Nine months ago, Boston voters elected a history-making mayor. Michelle Wu, the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, became the first woman, the first racial minority, the first mother, and the first millennial to be elected leader of the City of Boston.
Now, Wu has made headlines for a different reason: his advocacy of free public transport as part of a larger plan to promote affordability and combat carbon emissions. In March, the city eliminated $1.70 fares on three bus routes serving low-income areas where the majority of the population is minority.
Given budget concerns, the city will use the COVID-19 response fund to offset $8 million (€7.65 million) in lost revenue. The number of users of the first free bus line has increased dramatically by 48%, rising from 47,000 to 70,000 passengers a week.
Since entering municipal politics as an advisor in 2013, Wu has stood out as someone who focuses on the details of public policy. The Harvard Law graduate has been at the forefront of measures such as six weeks of paid parental leave for city employees, a plastic bag ban and a restriction on short-term rentals that have been targeted by Airbnb.
Wu’s personal experience made her realize the shortcomings of municipal services. At age 22, she suspended her counseling work in Boston and moved to Illinois to care for her schizophrenic mother and her two younger sisters. Having just graduated from college, she became the head of the family. He moved his loved ones to Boston and enrolled his sister in a public school.
During an interview at Boston City Hall, Wu, 37, shared his vision for the city centered on fighting the climate crisis.
What prompted you to defend free public transport?
I take the responsibility of being the first mother selected for this position very seriously, which has also allowed me to see firsthand the extent to which transportation can be a barrier, whether it’s because of cost, reliability, or service availability.
For several years, before my children were old enough to go to school, they both went with me to City Hall Kindergarten. We got on the bus, and after the bus on the orange subway line with a large double stroller with two babies inside. And all the decisions I had to make – wait for the bus and not know when it might arrive and then overflow, or take the commuter train, which was much more reliable but three times more expensive – influenced my decision. y the way I make decisions about public services today.
What is the long term goal?
Our plan is to continue to demonstrate that it works and that it is an investment that pays off quickly. I have spoken to many families who have told me that not having to worry about having change in their pocket to get to class that day has changed their lives, as well as the realization that this service is truly available to everyone.
Therefore, we have selected three routes that serve minority communities in the lowest income areas and are also associated with planned or completed infrastructure improvements. To show that we can offer a faster and more affordable service for everyone.
What makes her run the city with a focus on the climate emergency?
My eldest son, Blaise, was born in my first year on the council, and there were all sorts of headlines that it was the hottest year on record. It was pretty hard to think about what it meant when he brought new life into the world.
So when I think about what this time we have left means to give our children and their children the opportunity to inherit the city and the world they deserve, it all comes down to the little details. Because we in the city government know that big things can be done if small things are done well.
Planning for extreme cold in northern cities like Boston is a given, and Boston has a heating standard that buildings must be heated during the winter. But as the climate gets hotter, is a refrigeration standard being considered?
Of Boston’s approximately 120 school buildings, the vast majority were built before World War II. Only 30 of them have modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, so temperature control, not only in winter, but as the city warms up and the school year approaches, is a huge challenge.
We see that the traditional ways in which city governments provided relief during heat waves need to change. In the past, during the heat emergency, we paid a lot of attention to open cooling centers in community centers or basketball halls and installing air conditioners there. We saw that people didn’t go to those places, and I’m sure the pandemic has something to do with it.
But even before that, their number fell. We are monitoring temperatures very closely and are in constant contact with our community leaders to understand what the needs are in order to provide immediate assistance as well as incorporate it into the structural changes the city is going through.
Some areas, such as Chinatown, Dorchester, East Boston, Mattapan, and Roxbury, suffer more than others from problems such as extreme heat.
Yes, the temperature difference between some of our wealthiest areas and some of our least treed areas has been documented. Tree canopy is really important in creating livable areas. There is generational environmental racism about which areas had direct access to transportation and which were bypassed, and the effects of this continue to be felt.
We often talk about the Green New Deal, but the Blue New Deal, which aims to promote ocean prosperity, has not received the same level of publicity. This is part of your climate agenda. What does this mean for Boston?
We are a coastal city and there is a lot of talk about it these days in a negative way that we should be worried about flooding or that rising sea levels are a threat and we should find ways to get away from the ocean.
But what a treasure and what a source of resources for us to have a direct link to possible jobs there. We are seeing Boston and Massachusetts transition to wind power and ocean regenerative agriculture. Massachusetts has a history to be proud of and a vibrant and resilient fishing industry, so there are many cities along our shores that feel much more connected to the ocean, water, and coastline. Much can be gained by taking advantage of the advantages of a coastal city, rather than simply trying to mitigate the damage.
Where will all these changes take Boston in the future?
I hope and believe that Boston will become the greenest city in America, a city for everyone.
What does it mean to you to be Boston’s first non-white female mayor?
Every week I spend some time in our schools. This is what I do no matter what happens in the city: we revisit at least one or more schools. [Cuando tenía la edad de los estudiantes] I didn’t even think I could hold on to this position, let alone aspire to it, so I hope that by playing this role, I open up the possibilities for everything they dream of.
Can you take a break this summer?
What do you mean by “rest”?
Translated by Julian Knochart.
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