Somerville mayor gives guest lecture for political science seminar

–Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone speaks to a group of Tufts students and faculty at a lunch organized by the Tisch College on Nov. 2. Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone was invited to campus to lead a guest lecture in a sophomore political science seminar on Monday morning, as well as a lunch with students.

Curtatone was invited to give the lecture by Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor, in Berry’s course, Politics in the City.”

During the lecture, Curtatone led students in discussions about issues that cities face, such as challenges surrounding transportation, affordable housing, public health and safety and environmental sustainability. He said that cities that are able to plan around these problems are generally successful.

“I was impressed at how in-tuned the students are about the challenges for our society and the role cities will play in that,” Curtatone said. “The students were very poignant…and understanding of the challenges around those issues.”

He added that he was fascinated by the subject matter of Berry’s course, particularly the class’ emphasis on urban policy and the crucial role cities play in the future of society.

“It was a fantastic conversation with some great young minds,” Curtatone said. “I always love the opportunity to speak at the academic level. It’s great to come into Tufts and do it.”

Curtatone said that Monday’s visit was not the first time he had spoken on the Tufts campus.

“Every so often I get invited,” he said. “It’s great to do it … I have such a passion for curiosity around urban policy and cities as ecosystems. The setting today was really good because it was a very intimate, up-close conversation, and it was unfettered, which I like.”

The lunch that followed the lecture was held in Packard Hall and included several members of Tisch College. At the lunch, Curtatone answered more questions from interested students about the Somerville community.

Alan Solomont, dean of the Tisch College, began the lunch by introducing Curtatone. Solomont said that Curtatone’s accomplishments include transforming Somerville’s public transportation and redeveloping Assembly Square, and spoke about Curtatone’s leadership in shifting the conversation in cities to promote healthy and sustainable communities. He referenced the Shape Up Somerville project, which he said has been encouraging healthy eating and exercise habits in the Somerville community for over a decade.

Students at the lunch asked Curtatone questions about the Somerville community and the mayor’s policies, including topics such as the Shape Up Somerville initiative, the pressures faced by immigrant communities within Somerville, and the controversy surrounding Green Line construction.

Students asked a number of questions about the changes that have taken place in the city of Somerville during his tenure.

“We were always a creative, original, diverse community, and we needed to leverage our assets…and promote who we are and what’s so special about us,” Curtatone said. “[We] used to be called ‘Slummerville’ … We vowed that we would change that narrative. As a community, we started to say we’re not gonna sell short any longer.”

Curtatone also addressed the controversy surrounding the Green Line Extension Project, which has sparked negative media attention in recent months due to uncertainty regarding the project’s costs.

“The Green Line’s happening,” Curtatone said. “If you do the math, you’ll know it’s happening.”

He added that many community members have put a lot of work into the Green Line project.

“Members of the community — the public, the activists…put their blood, sweat and tears behind it,” Curtatone said. “If we can’t do the Green Line… what the hell can we do as a state? It’ll happen.”

One student asked Curtatone what measures he was taking to ensure the Green Line Extension project would not displace Somerville residents. Curtatone replied by saying that the project alone would not necessarily have such an effect and that a more complicated set of factors, including wage disparity, contribute to resident displacement.

After the lunch, he told the Daily that he preferred straightforward conversations over lectures and speeches.

“I always take a cup of coffee and a conversation over anything,” he said. “I love the casual setting of it, and I’m just, at the end of the day, someone who grew up in the community, trying to help make the city better with everyone else, and to share my experience with the Tufts community is something special.”