Optimistic. Intelligent. Articulate. Polished. Upbeat. Confident. Michelle Wu is a great look for Boston. And so was the audience for her State of the City talk last Wednesday, one year into her term as mayor. Several thousand gathered in person for her address at the MGM Music Hall in the Fenway, and they were as diverse and representative of the people of Boston as I have ever seen. The energy was palpable even when watched electronically.
One year into her administration, Wu struck themes that she has been talking about since she was a City Councilor. A major promise she had made was bringing the independent Boston Planning and Development Agency under city control for planning and design. She will now create a cross-department advisory council and shift the emphasis from construction-focused urban renewal to meeting community needs and quality of life. Sustainability in all new and rehabbed construction will help meet the city’s newly defined climate change goals for resiliency and becoming carbon neutral.
Wu followed most of the mayors preceding her by promising a streamlined permitting and approval process. Good luck to her and the Red Sox (as my perennially disappointed Bosox-fan grandmother used to say).
Creating new and affordable housing is a primary and much-needed goal. Wu backed up that aspiration by promising developers who come in with plans for high-quality, affordable housing that enhances neighborhoods that the city will provide them the land they need free of charge. The municipally owned lots she identified could accommodate thousands of units. Equity issues will be part of the decision making.
Generating more housing is essential to economic growth and should have the full support of the business community. Her plan to reinstate a form of rent control is much more controversial and may run into a buzz saw in the state legislature and perhaps in the Governor’s office. (Massachusetts voters, who had experienced the down side of rent control over decades, killed it by referendum almost 30 years ago.) Wu calls her plan “rent stabilization” and would cap rent increases at ten percent. While that may sound fairly reasonable, the devil has proven to be in the details.
The Mayor is admirably aggressive on making all properties managed by the Housing Authority fossil-free by 2030. All new school buildings would have to align with her decarbonization efforts. And I have no doubt that she will be a bear when it comes to fighting to put a Boston representative on the board of the MBTA. She has already innovated with pilot projects for free buses.
Michelle Wu has painted a vision for Boston’s future that is largely one to embrace. As with all such tone-setting proclamations, it will be more easily pronounced than produced. But I wish her well fulfilling Boston’s potential to be a leader among our nation’s cities.