life and increase our city’s resilience overall. As Mayor, I will make sure these initiatives follow a triple-win framework by providing benefits for frontline communities, benefits for workers, and our natural systems.
As Mayor, I will accelerate the City of Boston’s carbon reduction goals and commitment to becoming carbon neutral before 2050, focusing first on cutting emissions in our biggest carbon-emitting sectors: buildings and transportation. Buildings in Boston account for 70% of carbon emissions. This approach to sustainability will include setting stronger carbon reduction standards for private businesses and large buildings. In Boston, 86,000 buildings need to retrofit or be offset for us to achieve our carbon neutrality goal of 2050. There is a huge opportunity here to put people to work in good jobs that will last for decades while improving our environment. The standard has the potential to create new job opportunities in the energy and construction industries and improve the energy performance, indoor air quality, and comfort of Boston’s buildings, with benefits to our environmental justice communities. To build on the existing BERDO program, I will continue the community engagement process the Environment Department led and is now going through the Council process. In order to make sure buildings can meet these incremental benchmarks, I will work with directly with owners and advocates to set a transparent timeline for long-term budgeting and planning, and provide the resources needed for implementation. The PACE financing ordinance will be helpful to homeowners and owners of smaller residential and commercial buildings. I will also work to bring in even more renewable energy through the Community Choice Electricity program, and leverage the over 200,000 customers to lower emissions and clean the grid.
The BPDA is leading community feedback and implementation of ZNC, which will be challenging and a shift in operations to one of our largest industries. But we need to make this shift not only to slow climate change, but to enhance our economic competitiveness and create good jobs for residents. The new ZNC will provide developers with clarity and predictability around requirements, which cut costs. It will also reinforce the three different strategies to get to lower emissions: energy efficiency, on-site renewable energy generation, and clean energy procurement. To help this shift, the City of Boston will continue to lead by example (Renew Boston Trust, affordable housing zero net carbon design standards, new municipal buildings), and work with best actors already doing this work to encourage widespread adoption.
How can the City overcome challenges in housing production and better provide housing of all shapes and sizes at a range of affordability levels?
I agree with those residents that housing is a top concern. There is nothing more important than safe, stable, and affordable housing, and it is crucial that Boston maintains a supply of available housing at all levels of affordability, from deeply affordable to market rate and above.
I will increase housing production in Boston in order to keep up with demand and stabilize rents and housing costs while dedicating more City resources for affordable homes and public housing options, including more affordable housing for seniors and people with disabilities.
I will use more City-owned land for affordable homes, and also call on the State and Federal governments to contribute more to housing affordability in Boston. I will leverage City-owned buildings to create housing adjacent to libraries, community centers, and other public assets. I will acquire abandoned or underutilized properties in our neighborhoods and work with local communities to build affordable housing that meet the needs of that neighborhood.
I will mandate that all City sponsored affordable housing developments use a local AMI (“area median income”) framework so residents have a way of understanding if the proposed homes are affordable to them and their neighbors.
I will create a City wide technical assistance program and acquisition fund for Community Land Trusts.
I will build on the City’s homeownership programs and mortgage products, so more people have access to the stability that homeownership brings. I will grow the City’s Office of Housing Stability to make sure tenants know their rights and protect them from eviction.
I will continue to support, as I did while at City Hall, the legislative efforts undertaken to guarantee a right to counsel for people at risk of eviction, and establishing a tenant’s right to purchase at fair market value any property in which they reside being offered for sale. As Mayor, I will continue to push for this legislation. I will support eviction record sealing, because I know the spiral caused by an eviction can create far reaching and even generational damage in families. I will work to create artist housing, so that artists, who provide vitality and beauty to our city, can afford to live and work in Boston.
I will continue to support the transformation of Boston Housing Authority properties. The deep affordability of public housing is a critical piece of our housing ecosystem. I will work with Boston hospitals on their federally-mandated Community Health Improvement Plans so they include housing as a means to promote public health.
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?
Opposition to development stems from fear—fear of displacement. Yet, sustainable development is a critical tool to foster inclusion and continue to grow our city. As mayor, I will focus on working with neighborhood and community organizations to pursue strategies of development without displacement, to preserve, enhance, and grow Boston’s vibrant neighborhoods.
As Executive Director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, I led the creation of the largest urban land trust in the country, leading to the creation of hundreds of affordable homes and protecting residents from eviction in Roxbury and Dorchester. Under my leadership, Dudley Neighbors, Inc (DNI) established itself as the largest urban community land trust in the country. DNI acquired over half of the 1,300 vacant lots in the neighborhood and converted 36 acres into 225 homes, gardens, parks, playgrounds, schools, a community center, and a greenhouse.
As Mayor, I will create a fund that supports the acquisition of land and creation of affordable housing by community land trusts. Land trusts are one of several strategies to improve housing affordability for low-income families and people of color. They also give communities greater ownership stake over the future of their neighborhoods. As Executive Director I organized residents to make sure we had a blueprint for the neighborhood we wanted to create. I worked closely with the City and BPDA to use tools like eminent domain and 121A. And then brought developers to the table who aligned with our vision and could help make this neighborhood a reality.
Through a community driven approach, leveraging available tools and resources, I believe that together we can continue to grow our city with responsible and sustainable development without displacement.
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 BPDA must be reformed to lead with intentional and transparent neighborhood planning. It is important to me that community members lead efforts to develop their neighborhood. As Mayor, I will reform the BPDA by creating a new organizational structure that makes planning the lead unit in the agency, increase the number of planning staff, and invest resources to deepen the public engagement process to make sure it’s accessible and culturally competent. I will build on successful planning efforts, such as those in Uphams Corner and Nubian Square that have created local neighborhood decision-making processes led by residents. I will build on my experience using BPDA tools like eminent domain authority and the 121A organizational structure at DSNI to help prevent displacement and create local ownership.
How else can the BSA and the architecture community best be involved in decision making and shaping Boston's future?
The BSA and the architecture community are integral to shaping the future of Boston. Boards and Commissions are critical to the city government engagement process. From landmarks and zoning to the Boston Art Commission, there is a need for the insight and subject matter expertise of BSA members. From my experience in city government, I know that a partnership with the BSA will be critical to keeping these boards fully staffed with engaged BSA members. As Mayor, I will look to board and commission members, as well as the BSA community at large, to continue to innovate and make Boston welcoming to its lifelong residents as well as its visitors. The way the built environment interacts with the surrounding community is vital to the future of our city as we seek to become more inclusive and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’m running for Mayor because I care deeply about the future of our city. I’ve dedicated my life and career to serving the Boston community, and I have decades of experience in executive leadership and public service. I have the background in community investment, education, and economic development that will allow me to lead a strong, robust, thoughtful, and forward-thinking recovery from the COVID crisis, bringing diverse partners together to solve the biggest problems we face. As mayor, I will rely on the partnership and expertise of the BSA and its members to build the future of Boston and overcome the challenges we face.