Monday, July 22, 2024

Memorial Drive could get even greener, a City Council candidate said at an election forum. (Photo: Kate Wheatley)

Cambridge City Council candidates have some bold ideas for tackling climate change, including elevated bike lanes, reconstructing Memorial Drive and planting a tree for every resident in the city, according to a Tuesday candidate forum.

The forum was hosted by Cambridge Mothers Out Front, 350 Massachusetts-Cambridge, Green Cambridge, the Mystic River Watershed Association and Cambridge City Growers at the Citywide Senior Center. It focused on issues in climate policy, including the city’s tree canopy, Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance and the use of fossil fuels in construction. Sixteen candidates participated.

Candidates formed three panels of between four and seven people. Moderators asked each panel the same questions.

A few candidates from the slate of Our Revolution Cambridge, a progressive political organization, said they support expanding the ordinance, called Beudo, which requires large commercial buildings to reach net zero emissions by 2035.

The meeting was recorded by Cambridge Community Television and is online.

Challenger Vernon Walker said that, if elected, he would try to strengthen Beudo by extending it. “I think we’ve taken a step in the right direction, and I’m really grateful for it. I still think we have a little bit more work to do,” Walker said. “I would look to expand Beudo and figure out how we can include residential buildings.”

Ayah Al-Zubi agreed that the City Council needs to expand Beudo, and that the city needs to hold its universities, especially Harvard, responsible for their emissions. Al-Zubi, another challenger, graduated from Harvard in the spring.

“Here’s the reality: emissions are something we need to address constantly,” Al-Zubi said.

Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler, who served on the council from 2020 to 2021, also liked the idea of expanding Beudo, though he didn’t mention residential buildings specifically. He also suggested how Cambridge might spend some of the money it received through the Inflation Reduction Act: to “to add renewal energy infrastructure to our public buildings,” Sobrinho-Wheeler said.

New ideas

When asked about the city’s tree canopy, challenger Doug Brown said he would like the city to plant larger trees, fill all empty tree wells and conduct a comprehensive tree health survey. He also proposed that the city plant one tree for each of its residents.

“As a goal, rather than tracking 20,000 street trees, I’d like to see one per person – so that’s 120,000 street trees. That’s ambitious, but other cities are doing that, and I think it’s important we think like them,” Brown said.

Also on the issue of Cambridge’s canopy, challenger Federico Muchnik suggested that the city start a “Trees for Tots” campaign introducing environmentalism to grade-school students.

“Every incoming kindergartener would have a tree assigned to them, and they get to track the progress of that tree over the course of its life so that the city will not chop that tree down,” Muchnik said.

Councillor Burhan Azeem, when asked about green space in the city, said Memorial Drive was a prime location to potentially add more.

“I’ve been a really big supporter of Memorial Drive, of closing it over the weekend so we have more green space and more space to walk and enjoy ourselves,” Azeem said. “One of the big things I’ve been talking about is redoing Memorial Drive so it goes from four lanes down to two, and we have extra green space in that area.”

On the topic of road infrastructure, challenger Carrie Pasquarello said that Cambridge had a way to improve its bike lanes while also improving their sustainability.

“I know we have a better innovative way that we could do our bike lanes, that literally could make our community really stellar. And that would be elevated bike lanes with possibly solar panels on top. We could be so much more innovative,” Pasquarello said.