David Halbert

https://david4boston.com/

David attended the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts for his B.A. in English and Communications. He then began his career in civil service in the office of Massachusetts Treasurer Cahill, before continuing as an Aide to Governor Deval Patrick, City Councilor Sam Yoon and finally City Councilor John Tobin. David then worked as Director of Scheduling & Events and Community Affairs in the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office. He now serves as the Outreach Manager at The Educational Justice Institute (TEJI) at MIT.


Boston Candidate Science Survey Response

Below are the survey responses from the candidate. To ensure the candidate’s voice comes through to the voters, the content of the answers are unedited.

Technology + Society

As the City uses more advanced technology to monitor city services and communicate with residents, how will you ensure citizens’ privacy rights as increasing numbers of monitoring devices are installed around the city? What will you do to make sure that the data collected will be used for the benefit of all Bostonians?


City government should invest in the most secure technology available for the collection and transmission of data, with maintenance of resident privacy as a paramount concern. Any process for data collection should be created using an “opt-in” model wherever possible, so that individuals have agency and can provide clearly delineated affirmative consent. All external vendors for data collection services must be given the most rigorous vetting possible. In addition it is critical that data collection practices and results be subjected to ongoing, standardized, equity-focused review in order to determine if there are any disparate impacts for particular communities.

All data collected should be used to continuously refine city operations and delivery of city services. A specific emphasis must be placed on using these data collection tools and efforts to identify areas of equity concerns early on, so that appropriate interventions can be developed and deployed to provide fair levels of service to everyone in the city. This data should also be used to determine opportunities for innovation in city operations in every department, with an understanding that city government can always improve on how it serves the residents of Boston.

Environment

What are your policy priorities to address the ongoing climate crisis? How will you ensure climate resiliency projects are distributed equitably among communities, especially in low-income neighborhoods? What are your policy priorities to protect areas of the city that are vulnerable to sea level rise (i.e. South Boston, Back Bay, Downtown, East Boston, Charlestown, Dorchester, Seaport)?


We must take a comprehensive approach to addressing the climate crisis. While this means continuing to advance projects like the goals of the Boston 2030 project related to renewable energy use, transportation infrastructure & access investment – like electrifying the city vehicle fleet, & achieving net-zero carbon emissions in construction processes, this also means expanding the scope of our environmental sustainability actions. To that end we must look to further innovate and use the full breadth of the city’s capabilities to impact our climate resiliency.

We should set a goal of making Madison Park the nation’s #1 green vocational high school. We must direct the millions of dollars in city purchasing towards environmentally responsible vendors wherever possible. We need to work to influence the investment of the billions of dollars in Boston’s pension funds towards financial vehicles that provide a reliable rate of return for our retirees while also engaged in responsible conservation and climate resiliency efforts – pursuing a “double bottom line” where we can do well financially while also doing good globally.

All of these efforts must be developed and engaged in with a focus on equity. Environmental justice communities, which disproportionately bear the burdens of environmental harm, must be prioritized for service and support. It is critical that members of the community, who are dealing with these issues in real-time each day, are given a full and equal voice as policies and plans are being developed. The most sustainable & durable solutions are those that have community input and buy-in from the outset.

As a former resident of East Boston, one of the most climate vulnerable neighborhoods in Boston, I want to make sure that we are using every tool at our disposal to protect our neighborhoods at higher risk for damage from sea level rise. Among other strategies this means working to retrofit existing buildings to increase their overall climate resilience; utilizing natural strategies like earth berms, flood plains, and existing wetlands to mitigate impact; updating our zoning & building codes to ensure new construction projects are created in more climate sustainable ways. We must also take an expanded view of what Boston’s true sea level vulnerability profile is, realizing that it extends beyond our coastal neighborhoods and out to communities like those along the Neponset River watershed like Mattapan and Hyde Park.


What are your policy priorities to protect areas that are vulnerable to increased temperatures during the summer months due to the urban heat island effect? Given that trees and an urban canopy have been shown to mitigate excess heat, how would you support the implementation of the Urban Forest Plan for Boston?


Addressing the issue of urban heat islands is an important equity concern, as they are disproportionately concentrated in environmental justice communities. This means taking a number of intentional steps including minimizing the use of traditional blacktop during construction and road repair; making infrastructure investments to allow greater access to green roofs and solar reflecting roof paintjobs; working to reduce the amount of combustion engine traffic in vulnerable communities, as air quality issues related to emissions are exacerbated by the heat island effect; and using the zoning and building codes to promote development that minimizes heat retention & maximizes available airflow.

The most important steps in successfully implementing the Urban Forest Plan are ensuring that it is adequately funded and has the necessary personnel to execute it. This must be combined with regular program review to assess whether goals, like a net increase in overall healthy tree stock, are being met and, if necessary, what interventions need to be developed and deployed to get the project back on track. A component of that review must be engaging with local community members to understand their perspective and give voice to any issues or concerns that they have. These efforts must be paired with an intentional preservation of existing green space, such as Crane’s Ledge in Hyde Park.

Science

What should the role of science and scientists be in government, policy, and decision-making? How does science fit into your agenda for Boston?


Science and scientists must be integral elements of creating a sustainable future for society, as the climate crisis and COVID-19 pandemic continue to show us each day. I believe that, given the challenges facing Boston, policymakers should use our scientific community as a resource in every venue possible. Whether thinking about which direction our economy will be headed, how we establish a higher baseline level of scientific education for our Boston Public Schools students, or how we accurately assess equity issues in terms of comparative quality of life metrics between communities, science can and must be central to these discussions – and the policy decisions that come from them. As a city that is blessed with more robust access to cutting edge scientific research and personnel than almost anywhere in the world it would be irresponsible not to utilize these resources to better serve the residents of Boston and make the city an example of increased performance & quality of life via applied science.


Misinformation has been cited as one of the reasons for vaccine hesitancy against the COVID-19 virus. How do you propose the City improve messaging in order to promote science-based actions and combat misinformation, not just for COVID-19, but also broadly?


While the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is the most pressing contemporary example of the negative impact of misinformation it is by no means unique. Whether discussing the pandemic, the need for action on climate change, or many other issues it is imperative that we use a combination of science and sensitivity to establish an agreed upon set of facts. In a city as diverse as Boston this means understanding that members of some communities may come from places and backgrounds, both inside and outside of the United States, where data collected and distributed by government channels can be viewed more as propaganda than facts. This means that the city must not only do the important work of determining the facts around issues and making access to them as transparent as possible, but also that city government must make an extra effort to partner with trusted voices inside of communities who can amplify fact-based messaging in culturally competent & sensitive ways.

Healthcare

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted disparities in healthcare access for different neighborhoods in Boston. As of June 29, 2021, we know that only 38% of residents in Mattapan were fully vaccinated compared to over 70% of South End residents. How can ideas about distributing vaccines, challenging misinformation related to healthcare, and tackling language barriers be applied more broadly to form a more equitable healthcare system? What policy changes should be made to both prevent and respond to future pandemics or health crises in a more effective way?


Successfully onboarding the incoming Boston Public Health Commission Director as of this September is absolutely critical to planning and executing any strategy to address the pandemic citywide.

A key component of the overall strategy, in terms of equity in vaccine access, will be coordinating as effectively & efficiently as possible between BPHC, healthcare providers in neighborhoods with higher co-morbidities and/or infection rates – particularly local community health centers, and senior service providers. These efforts must be augmented by work to bring vaccinations directly into the field in these communities.

Any such efforts must be combined with communications plans aimed at both driving those in need to all available providers, and also combating vaccine hesitancy & disinformation. These messaging strategies must be conducted in ways that are linguistically and culturally sensitive, in order to achieve the greatest penetration and impact.

To more effectively respond to future health crises Boston must work to increase general awareness of the work of the BPHC and to support efforts to increase access and utilization of community-based healthcare providers. Many of the impacts of the current pandemic are being exacerbated in high-need communities due to existing deficiencies in regular preventative care. This only highlights the need for the city to use its influence to break down barriers to such access, as the long-term benefits for society are evident.

Education

How, if at all, has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your positions on education policies? What should the City’s role be in ensuring public schools are equitably funded and serve the needs of our children?


The COVID-19 pandemic has only further highlighted the massive disparities in education that have plagued students in Boston Public Schools for generations. The city must invest in infrastructure so that every student has a baseline level of amenities within their school. It is completely unacceptable that some schools have modern HVAC systems and access to pools, while others have windows that don’t open and are completely vulnerable to the weather. There should be intentional work done to help approach parity between school communities with significant access to external resources and those where families face more financial burdens or challenges. This responsibility also means that we need to shift the current decision making & leadership structure within BPS – specifically in regard to the Boston School Committee. I am an advocate for a hybrid school committee model that provides families with a direct voice in the education of their children, but also ensures that the Mayor and City Council have a direct voice, and direct responsibility, in the outcomes of BPS for students and communities.

Immigration

Boston’s technology, innovation, and scientific research ecosystem has long made it a hub that attracts a diverse group of people and talent from around the world. How can the city maintain and foster its international status as a technological hub and attract immigrant scientists to strengthen the diversity, culture, and economic activity of Boston?


Boston must continue to advance the areas of higher education research and the region’s biotechnology sector as two of our most prominent attractions for recruiting and retaining international talent. This must be combined with intentional efforts to create spaces for entrepreneurial endeavors and, hopefully, commercial growth stemming from these efforts. The city must simultaneously continue to create opportunities for access to housing, investments in transportation infrastructure – particularly mass transit, and uplifting the various global cultures that come together in Boston. By focusing on these quality of life issues, while working in parallel to advance the industries that serve as the initial draw to the region, Boston can create a pathway for success now and into the future.

Economy

What is your plan to strengthen the Boston scientific research and technology enterprise to benefit our economy? How can you ensure that the economic benefits of investing in science and technology reach all Bostonians?


We must work to create space for science and technology operations at all levels of development, from startups to fully mature corporations. Doing so creates the most access points possible for those seeking to engage in this sector, from a variety of different professional & vocational directions. One of the most impactful ways to spread the economic benefits of Boston’s scientific sector to others in the city is by strengthening the connection between the sector and Boston Public Schools. Working to establish relationships in a co-op model, similar to that at Northeastern University, between BPS high schools and actors in this sector can provide access to advanced training and workforce development opportunities, in addition to opening up new professional avenues for students that are often left out of STEAM career development. In the short term this helps improve BPS offerings and value, and in the long term this kind of investment can generate the employee base and leaders & innovators that Boston will need to stay at the forefront of this sector globally.

Food + Agriculture

What policies do you propose for the City to maximize land use in the city for green spaces and community access to gardens or farms? How can your administration bring more transparency to this process and connect community groups to the resources they need to support sustainable urban farming?


The city must do everything that it can to promote effective use of space as a tool to increase access and equity in procuring community based, healthy food options. This means working with existing operations, such as Eastie Farm in East Boston or The Food Project in Upham’s Corner, to assist them in bringing their work to scale. This also means supporting new endeavors, like the Mattapan Food Forest, that are using existing spaces in innovative ways. Those seeking to engage in work like this must be given special consideration when seeking to access available public lands for such projects, due to the larger potential community benefit.

These efforts must be matched by intentional work to expand overall access to green spaces throughout the city. This means both expanding the footprint of green space, by seeking to convert currently underutilized or derelict spaces, and also making larger strategic capital investments in maintenance and improvements on existing spaces. This also means working with owners of private land, such as Crane’s Ledge in Hyde Park, to create community focused spaces that have broad based positive societal impact whenever possible. This can be incentivized by more favorable tax & real estate policy, or by establishing stricter guidelines for the conversion and use of current green spaces.

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