John Pitkin

John Pitkin
2019 Candidate for Cambridge City Council

Home address:
18 Fayette Street
Cambridge MA 02139

Contact information:
Tel: 617-864-3030

Send contributions to:
Pitkin Campaign Committee
45 Fayette Street
Cambridge, MA 02139

Please include your occupation and employer with your donation as required by Massachusetts Campaign Finance law. John’s campaign does not accept donations from real estate developers.

Before I retired in 2015 I worked as a demographer and did research on U.S. population, immigration, and housing . I worked with research groups, mostly at universities, as a consultant based in Harvard Square. My wife Helina and I have lived near Inman Square for 49 years, where we have raised our daughters Mirja and Kaari, both CRLS graduates. I have a bachelor's from Columbia University and also studied economics at Oxford University.

Civic participation
Citizens do not have enough of a voice in Cambridge government. Citizens now participate in Cambridge government mainly when appointed to boards by the City Manager and when they speak during limited public comment period at the City Council or School Committee. These are inadequate substitutes for meaningful participation, and we urgently need a new paradigm for citizen involvement.

The single most effective thing I can do if I am elected City Councilor will be to help make residents more effective as citizens. We face serious and growing challenges and we need to tap the knowledge, energy, and abilities of residents to devise and implement new policies and solutions for our environmental, transportation, housing, and forestry challenges. That's how democracy works best!

If I am elected to the City Council, my goal will be to involve a new generation of Cambridge citizens in finding solutions to today's problems.

We have a responsibility to protect the environment on which the quality and ultimately the possibility of life depend, for ourselves, for our children, and for generations to come. With population growth and development, the pressures on the environment are increasing. All of our city's policies and actions need to be environmentally sound. Specifically, I propose

  1. A new Cambridge Transportation Forum on managing our transportation system and streets to reduce congestion, hazardous conflicts, and GHG emissions.
  2. A Cambridge Forestry Forum on implementing the recommendations of the Urban Forest Master Plan to maintain and increase our tree canopy
  3. A Third Cambridge Climate Forum on community preparedness, resilience and climate action

I am a regular pedestrian, and frequent rider on public transportation, including the 83 bus.. I believe we must reverse our dependence on private automobiles for transportation within Cambridge and balance the needs of different modes, including bicycles, on our narrow roadways.

More parks, less pollution of all kinds -- air, river, noise, and light -- and protection of natural areas are essential to the quality of life in our city.

My past environmental efforts include being first signer and advocate for the so-called Pitkin petition, in 1997, to rezone much of the city, which led to greater protection for existing public and private open space, co-initiator and organizer of the 2009-10 and 2016 Cambridge Climate Congresses, and core member of the Friends of Inman Square’s campaign to save Vellucci Plaza and its trees.

I want to see the next City Council address the current housing shortage by appointing a Housing Policy Advisory Committee comprised of nine members, with each city councilor nominating one representative. Tenants, landlords and homeowners could all participate.

This committee would be charged with recommending more progressive and effective housing policies for both immediate and long-term implementation. It should help the City Council to ensure that scarce resources of land and affordable-housing funds are being as effectively as possible. It should put forth creative planning and zoning measures to encourage new middle- and low-income housing that will be accepted in all neighborhoods.

We can also increase incentives and subsidies for income-qualified homebuyers and renters above existing levels.

I oppose the Affordable Housing Overlay because developers are not planners, and zoning is the only plan we have. “Breaking” zoning, as some would have us do, would leave us without a plan for residential neighborhoods and quality of life and the environment at the mercy of unstable, speculative market forces.

Cambridge did a massive upzoning in the 1960s that created the strip of Mass. Ave. between City Hall and Putnam Square as well high as rises and “Arlington pill-boxes” on the side streets in Mid-Cambridge. Two examples are 295 Harvard Street and 28 Lee Street, a typical pillbox.

By all means, let’s have an honest, informed, civil conversation about how to increase the supply of affordable housing, limit gentrification and displacement, and build broad support for necessary new policies. I believe we can do this in the next Council term, but not if we continue the divisive debate about the Affordable Housing Overlay as if that is the only possible solution or as if housing is the only issue that needs urgent attention and action.

Quality of Life
City government also has the responsibility to control nuisances. In particular, it should limit loud street noise - from amplifiers and construction equipment -, noise in residential areas - from fixed mechanical equipment -, and air-borne particulates and dust - from diesel engines and leaf blowers. Because many of the worst problems are sporadic and occur on the street, clear regulations, enforcement standards, and vigilant police are all needed.

Municipal Finance & Government
Thanks to years of conservative fiscal management and a huge commercial tax base, Cambridge has reserves of "free cash," the ability to raise more through property taxes under the cap of Proposition 2½, and a AAA bond rating. We should be willing use some of these resources to remedy our environmental, transportation, and housing deficits.

The City Council has ceded too much influence over policy-making to the City Manager. As the top democratically elected officials in the City, the Council should begin immediately to reclaim this authority by appointing all future advisory and study committees itself, rather than delegating this task to the City Manager.

University Relations
The city's relationships with local universities are chronically strained because they are not equitable.

City services that benefit Harvard and M.I.T. cost many millions to provide, yet the universities' voluntary payments to the city in lieu of taxes cover only a fraction of the costs to taxpayers. This fiscal relationship between the city and the universities was forged more than a century ago. It is obsolete and needs to be restructured. The City Council is the only body that can provide sustained public leadership to bring this about.

Further university expansion must be jointly planned and regulated by zoning. Housing is a continuing need.

Cambridge Public Schools
Because the Mayor serves as chair of the School Committee, and the City Council elects the Mayor from among its members, the vote for Mayor will be important. Ability to lead the School Committee must be an important criterion.

Our goal should be steady improvement in the entire school system, starting with universal pre-K.

CCTV candidate video (2019)

Cambridge Candidates