In the coming weeks, I will be listing my positions on the various uses facing our community. Listed below are just some of the many issues we are dealing with in Needham.
Needham is special to me and to my many friends, colleagues and acquaintances who live here-it is even special to many who don’t live here based on conversations I have had with colleagues from other communities who admire our ability to move quickly to address issues and solve problems .
At the MAPC Winter Council Forum last year, there were 4 new mayors who spoke about the issues their communities are facing. It is clear, that Needham, although special, is not alone in the issues it faces-that we all face. The mayors spoke about housing, economic development, traffic congestion and safety, schools, and the problems that older citizens, and/or those living on limited incomes face in trying to remain in the community and economic development in a changing business climate. This year we would have to add the need to address racial equity and the additional burden of Covid-19.
Those are our issues too- not the only ones- but surely important ones.
I come away from these meetings with other communities with a reinforced belief of how much better positioned we are to be dealing with them. There are no quick “fast fixes” but there is determined and deliberate action and will we can and do apply to these and other very Needham specific issues. That is not to say that we can be complacent. After Covid-19 passes we will still be living with its consequences and the changes it has wrought in every realm of our community life. In addition achieving real Racial Equity in our community will need to be on the front burner for the foreseeable future.
The tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis a national inflection point and the incident at CVS in Needham Heights last year (more will be said about this when the independent outside investigation we initiated is completed soon) have made us all aware that racism, both intended and unconscious, is an issue we all have to recognize and fight.
I want everyone in our community to develop a clear understanding of how racism affects all of our daily lives and interactions. Many of us are doing this through reading and dialogue. At last year’s Annual Town Meeting, I committed to begin a series of difficult discussions around race in Needham. That began with an open session in the Fall when everyone was back in town and has evolved into the Needham United Against Racism initiative (NUARI). That effort needs to continue-our society at large still has a long way to go on this issue.
For myself, I welcome the private 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 remain open to hearing these voices and in crafting appropriate public policy that falls within our board’s responsibilities. The elected School Committee and Planning Board also have a critical roles within their responsibilities for education and zoning. In fact, every elected and appointed board should be considering what they can do within their jurisdiction to identify and rectify the vestiges of racism.
Our geographic position in this region also places an obligation to address housing equity issues-we already have a good record on this issue, having added almost the equivalent of one entire precinct in terms of the number of new multi-family housing units, and in placing inclusionary zoning requirements on all new multi-family developments.
Regional Issues are a challenge that we must manage and leverage to assure the quality of residential life including achieving more diversity and to provide the economic value that supports our residential tax base. We have done this through zoning and the limited use of Tax Incentives to bring Trip Advisor and other nationally known companies to Needham Crossing. NBC Universal has opened its regional headquarters in Needham. These 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 of the Board of Selectmen, 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 area around the Needham Street/Highland Avenue Corridor (N Square.)
Increased traffic in and through Needham is something we have to manage by developing alternatives to vehicular traffic whenever possible. That is why my board is working hard, and in co-operation with Newton and the Metropolitan Aria 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. One of the tools I would propose is some sort of value capture that have developers who get increased value from transit improvements apply some of that back to support the public cost.
It is also why, when I was a member of the Planning Board, we built in traffic management requirements in our zoning.
Legislation is currently being considered by the Massachusetts House that would enable municipalities like Needham to be able to Value Capture for transportation improvements.
Gender Neutral Terminology
Our board changed its name to a gender neutral one. I fully support that change. We successfully submitted proposed language changes to Town Meeting to change the term “Chairman” to “Chair”. 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.
Pedestrian Safety continues to be an issue for all citizens in all locations. A major emphasis of the Downtown Streetscape Project has to do with the pedestrian accidents we have experienced there in recent years. I was active with a group of Eliot School parents in getting work already scheduled there moved up. We have to address all areas of the Town with practical and meaningful measures that can eliminate risks to pedestrian safety . We also have to build a coalition of interest around issues of distraction on our streets, and we need to look at traffic calming measures- especially in our downtown areas..
Sustainability on a personal and Town basis 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.