For this week’s email, since there is no meeting on Monday – enjoy Memorial Day! – I have summarized a few of the issues that have absorbed me for the past two months and how YOU can help get them across the finish line.
COVID-19 has put a pause on some of the priorities we were working on at the beginning of the term, but many of the problems that arose with COVID intersect with the problems our city faces under normal circumstances: environmental justice, inequality in all forms, challenges in education, survival of local businesses, and more. While we have shifted into response mode, my goals remain the same.
It’s still tough for all of us – AND when we take some positive action, we feel better. Below are six issues I urge you to take action on at least one… or all six!
1. Slow streets: Back in March (remember that month?), when this crisis was first unfolding, I co-sponsored two policy orders asking the City Manager to close streets across the city including Memorial Drive to non-essential traffic. I saw this idea – giving people more space outside to distance since our sidewalks are only 5 ft wide – as pragmatic, necessary, and easy to implement. However, since the Council passed both orders, we have waited for the City Manager to act on them, while watching dozens of cities across the country implement this idea successfully. This has been extremely frustrating, but now we must turn to longer term solutions.
As we come to understand that social distancing orders will be in effect for the foreseeable future, it is important that we think about creative ways to keep people active while adhering to the social distancing guidelines that experts recommend, which we know are essential for all of our public health. AND allow for restaurants and retail to use more of the public space that is currently allocated to cars only. Physical distancing will remain critically important. AND exercise, along with access to sunlight and fresh air, are vital components of public health, especially for the youth in this city. With schools, afterschool programs, camps, playgrounds, and basketball courts closed, the places where students and residents of all ages normally get the chance to move and be active will continue to be closed. We must create safe space for people to be outside and active this summer and beyond. This crisis will not simply end one day; it will be with us for the foreseeable future and we must make the necessary changes accordingly. The Manager recently announced that a “shared streets” plan will be announced next week, which only happened due to our collective advocacy [tune in to the special meeting on Wednesday May 27 at 3 pm via the city council video stream] We need to keep up the pressure!
How YOU can help: write to the City Manager expressing your support for innovation and leadership (and frustration to date) and CC the council (CityManager@CambridgeMA.gov and CityCouncil@CambridgeMA.gov). And sign the Cambridge Bike Safety petition!
2. Restaurant fees: Another instance of inaction by the city. I worked with restaurant owners and business districts on a policy order that asked the manager to cap third party delivery fees that are having a detrimental effect on small restaurants. The switch to an almost entirely delivery-based business has presented local restaurants with a devil’s choice: pay massive fees to the four big delivery companies (DoorDash, GrubHub, UberEats, and Postmates) or be excluded from the list of open restaurants on their popular websites. Cambridge has already lost beloved restaurants – City Girl Cafe and CuchiCuchi closed their doors permanently. Many other restaurant’s survival is in jeopardy – high commission fees could put them over the edge. We can solve this situation with good policy. The emergency is still with us and despite phase one of Governor Baker’s plan to reopen, the position of restaurants remains dire: the days of crowded meal times are still a long way off. While I will continue to work on opening up sidewalk and parking space for outdoor seating, it will be a long time before dine-in capacity will be as it was pre-pandemic. Take-out and delivery will remain a large part of a restaurant’s revenue for the foreseeable future.
How YOU can help: order take out directly from the restaurant! Every order helps our favorite establishments survive, and you help so much more by picking up the order yourself.
3. Municipal broadband: This pandemic has amplified the existing disparities in Cambridge, and the digital divide is a big one. While it should not take a crisis to spawn action, the lack of foresight on the issue of municipal broadband has led us to this moment of a heightened divide. I co-sponsored a policy order last week asking the City Manager for an update on the work being done to ensure reliable internet access for all residents. We must do everything at our disposal to work towards digital equity as quickly as possible. I am glad that my colleagues are all supportive of addressing the digital divide and supporting the work of the broadband task force. However, despite broad support from residents and the City Council, we have yet to move forward on a feasibility study. I will be advocating over the next few weeks to get funding for the RFP for a broadband feasibility study we requested in next year’s budget (that directive was in a policy order I co-sponsored in February). If we are to be a leading city, we should be exploring whether to have municipal broadband. 5G is not a substitute – the city should follow the recommendations of the task-force and do a comprehensive feasibility study.
How YOU can help: call into the budget hearings next week and ask the manager to add it to the budget. Sign up to comment here.
4. Books: While I am no longer on the school committee, I care deeply about the whole city, including young residents. I am happy the new SC is working to address the ongoing issues in the district and following up on much of the work I started – asking for accountability and evidence and support for all students. I have been extremely concerned with remote learning. During my years on the school committee I consistently addressed the “summer slide” – the gap between students in the learning that happens over summer break – and this pandemic has dramatically increased the potential for that gap to widen further. While the school committee and the city continue to work on this issue, we know that kids need books. The library is working on a way to have contactless pick up – an order I co-sponsored. I am also assessing if we can replicate the various book swaps that usually happen at year end in many of our schools. With our youth spending so much time on screens, it is vital all have access to books. I’m exploring how to get books out to kids across the city.
How YOU can help: do you have books – in good condition – for kids from preschool to high school you’re ready to give away? Email my aide firstname.lastname@example.org with how many and what age range -so we get a sense of how many books we could collect – and we can make a plan for how to distribute them.
5. Feed Our Frontline Cambridge: When we launched this effort, our first goal was to raise money to pay a number of Cambridge local restaurants to make delicious, individually packaged meals for healthcare workers putting their life on the line in Cambridge. Since then, we have raised nearly $25,000 to provide over 2,200 meals to workers at the Cambridge Health Alliance, Mt. Auburn Hospital, and Boston Healthcare for the Homeless. In doing so, we helped multiple restaurants reopen and pay staff, and provided much needed revenue to many beloved establishments around the city. IF we raise even more, we will reach even more restaurants and front line workers – whether in hospitals, homeless programs, or nursing homes.
How YOU can help: donate now and help us reach our final goal! And, if you want a tax deductible donation that supports Cambridge restaurants and frontline workers with the greatest need, donate to FeedTheFightBoston and put “Cambridge” in the comment section.
6. Arts: When we think of our city, or any city, the arts are an essential part of our community tapestry. The arts – broadly defined – are integral to a thriving city from dance (hip-hop, ballet, minimalist, modern, jazz, and on) to music (symphonic to drumming on cans to wind and string and that unparalleled instrument the human voice) to theater (Sophocles to Shakespeare to Lansbury to Lin Manuel Miranda to everyone in between) to visual arts (sparkling chalk drawings that disappear to murals that define a space and beautify walls to every visual way one can express) to movies and films (Brattle Theatre!). Where would we be without the arts? Yet this year for the first time in 75 years Tanglewood is cancelled. My favorite dance venue, Jacob’s Pillow cancelled the entire summer season. Organizations are hurting. I co-sponsored a policy order to establish an Arts Recovery Committee with diverse representation that will help ensure that this city is able to help the arts community as much as possible.
How YOU can help: Buy a piece of art, support the CCF artist fund, buy tickets for next year to some production of a company you have never seen – explore. And make artwork yourself – my talented family helps surround us with art – from my daughter’s ceramics (below) – thanks to classes at Maud Morgan and CRLS, my son’s origami, thanks for CPS and OragaMIT club, and my husband’s lighting thanks to many classes over the years.