This platform is also posted HERE on Cambridge Civic Journal.
Nadya Okamoto is a first-time candidate for Cambridge City Council. She is dedicated to preserving and promoting economic diversity across Cambridge. Her top three priorities are (1) housing affordability; (2) education equity; and (3) progress towards more sustainable living. Nadya, by far, is the most well-equipped candidate to push forward more community-minded university relations in regards to all aspects of her progressive platform. Read on to learn more about her platform, and her goals for campaign finance reform, civic engagement, and arts and community in Cambridge.
Nadya was born in New York City -- growing up amidst domestic violence and abuse, then housing instability and frequent moves. Cambridge was a safe place that Nadya and her family would return to very regularly, since her godparents live here and have lived here since decades before she was even born. Cambridge was the only place she remembers coming back to where she felt at home with extended family -- where she could see pictures of her from throughout her childhood and adolescence proudly displayed in frames. Cambridge was a home for Nadya even in times when she felt that she didn’t have one or did not have a safe home to return to. Nadya is running to protect this concept of home for ALL residents - regardless of their race, religion, socioeconomic status, where they are from, or how long they have been here.
Nadya has a successful and extensive background in nonprofit management. She is the Founder and Executive Director of PERIOD (period.org) -- an NGO that provides necessary menstrual products at no cost and celebrates menstrual health through service, education, and advocacy. The organization has distributed enough period products to those in need to address over 150,000 periods, and registered over 110 campus chapters at universities and high schools around the US and abroad. Nadya founded the organization after her family experienced living without a home of their own.
Nadya’s experience as a young entrepreneur has taught her how to advocate, organize, and empower others through service -- she has the skills and passion to serve Cambridge and advocate for all Cambridge constituents. If elected, Nadya will be a strong voice for community diversity, the youth demographic, and anyone who struggles with housing stability; she pledges to speak for those who haven’t had a seat at the table before.
Nadya’s Top Priorities:
Housing Affordability -- advocating for not only building affordable units, but cultivating affordable neighborhoods
Education Equity -- working to level the playing field and support students both in and out of the classroom
Sustainable Living -- fighting for climate change preparedness and safety for all commuters
University Relations -- ensuring community-minded university relations and collaborating with local institutions to address many issues Cambridge is facing
Nadya on Housing Affordability: Preserving Economic Diversity
Nadya believes that we have to do more than just create affordable units -- we have to cultivate affordable neighborhoods. This means supporting more owner-operated businesses, making sustainable and public forms of transportation accessible for all, and fostering community. Housing affordability is something Nadya cares deeply about, especially because of her personal experience with housing instability. Here are just some of the ways Nadya plans to fight for housing affordability here in Cambridge:
Inclusionary Zoning -- enforcing the 20% low-income housing inclusionary zoning, and working to include 5% middle-income housing in inclusionary zoning (as shown possible by the feasibility study that made the 20% possible).
Affordable Housing Trust -- Cambridge has an affordable housing trust that Nadya would like to see grow and be used effectively. Nadya supports the increased linkage fees and potential “condo conversion fee” to help preserve economic diversity and fund the Affordable Housing Trust at the same time.
Alternative Solutions -- Nadya supports Cambridge exploring alternative ways to increase housing affordability, such as low-income housing cooperatives.
More Graduate Student Housing -- Nadya believes that the universities should take ownership of the demand for housing that they are bringing in with the thousands of new students that they welcome each year. Progress is already being seen from student mobilization here in Cambridge, particularly at MIT, to push on universities to be more community-minded about both housing and real estate development overall.
Supporting Small and Local Businesses - Nadya knows that supporting owner-operated and small businesses makes Cambridge more vibrant.
Addressing Homelessness - Cambridge has a fast-growing homeless population, and Nadya is determined to collaborate with other councilors, local organizations, and local social workers to expand efforts to end the cycle of poverty. Nadya will be an advocate for more job training and search programs, more beds at shelters, and more long-term plans to be created to combat homelessness in Cambridge
Education Equity - supporting ALL students
Cambridge Public Schools still have room to grow in supporting students (from all income levels) both in and out of the classroom. Nadya has a passion for education equity, and will advocate for leveling the playing field for students through access to tutoring, technology, and extra educational resources. Nadya will also advocate for a citywide book exchange to support access to books for low-income students. In middle-income households, there are 13 books per child. In low-income households there is only one book for every 300 children.
From her own student experience and from the many CRLS students she has talked to, she knows that access to internet is important for education equity, and thus supports exploring potential municipal broadband. Nadya will tirelessly fight for universal access to early education (pre-K) that is affordable and accessible for all families and for more arts to be offered both in and out of the classroom in summer and afterschool programs.
Regardless of what socioeconomic background a student comes from, what their level of learning is, or what their personal academic interests might be -- Nadya believes Cambridge should be working to meet students and Cambridge youth where they are and provide them with both educational and economic opportunities to discover and reach their full potential. Nadya knows that schools should be a place for learning and so much more -- she hopes to work with the School Committee and community partners to ensure that students are staying healthy (expanding access to food and mental health support), active, and ready to keep learning.
Bicycle Safety -- As a bicyclist herself, Nadya is passionate about prioritizing safety for bicyclists and pedestrians. She supports protected bike lanes where appropriate and thinks that the planning and implementation process of making those bike lanes a reality should involve more input from all members of the community. She would also like to see bike lights made more available for all residents since they can be expensive, but are necessary with more bicyclists riding around Cambridge after the sun sets. Additionally, she advocates for providing more bike racks around frequently-used transit stops.
Safer Streets for ALL -- Cambridge still has a lot of work to do to promote pedestrian safety for all residents, especially for senior citizens. One of the first things Nadya will work on implementing is more benches along certain sidewalks to promote walking for senior citizens. She also supports curb extensions for greater pedestrian visibility, extended pedestrian crossing times, and expanded pedestrian safety islands.
Pedestrian Streets -- Nadya would like to explore the possibility of dedicated pedestrian streets that will generate a stronger sense of community, engage more foot traffic, and support owner-operated businesses.
Public Transportation -- Nadya believes that public transportation that is accessible and affordable for all is integral in ensuring more equal educational and economic opportunities for Cambridge residents. Public transportation needs to adapt and prepare for the population growth Cambridge is experiencing, and Nadya hopes to see technological advancements to make tracking and schedules more readily available for riders. She also sees great potential in working with the local universities here to open up their university shuttles to the public.
Renewable Energy -- Nadya is a strong supporter of exploring more innovative ways to make solar energy more accessible for both commercial buildings and Cambridge families.
Green Infrastructure -- Cambridge needs more flood prevention infrastructure, especially with the growing population here in Cambridge. One of the more efficient and effective ways to prevent flooding is to implement more green infrastructure. This also has the positive side effect of adding more green space to the city. Building and growing more green infrastructure is an opportunity Nadya believes Cambridge needs to act upon immediately, especially as we start to see the risk for flooding rise.
Climate Change Preparedness and Prevention -- Cambridge has conducted the studies to show how dangerously at risk we are to the effects of climate change, now we need to both create (and implement) a plan. Nadya will be a strong voice pushing this process forward and involving the voices of experts, community leaders, institutions, and residents.
Waste Management -- Nadya believes that City Council could be doing a lot more to support residents and business owners with more earth-friendly waste management. She is excited to see city-wide efforts to compost expand, and hopes to see more city-wide efforts to promote proper recycling and trash practices.
From canvassing hundreds of doors a day for the last six months, one of the things that Nadya has quickly learned is that there is a need for a more transparent planning and implementation process that seeks out input from Cambridge residents. Whether it be for bike lanes, new real estate developments, new storefronts moving in, or public events coming up,
Nadya hopes to implement a platform (both digital and physical) to provide live updates to constituents about what Cambridge City Council is working on, when residents can expect changes around their neighborhood, and easily-understandable ways to provide feedback and suggestions to councilors. She believes something like this is needed to ensure that residents are heard, and to hold councilors accountable for the promises they make to the community.
Nadya’s team is already setting new precedents for civic engagement. Along the campaign trail, Nadya herself and her committed volunteers knocked on over 15,000 doors across Cambridge -- talking to constituents about their own experiences and priorities for the city. Nadya is motivated to empower more Cambridge residents to vote and participate in discussions about the future and wellbeing of our city. She sees great potential in engaging more voices in the near future, especially in discussions around Cambridge’s participatory budgeting.
There are over 110,000 people living in Cambridge. Over 70,000 are registered to vote, yet less than 17% actually vote. Nadya is committed to getting more people out to vote on November 7th. Through months of engaging with voters and encouraging civic participation, she led her team to register hundreds of new young voters. Nadya believes that since Cambridge City Councilors represent the entire community, the entire council should commit to increasing voter turnout.
Nadya believes that City Council meetings should be made more available to all residents, which means hosting them around the city and making them more accessible to residents both in terms of location and timing. She also will bring her skills of digital communication and social media to make the video footage and live updates more readily available to residents who might not be able to join in-person. She thinks digital communication tools are a great opportunity to engage real-time input from residents during and after City Council meetings.
Nadya believes that civic engagement will improve as Cambridge faces campaign finance reform (which she will fight heavily for) towards public financing.
Campaign Finance Reform
Nadya is one of the few candidates committed to not accepting any special interest or development dollars -- she believes there should be no question as to who she is serving. Throughout her campaigning, she admits that fundraising was not a big focus for her because she knew the strength of her grassroots momentum and wanted to spend as much of her time with constituents talking about their priorities for Cambridge.
Nadya supports public financing of municipal campaigns in Cambridge because she believes that candidates and elected officials should spend as much time as they can listening and serving, rather than fundraising -- she also believes that by eliminating the massive amounts of money that can be spent on campaigns, civic participation will be more economically diverse amongst residents. Nadya would also like to see limits on the amount of special interest or development dollars candidates can accept, and limits on how much they can both fundraise and self-fund for campaign purposes as well.
From real-estate and urban planning, to access to educational resources and internship opportunities, and arts and culture -- Nadya believes that more community-minded university relations could add alternative solutions to support Cambridge residents of all ages. Nadya believes that universities (and their students) should play a more active role in taking responsibility for their impact on the Cambridge community. Of all the candidates, Nadya is the most prepared to mobilize and make a difference in community-minded university relations as a student herself.
First and foremost, Nadya is excited to keep pushing for universities to meet more of the demand for graduate student housing. She was so excited to see that the petition (she also signed) was passed for more graduate student housing to be built alongside the MIT Volpe development. Nadya believes university students can be playing a more active role in bringing tutoring and college counseling services, public service events, and other academic opportunities directly to Cambridge youth -- Cambridge City Council can be an integral liaison to making these partnerships possible. The universities themselves can also create more educational, internship, and employment opportunities for cambridge students and residents. With the world’s most well-endowed institutions right here in Cambridge, there is no excuse -- Cambridge needs a force like Nadya to cultivate these community-minded university relations.
Arts and Community
Nadya is a strong arts advocate and believes that Cambridge City Council can be doing a lot more to support access to arts for all residents -- especially Cambridge youth. From her own personal and professional experiences, Nadya has learned to view arts as one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal to heal, push forward progress, and engage creative and critical thinking. She believes that Cambridge, as a city, needs to ensure that art is integrated into the lives and education of students from preschool to high school.
Nadya’s passion for the arts comes from a very personal place. She grew up in a family that was very arts-focused -- her mother is a writer and her father was a painter turned ice sculptor. Nadya has been dancing since she was two-years-old. She danced pre-professional ballet throughout her teen years and continues to dance on Harvard’s competitive hip hop team. Just like Cambridge was a constant in Nadya’s life while growing up with significant instability -- dance, singing, music, and writing were also constants in Nadya’s life. These creative outlets helped her and her family heal from trauma and cope during times of uncertainty.
One of the things that makes Cambridge unique is the vibrant community. Nadya hopes to promote more public celebrations that celebrate this special community. Her favorite event is currently the City Dance Party, and she hopes to see more events like this in the future.