Boston Mayoral Candidate John Barros stopped by Monday night’s Orient Heights Neighborhood Council (OHNC) meeting to introduce himself to the members and discuss the pressing issues facing Eastie and Boston residents.
Barros, who served in the Walsh Administration Cabinet as Chief of Economic Development, was raised in Roxbury to immigrant parents from West Africa.
“My parents came here to help provide better opportunities and education,” said Barros Monday night. “At the age of 14, I got involved with my neighborhood doing environmental justice work because I lived in a neighborhood that had some of the highest rates of asthma and I wanted to try to do something about it.”
In his youth and working as a community activist Barros helped to clean up Roxbury, pushed against placing trash transfer stations in the neighborhood and fought for policies that would improve air quality for his hometown.
“Years later I became the Executive Director of the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, where we continued to help lead the change in our neighborhood by building more affordable housing, green space, and an urban ecosystem for local food production. It was really important that we took charge in leading the transformation that was going to happen to our neighborhood but in a way that we weren’t going to displace residents by improving the quality of life. So we built an urban land trust to help to protect our land, protect the affordability of housing and commercial space and it has grown into the largest urban land trust in the country.”
Barros said when former Mayor Marty Walsh asked him to join the administration and set up an Economic Development Cabinet for the city of Boston he jumped at the opportunity.
“I was proud of the work that we did there in helping to move Boston forward,” he said. “Unemployment fell to 2.4% before the pandemic. We were able to double the money going into small businesses. We doubled the money going to Main Streets districts and helped to better support our small businesses districts around the city. We increased the jobs residency policy for the percentage of people of color on construction jobs, as well as women and local residents.”
While he is proud of his work over the last seven years, Barros said he is excited to discuss what Boston needs now.
“Climate change is a major issue,” said Barros. “Sea level rise, extreme precipitation, heat islands, and the city’s tree canopy are the top four things that come to mind and Boston has some really good plans working with neighbors and other stakeholders and came up with Climate Ready Boston and other neighborhood based plans. We’ve identified about $3 billion needed for flood barriers like the creation of parks on our waterfront, storm water management retrofits for buildings and other initiatives. This is the biggest opportunity we have and we need to take advantage of the Biden Administration’s infrastructure program so that we can start to build out some of these proposals and put these plans in place.”
Local environmentalist Gail Miller asked Barros, if elected Mayor, what he would do to address escalating air pollution in Eastie in relation to Logan Airport operations. Miller and others have been lobbying to address the high rates of asthma in the community by placing air filters in schools and homes as mitigation for the impacts of pollution.
“As Mayor I will be a partner for environmental justice because this is where I started doing organizing work,” said Barros. “It’s important that we continue to have those conversations around air filtration, soundproof windows but I also think that the airplane routes need to always be revisited because they change too often, and before you know it, there was an agreement with Massport on where a plane would be traveling, and then that shifts. So we always need to make sure that we are meeting with Massport consistently to look at that and make sure that we know where they’re traveling so that we can send them over the waterways as opposed to over our neighborhoods. As mayor I would work with you to make sure that we are mitigating the environmental injustice that Eastie suffers because of its proximity to the airport.”