Mariko Davidson MCP ’13, who earned a master’s degree in city planning at MIT, is running for Cambridge City Council. Two other MIT alumni are currently up for reelection.
Davidson is running on a slate with four other candidates, one of whom, Nadeem Mazen ’06, is also an MIT graduate.
Among Davidson’s campaign priorities are a $15 minimum wage, more affordable housing, protected bicycle infrastructure, and community engagement in policy-making.
“Do you know what your city councillor is up to?” Davidson asked.
As a fellow at the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, Davidson experimented with ways to involve different segments of the community in the political process, and, if elected, she plans to bring that experience to bear on community engagement in Cambridge.
“Some of the most successful ways we’ve found of making civic engagement engaging is making it fun,” Davidson said. “Using play, using different types of technology — and even things as basic as Legos — has encouraged public participation from more than just your typical constituent.”
To facilitate inclusion, Davidson believes there should be an online system to complement in-person government services.
“Why should you sit in a public planning meeting for four hours after work? Why isn’t there some sort of [webpage] for development and public planning meetings where you can comment in real time?”
Davidson and her fellow candidates comprising Slate for Cambridge believe that better outcomes result from getting more people involved in the policy planning process.
“The assumption is that it will get more complex and more onerous if more people are involved,” Mazen said. “But other communities nearby have found that when you empower people who are thought of as community dissidents...you get a better outcome.”
Engagement is especially important, as Davidson in particular believes that the way we design and build cities has a major impact on people’s access to opportunities.
“I think we all intuitively understand that where you live determines your access to opportunity,” Davidson said. “It’s the combination of services, it’s your housing, your access to transportation...your economic opportunities.”
Davidson and Mazen both noted the influence of special interest groups on the election. Mazen said that almost all the incumbents took donations from special interest groups, while hardly any new candidates did. In an effort to remain independent, neither Mazen nor Davidson will accept special interest donations.
“It is just incredible to think about the influence of money and the conflict of interest,” Davidson said. “Whether an incumbent is cognizant of it or not, if you accept money from a special interest group, the only way to be 100 percent sure that it’s not influencing your decision making is to not take it.”
A total of 23 candidates are competing for nine spots. Davidson said that the previous years’ election had been decided by only four votes, and encouraged MIT students to register to vote before the Oct. 14 deadline.
“It’s practice being a good citizen,” said Mazen.