Boston under Mayor Wu - A Look at What's to Come
On Nov. 2, City Councilor Michelle Wu officially became Boston’s first female and person of color elected mayor at the age of just 36. The former city councillor ran on an ambitious, progressive platform that ultimately earned her a landslide victory. Wu’s election is undoubtedly a historic moment for the city of Boston in itself. However, now that election night is over, perhaps a shift in perspective is in order. As Bostonians transition from the city's empathically white male past towards a far more inclusive future, many are now asking — what will Boston look like under the tenure of Michelle Wu?
In her victory speech on Tuesday night, Mayor-elect Wu stated that if nothing else, Boston is ready: ready for the moment, and ready “to become a Boston for everyone.” Wu emphasized inclusivity not just in her campaign, but also in her time on the Boston City Council. Boston is a diverse city, but it certainly has not always treated everyone equally. From the de jure segregation of the past to the de facto segregation that persists largely due to discriminatory practices like redlining, it is certainly no surprise that Boston’s racial wealth gap is as wide as it is. As per the data from Wu’s campaign site, the median net worth of a white family is $247,500 while the median worth of a black family is a mere $8. As mayor, Wu intends to lessen the financial divide and the many divisions that lie beneath it.
Photo Courtesy: John Tlumacki/ The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Wu has outlined a systemic approach to this issue, identifying many root causes to address. One of these is housing affordability, an issue which has come under much scrutiny as the public health crisis at Mass. and Cass continues to fester. Wu has committed to “prioritize federal funds for housing” which will go towards not only preventing displacement, but also the support of community land trusts and the building of more affordable housing. Given that Boston is currently the 2nd most expensive city to live in America after San Francisco, Wu’s focus on affordable housing will be a dramatic change for Boston and for the better at that. Although housing currently appears to be a problem with many layers, Wu sees its potential as a multifaceted solution. With regards to Mass. and Cass, Wu has identified a lack of housing as the root of this crisis. These federally funded housing projects will help to alleviate the opioid crisis at Mass. and Cass and Boston’s homelessness problem in general. Housing affordability is just one way that Boston will be more welcoming to everyone.
Another one of Wu’s plans to make everyone’s voices heard is to increase community engagement, specifically through participatory budgeting. Through this process, members of the community get a direct say in how the public budget will be spent. By giving power to the communities, Wu’s Boston will simply be a more democratic city. Wu will already be allocating funds towards many likely community needs, such as the support of small businesses. Wu is committed to supporting small businesses in need of relief during the pandemic. Wu has already demonstrated tremendous support for small businesses throughout the pandemic, so it is likely that as mayor she will continue to do so, meaning that many of these currently struggling businesses will have the support they need to recover and remain open. This could be one thing that Wu wants to keep the same.
Although it is currently undergoing many changes as is, one of Wu’s goals is to optimize Boston’s public transportation system. Her campaign platform includes plans to make Boston a more accessible city for cycling, so we may very well see more bike lanes in and around the city. To that same end, bus lanes too may be expanded. Finally, as is consistent with Wu’s emphasis on inclusivity, Wu supports fare-free transit in Boston, citing the racial wealth divide and the climate crisis as some of the reasons why she wants to make sure that public transportation can be available to anybody at no cost to them. Much of the funding for this plan will come from a proposed update to the fare collection system that comes with a price tag of over $900 million. If this were implemented, it would likely increase users of public transportation, whether it be the buses or the T. In turn, this could decrease traffic, another problem identified in Wu’s platform.
These issues, be it transportation or affordable housing, are under the umbrella of perhaps the biggest issue of them all, the climate crisis. One of Wu’s many headline making statements from Tuesday night is that Boston is ready to become “a Green New Deal city.” The most pressing issue facing Boston’s sustainability efforts is the downtown development plan, a plan Wu intends to scrap and start anew. Beyond that, Wu has outlined a city wide Green New Deal, meaning that it is likely that many of these changes will be implemented under Wu’s tenure and beyond. The plan includes many ambitious goals, such as Boston using 100% renewable energy by 2030 and being carbon neutral by 2040. Some of the ways Wu intends to accomplish these goals are embedded within the solutions to other problems, such as affordable, energy efficient housing projects and an emphasis on accessibility to public transportation. Other ways outlined in Wu’s Green New Deal plan include divesting from harmful industries, starting an urban climate corps, and boosting tree coverage throughout the city.
In her Green New Deal, Wu writes that “we must change the narrative around what is possible.” Although many of her plans and aspirations are ambitious, Wu has identified concrete ways to work towards and achieve her goals for the city of Boston. Wu’s vision for the future is one of cohesion, sustainability, and inclusivity. With the momentum behind her, this future may already be taking shape.