Wu envisions a sustainable Boston with 800,000 people
In State of City address, she calls her job 'most important work in the world'
IN HER STATE OF THE CITY address Wednesday night, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu outlined her core policy goals while conveying to listeners just how much fun she is having.
The fun part came primarily at the end of the speech when she recounted how a third-grader in a pink puffy coat at the Blackstone School asked her, in Spanish, what it was like to be mayor.
At first, Wu said, she didn’t know what to say and merely replied “ocupada,” which means busy.
“But it’s so much more than that,” Wu told the audience at the MGM Music Hall in the Fenway. “It can feel surreal and stressful, exhausting and empowering. It feels like the most important work in the world. More than anything, it feels like a gift to be able to get up every day and go to work for the city I love with people who love it too.”
That spirit carried throughout her speech, as she laid out her plans for the future. That future revolves heavily around housing, transportation, and education. She said the city experienced record development over the last decade, but not all neighborhoods of the city benefited.
She said the Boston Redevelopment Authority focused too much on making way for new development and not enough on the people affected by it. She indicated the Boston Planning and Development Agency, the next generation of the BRA, was little more than a name change.
“The focus on building buildings rather than community has held back the talented staff and deepened disparities in our city,” she said.
“Our vision is for Boston to sustainably reach our peak population of 800,000 residents with the housing, schools, parks, and public transit to support that growth,” she said. (The current population of the city is more than 650,000.)
Wu said she will file a home rule petition with Beacon Hill that would eradicate the BPDA’s urban renewal power, which allows it to seize blighted property by eminent domain, and focus instead on resiliency, affordability, and equity. She said the order will for the first time since the 1960s restore planning as a central function of city government, and not a quasi-independent authority.
The mayor promised to reform the city’s unpredictable development approval process and transfer compliance and enforcement of developer pledges from the Boston Planning and Development Agency to the city’s housing office.
Wu said building affordable housing is among the city’s top priorities, and promised to use the bulk of federal recovery dollars to expand the city’s housing stock. She said 3,800 housing units were permitted last year, the most since 2018, and 1,300 were affordable, the most in a generation. She promised to exceed those targets this year.
She said her staff has identified city-owned property that can support 1,000 units of housing and empty lots in neighborhoods that can also support new residences. She said developers could have the land for free, but offered few details on what would be required in exchange from the builders.
The mayor promised to file her previously announced home rule petition on rent stabilization, implement zoning reform, mandate that all new municipal buildings and expansions be fossil fuel-free, build new community centers in Grove Hall and the North End, and end the use of fossil fuels in public housing developments by 2030.
Wu reiterated her call for the city to have a seat on the MBTA board.
She promised to step up the pace of new school construction and announced a series of investments in student initiatives, including a $50 million program with the Boston Teachers Union to better support students with disabilities and a program to add social workers and counselors, many of them bilingual, at every school.
Wu also said the city is partnering with UMass Boston to provide a 13thyear at Fenway High School, which would allow students to take a first year of college-level courses at no cost before heading off to complete their degrees in three instead of four years.
Wu often says she can be a mayor with vision who also takes care of the more routine tasks of city government. In that vein, she noted her administration in the past year filled 5,000 potholes, picked up more than 500 tons of curbside compost, and plowed 53 inches of snow.