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John Pitkin

Cambridge City Hall
Cambridge City Hall is located near Central Square.

Long-time Cambridge resident and environmental activist John R. Pitkin has centered his campaign for Cambridge City Council around combating climate change and encouraging citizen participation, issues that have garnered increased attention among residents in recent years.

This year’s election marks Pitkin’s third attempt at securing a position on the city council, following his previous campaigns in 2001 and 2003.

Pitkin said he thinks the surest road to environmental sustainability is getting Cambridge residents more involved in civic affairs.

“If this city, which certainly has something to do with climate change and the environment, isn’t working and if people want to do more than the city government’s doing, the best thing I can do about climate change is to get our government to work,” Pitkin said in an interview Tuesday. “The people are the head of the government, so making it more democratic will lead to more action.”

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Born in New York City, Pitkin earned degrees from Columbia University and Oxford University. He currently works as a demographer conducting research on population change and immigration in the United States. As part of his professional work, Pitkin also serves as a consultant for university research groups. Pitkin and his wife have lived near Inman Square for nearly 50 years, where they raised two daughters.

Pitkin first entered Cambridge city affairs in the wake of a transportation crisis in 1972, when he chaired the Cambridge Transportation Forum. That forum offered citizens the opportunity to participate in planning city transportation, something Pitkin hopes to expand today.

As president of the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association, Pitkin said he has attempted to regain control over rapid commercial growth, a struggle that culminated in his initial 2001 campaign for City Council.

While still deeply invested in issues of transportation and development, Pitkin said climate change has since become one of his highest priorities.

“My grandchildren were just born,” he said. “I was concerned about them so I said, ‘I’ll become a full-time environmental activist.’”

Pitkin said he helped organize two climate congresses hosted in Cambridge City Hall and “pushed the city to take more concrete action” against climate change in 2009.

Pitkin also said he would hope to address traffic congestion and infrastructure in Cambridge, caused by growth in both jobs and population. He said he wants to reestablish a forum similar to the one he previously led, where citizens can voice concerns and suggestions regarding transportation.

“Too much of what’s being proposed is top-down,” he said. “When you’re making big decisions you need to know that the people support them.”

Pitkin acknowledged that while Harvard is “trying to be a good neighbor,” some problems the city currently faces — notably in transportation, housing, and environmental sustainability — call for further action on the University’s part.

“I think the University should be paying much more to the city in lieu of taxes,” Pitkin said. “We ought to be pressing the University to do more. But how do you run a democracy when you’ve got 100,000 citizens and then you have a world class university as a citizen? How do you balance that? It’s difficult.”

Harvard spokesperson Brigid O’Rourke wrote in an emailed statement that the University does not comment on statements from individual candidates, but referred The Crimson to previous statements.

“As a reliable and engaged partner, the University seeks to strike a thoughtful balance between taxes, PILOT, and mission driven community programs that are a meaningful extension of Harvard’s education and research mission and reflect years of collaboration between the University, its neighbors, and city partners,” O’Rourke wrote.

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