Boston City Councilor-elect Kenzie Bok celebrated her victory over Jennifer Nassour in last week’s election, and said she’s now ready to get to work.
Bok finished the race with 70 percent of the vote in District 8, winning every precinct in the district. “District 8 is a collection of unique, historic neighborhoods and it’s really important to me that they know that I’m going to be a councilor for each one of them,” Bok said, “so it means a lot to start that way with support from every corner of the district.”
Major issues across the district include affordability of housing, transportation, lack of public elementary schools, and issues surrounding climate change, Bok said. She said that “traffic snarls” and pedestrian safety are paramount concerns across the district. “This is a district that walks, takes the T, and bicycles,” she said. “This is a district where people experience the built environment of the city every day.”
She added that she believes another shared set of issues across the district is the way that neighborhoods relate to larger institutions, how they are affected by institutional expansion, and how to make sure that neighborhood voices are a factor in decisions that are made.
Additionally, Bok said that District 8 is one “that loves the parks,” and between the Esplanade, the Back Bay Fens, the Public Garden, the Commonwealth Mall, and others, this district has a large amount of green space. “I think a lot about how to be a champion for those,” Bok said.
The wider agenda of countering climate change is also at the top of Bok’s list. “I think it should be encouraging to us that the Fens and the Esplanade are both sort of public parklands that were created partly to manage stormwater,” she said. Combating flood risks should be a priority for the city, and “we’ve done this before, so we’re just going to have to do it again,” she said.
“Then there are issues that can be particularly strong in a given place,” she said. “Fenway and Mission Hill both grapple with their housing stock,” as there is such a concentration of students in the area who come and go “that it begins to threaten the ability to have a consistent core of long-term neighbors,” Bok said. She said in both neighborhoods, there is a great desire for family housing, adding that Mission Hill has one of the lowest rates of owner occupancy in the entire city. Bok said that taking a hard look at affordable home ownership opportunities is imperative for the Council. She said she’s looking forward to helping lead the council on an affordable housing strategy.
A huge issue that Bok said will require immediate attention is the recent announcements by the state that they plan to sell both the Hynes Convention Center in the Back Bay and the Charles F. Hurley building on the edge of the West End and Beacon Hill. Bok said that for the state, the sale of these properties will create revenue. But for the neighborhoods of District 8: “It’s really important that that land be used to serve public purposes, that it knit into the neighborhood, and that it be thought about as part of the communities,” she said. “I anticipate that being a really big and major focus of mine in the beginning of my term on both ends of the district.”
Bok said that the Hynes and the Hurley are a “concrete opportunity”—even though they are both owned by the state—“to think about a wider strategic framework for how we deal with parcels like that.”
In Beacon Hill, Bok said that a serious community discussion needs to be had about Cambridge St., as MGH is talking about expanding, the state has plans to sell the Hurley, and Bok said she personally would like to make the Red-Blue connector happen on the MBTA. “All of that together has the possibility of really disrupting Cambridge St., but it also has the possibility of if we get it right, really transforming the area in a way that is good for neighbors, and if we get it wrong, doing the opposite,” Bok said.
Bok believes the Red-Blue connector is a feasible project, that would really help discourage traffic in District 8 neighborhoods. “There are so many people for that if you could make it so it’s a one-change trip to go to the airport from Cambridge or from Dorchester, the would leave their car behind,” she said. “But right now they don’t and they take it through our neighborhoods.” She said a huge part of improving traffic in the neighborhoods is creating alternative ways of getting around for the people who currently drive their cars through the communities.
Another issue of urgency that Bok said she plans to tackle right away is siting some community-based preschool seats in District 8. The City is putting out a Request for Proposal in January to have more community-based preschool seats as part of its push to universal Pre-K, and Bok said she believes this is a great opportunity to bring in some public school seats that the neighborhood currently lacks. “It’s no substitute for a real school in our neighborhoods,” Bok said, “but it would allow some of our young families to extend their time in these neighborhoods and think about whether there’s a way for them to stay. It might encourage people to at least enter the lottery and I think it could help demonstrate the sort fo unmet demand in these neighborhoods and the need for some more school capacity.”
She said that in order to get some of these seats in District 8, community partner coalitions have to be ready to respond to the RDP in January. She said she is prepared to meet with people and discuss this even before she takes office, as it is a time-sensitive issue.
Bok said she believes the role of a Boston City Councilor has a “dual-nature, which is to be the most on-ground level of government that sees the day-to-day things that are affecting people’s lives in our neighborhoods in the city, and tries to improve them.”
The second half of the job, she believes, is to “scale up” from those day-to-day challenges and to understand the way in which broader systems affect them, and having an effect on those broader systems at the citywide level. “And to me,” she said,” doing my job well as district city councilor will mean being effective at both ends of the spectrum.”
She said she also believes the city councilor should act as an ombudsperson to make sure that issues heard in the community are brought to City Hall “in a way that can be acted upon,” and also a role that should be served with institutions that affect the district.
She also said that while this is a two-year term, “I think an effective city councilor should be thinking about things that matter to the city on an even longer time frame,” such as a coherent housing strategy and a more public-oriented strategy for how public land is handled. Over the long run, she said she’d also like to see the city council take more steps towards reaching net-zero carbon, as well as at least getting some Pre-K seats sited in the district ad be on a path to more public school seats. She said it’s about “seizing very particular moments of necessity and turning them into moments of longer-term opportunity.”
Bok’s message to her new constituents is that she is “very grateful and honored by their trust and all their support and by the many people who came together to make this campaign successful,” she said. “I’m very committed to being a dedicated City Councilor for every neighborhood in the district and I’m excited to get to work.”