- Race and Gender Equity
- Equity in Housing
- Regional Economic Development
- Traffic Management
Needham is special to me and to my many friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who live here. And I am especially proud that many of my regional colleagues admire our ability to move quickly to address issues and solve problems.
In the regional councils that I work with, it is clear that our local communities are all facing similar problems – housing access, economic development in a changing business climate, racial and gender equity, traffic congestion and safety, school needs, and the problems that older citizens, and/or those living on limited incomes face in trying to remain in their community. This year we have to add the additional burden of Covid-19.
Nevertheless, I come away from these meetings with a reinforced belief of how much better positioned Needham is to deal with them. That is not to say that we can be complacent. There are no quick fixes. These issues will be with us for the foreseeable future, unless we address them with determined and deliberate action.
Race and Gender Equity
The tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis was a national inflection point. But the incident at CVS in Needham Heights last year reminded us that our town is not immune from incidents of racial bias. We have all been made aware that racism, both intended and unconscious, is an issue we all have to recognize and fight. The Needham Select Board has commissioned an independent outside investigation of the Marvin Henry incident, which was just completed. We have just begun the public discussion of the report’s findings and its recommendations.
I want everyone in our community to develop a clear understanding of how racism affects all of our daily lives and interactions. At last year’s Annual Town Meeting, I initiated a series of difficult discussions around race in Needham. That has evolved into the Needham United Against Racism Initiative (NUARI). That is a beginning, but our effort needs to continue – we still have a long way to go.
I welcome the efforts of citizen-run organizations to promote awareness in town and in bringing forth the stories of people of color that might otherwise not be heard. As a member of the Select Board, I think is crucial to hear these voices when crafting public policy. Every elected and appointed board should be considering what they can do within their jurisdiction to identify and rectify the legacy of racism.
Our board recently changed its name to be gender-neutral. We successfully submitted proposed language changes to Town Meeting to change the term “Chairman” to “Chair,” and “Board of Selectmen” to “Select Board.” These changes will not eliminate implicit gender bias in our culture, but they do reflect a growing consciousness in our society and on our Board. I may be a Selectman, but I am a member of the Select Board, and its current Chair.
Equity in Housing
Our geographic position in this region also places an obligation to address housing equity. We have already improved our record on this issue, having added numerous new multi-family housing units, and in placing inclusionary zoning requirements on all new multi-family developments. Needham’s affordable-housing stock now exceeds the state’s 10% threshold.
Regional Economic Development
Regional development is a challenge that we must manage and leverage to assure the quality of residential life while encouraging the business activity that supports our residential tax base. We have used zoning and the limited use of tax incentives to bring Trip Advisor, SharkNinja, NBC Universal, and other nationally-known companies to Needham Crossing. These companies add tax base, jobs, and prestige to the town, and the development requirements built into our zoning by-laws require them to support infrastructure improvements and to provide shared transportation for their employees. This has been an important success for the Select Board, the Planning Board, Town Meeting, and Town Administration. It is also very much a work in progress, and involves close co-ordination with Newton around mutual issues in the N2 Innovation District along the Needham Street/Highland Avenue Corridor.
Increased traffic in and through Needham is something we have to manage by facilitating alternatives to vehicular traffic whenever possible. That is why my Board is working hard, and in co-operation with Newton and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and others, to bring mass transit and/or multi-modal buses down the rail corridor that runs parallel to Needham Street/Highland Avenue. It is also why, when I was a member of the Planning Board, we built traffic management requirements into our zoning bylaw.
One of the tools I would propose is some sort of “Value Capture” that requires developers who get increased value from transit improvements apply some of that profit back to support the public cost. Legislation is currently being considered by the Massachusetts House that would enable municipalities like Needham to be able to capture some of this value for transportation improvements.
Pedestrian safety also continues to be an issue, and we need to address practical and meaningful measures that can eliminate risks in all areas of the Town. A major emphasis of the Downtown Streetscapes Project has been to improve visibility in response to the pedestrian accidents we have experienced there in recent years. I was active with a group of Eliot School parents in advancing the schedule of planned traffic improvements near the school. We also have to build a coalition of interest around issues of distraction while driving, and we need to look at traffic calming measures, especially in our downtown areas.
Sustainability has guided my positions on many issues. I was an early supporter of joining the Massachusetts Green Communities Program and was pleased when my Board achieved Town Meeting support. I actively support the efforts of Green Needham and others to maximize sustainability by reducing greenhouse gasses and reducing energy costs. I supported our Board’s adoption of energy efficient and environmentally sound operations for the Town, residents and businesses. On a personal level, I have installed solar panels on my home along with a solar battery, and drive an electric car.
I have been a strong supporter of the Needham schools. I supported the acquisition of the site for the new Sunita Williams School and strongly advocated for the expansion of that site when the opportunity presented itself. I also supported and worked hard to assure success in the necessary override to make it possible to build.
During the early efforts to create the Needham History Center Museum on the Newman Campus, I worked to create a linkage between the History Center and the Schools to develop and deliver a portion of the of the Needham History curriculum, both to Needham School Students but also for students at Saint Joe’s and others.
When I visited one room schoolhouse classes for 3rd graders who dress in costume for the experience of being a 19th century Needham pupil, I was moved both by the diversity of the kids in class, but also by the fact that our community’s history is now theirs too and is part of all of our collective past. We need to be doing more in this realm.
I do want to note that I have gotten calls from parents who would like more attention paid to issues of diversity among the kids in class and on the playground and also in the curriculum. Although this is in the realm of the School Committee, I have informed members of the School Committee and put them in touch with those who call me. I do have confidence in the School Committee and the School Department and the School Board in the effort to achieve Equity, Inclusion and Diversity as evidenced by the establishment of the REAL Coalition, but we all need to be doing a lot more in the years ahead.
I will continue to work collaboratively with the School Committee and the other Town Boards and Committees as we all struggle to understand and defeat racism whenever it rears its ugly head in our community.