Featuring Former Raleigh City Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin… [more context and any links/videos]
Whether it’s scooters, Uber, or zoning, Mary-Ann Baldwin learned from her time as a city councilor that communities have a hard time anticipating change. Learn her advice to combat this barrier, starting with a lesson her dad shared with her at age four. For more information about The Movement head to www.transloc.com, or follow Josh Cohen on www.Twitter.com/CohenJP.
Cohen: Welcome. I’m already laughing. My guest today is Mary-Ann Baldwin. I first met Mary-Ann a couple of years ago when participating in Innovate Raleigh, which is a great nonprofit I hope she will talk about, and then continued to engage with her as a Raleigh city councilor and also as a GoTriangle board of trustees member, so I’ve known Mary-Ann for a number of years and have really enjoyed our conversations. So welcome, Mary-Ann; I really appreciate you stopping by our offices and doing a video version of this.
Baldwin: Well, thanks, Josh, for having me every time. I love following you on Twitter because you really are doing a great job putting out information that we all need to think about, and it’s high-level thinking; it’s not just shoving out a tweet and saying, “Oh, this.” It’s like, “Wow. We really need to think about our future and where we’re going,” so good on you.
Cohen: Well, thank you. That’s what we call an embedded promo, I think. So @CohenJP if you’re following at home. Thank you. All right. So, Mary-Ann, let’s maybe start with your background. I mean, I kind of teased out a little bit of that, but share with us kind of how you got to where you are today. And, again, the public stuff, the important private stuff, I mean, what’s the story of Mary-Ann Baldwin?
Baldwin: Oh, gee. Well, when I was four—[LAUGHS] Actually there’s some truth to that. When I was four, my dad took me to the voting booth, and it’s like the biggest memory I have of him, and I remember going to vote with him. And I remember he told me to pull the lever, and that’s when the curtain opened. I mean, that’s back in the day, we had this big, black curtain around you. And, oh, it was like one of those moments that was scary and it was breathtaking. So my dad instilled in me from the time I was young this sense of service, and I think I grew up thinking I wanted to make a difference in the world; I just didn’t know what that difference was.
So I started off as a journalist and then eventually moved into public relations, marketing, whatnot, but I think really when I found my voice was when I decided to run for Raleigh City Council. And I really believe as a woman that was a really hard decision for me to make because you’re putting yourself in the public, and it’s nasty out there. I didn’t realize how nasty it was, but the first time I ran somebody did a fake blog about me, there was a blog called Below the Beltline. It was anonymous, and there were all these anonymous attacks, and I was like, “Wow.” So you have to find your voice when you’re dealing with those types of things, and you have to be strong, and you have to remember why you’re running. And, for me, I wanted to make a difference, and it wasn’t ego; it was all about how can I help people who need our help.
And so that was a 10-year crusade, but also in the marketing and public relations front I work for Holt Brothers right now. For people who don’t know, Terrence and Torry Holt were football players at NC State and stars in the NFL. They came back here, and Terrence actually connected with me through LinkedIn, which is so bizarre.
Cohen: Wow. So you didn’t already know him?
Cohen: That’s wild.
Baldwin: And we hit it off, and I’ve worked with them for seven years now. I run their foundation, which supports children of a parent with cancer, and have also been a part of their entrepreneurial quest. We are a small construction firm, but we’ve grown considerably in revenues since I’ve been there.
Cohen: And done some big projects, I seem to recall.
Baldwin: We have been partners on Raleigh Union Station—
Cohen: Yeah, that’s the one I remember.
Baldwin: —which really obviously I’m very proud of. City of Raleigh Central Communications Center; Durham County’s Admin II Building. It was a huge renovation in downtown Durham.
Cohen: Oh, yeah, that’s a beautiful building.
Baldwin: Yep. It’s beautiful now. And Durham County Library, which we’re also really proud of, that’s going to be fantastic as well. So, yeah, we’ve been fortunate. We’ve done some fun projects, and one of the things I’m proudest of is we are working on the Southeast Raleigh YMCA Beacon Ridge community. It’s a purpose built community in Southeast Raleigh. There will be an affordable housing piece, but also it integrates recreation with a YMCA and education with an elementary school through the Wake County Public School System. There’ll be retail there, access to healthy foods, so it’s really about building a community that can help lift people out of generational poverty, and that is the kind of work we love to do because it speaks to our soul and it’s not just about putting up a building.
So I’ve been with Holt Brothers seven years now, helped shape that culture, and then you mentioned Innovate Raleigh. I’m still involved with Innovate Raleigh. I serve on the advisory board. It’s been a seven-year labor of love, but we have really made changes in the community and helped build our entrepreneurial—I hate this word—ecosystem, but I don’t know what other word to use.
Cohen: No, I think that’s the right word.
Baldwin: Yeah, but it’s all about building those connections and building the community. And that’s the stuff that I’m excited about.
Cohen: I mean, what I think is so interesting is how you’ve been able to meld together your personal interests and those things that feed your soul with your professional career and your volunteer career. I think you’ve really aligned those really, really well, which I think is the ideal. Right? I mean, that’s what you’re trying to do, right?
Baldwin: Well, if you can pull it all together, then what happens is the passion feeds the public service, and then the public service feeds your work life, and then your work life feeds your personal life. And my husband always jokes with me, and he said that I live to work, and I don’t see it as work; I see it as just that’s me. Again, I’m going to back to what I said. It’s about making a difference.
Cohen: Yeah. So let’s kind of take a journey into your public-service life. So you were a Raleigh city councilor for 10 years and just rolled off last year. Is that right?
Baldwin: Last year, mm-hmm.
Cohen: So I guess I’m kind of interested in looking at this lens through which I’ve been looking at a lot of things right now, which is kind of to get where we need to go we need more than just technology. We need bold decisions by those stakeholders who are in the public sector and those in the private sector, in advocacy, and so forth. So help me understand from your lens when you were in city council how you thought about making decisions and what some of those decisions that you’re maybe especially proud of, maybe even some of those ones that were maybe more courageous than not.
Baldwin: Or how about stupid decisions, because—
Cohen: You can learn from those, yeah.
Baldwin: You learn from those. That’s how you really learn, so I’ll start off with the dumbest thing we ever did.
Cohen: All right. Let’s start there.
Baldwin: I was on the council maybe 30 days, and we voted to ban garbage disposals. Let’s say the uproar was tremendous, and I remember sitting at the table. Now, I’d only been there 30 days, and one of the things I had kind of vowed was I was going to keep my mouth shut and learn instead of jumping in there. I think the first meeting I said something, I said one thing, and Mayor Meeker said, “That’s an excellent point, Councilor Baldwin,” and I said, “Shut up. Don’t say another word.” I was really committed to learning, and we had the recommendation made to us to ban garbage disposals. And I guess the whole idea was that would prevent grease from being thrown down sinks, and you could reduce environmental, utility-related incidents.
Even my daughter called me the next day and said, “What are you thinking? If I’m moving back to Raleigh, I want a garbage disposal,” and I had people calling me like crazy. And then WPTF called me and asked me to be on the Bill LuMaye Show to discuss my decision. And I learned right then and there that I needed to speak up because when I was sitting at that table it didn’t feel right, and I wanted to say, “Should we send this to committee?” but I didn’t have what I felt was the knowledge, the confidence, or the gumption to speak up.
So we ended up with something that was a bit of a mess, and I remember going on the Bill LuMaye Show. It was Rick Martinez and Donna interviewing me, and before they could even ask, I said, “Okay, I made a mistake. I’m just going to put it out there.” And they were like, “What were you thinking.” And I told them exactly what I just told you, Josh, that I did not have the confidence, the knowledge, or the experience to speak up when I should have. And that was probably the best lesson I ever learned on city council, was when my gut was telling me something, to speak up. So, number one, learning from a mistake, we ended up turning that around.
Cohen: And owning your mistake too. I mean, I think that’s the important corollary there. Right?
Baldwin: Mm-hmm. Oh, yeah. I owned it, and I think people respected that because it’s easy to make a decision and then blame somebody else, and it was like, “No, that was my fault.” I didn’t ask the right questions. I didn’t have the confidence, and that took me from here to there. It was probably the best thing that ever happened to me on the council. But I think where people get into conflicts on council or in other elected roles, especially locally because we make decisions as a group, people make decisions in different ways. So I’m one of those people, I make a decision pretty quick. I go by my gut; I go by data, and I look at it, and I usually know right where I am. There have been a few situations where I’ve gone back and forth and said, “Oh, I need more data. I need to hear from more people,” but I pretty much am a gut-instinct kind of person.
And then when I served on the council I served with some folks who were very circular decision makers. And when you get that all together sometimes you have conflict, and it’s not so much conflict about where you end up, but it’s conflict about how you get there.
Cohen: That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought about that before, so conflict in the process almost.
Baldwin: Conflict in the process, conflict in the way of thinking. And I’m not saying either way of decision-making is right or wrong; I think it just presents conflicts in the process. And then you have people who don’t want to make decisions, and that makes it even more difficult, and then you have people who are willing to compromise, and you have people who aren’t willing to compromise, so all of that feeds into the decision-making process.
I think that when I look at some of the decisions we had to make as a council approving the new comprehensive plan—we hadn’t done a new comp plan in years—and the unified development ordinance, the UDO in the slang term, that was really one of those processes that you had to bring everybody together and work really hard to move something forward because there was something in it that everybody didn’t like. And, you know, some of the things fell by the wayside.
One of those things was accessory dwelling units. We could not build consensus on that, but it came out, and we moved forward with the bigger picture because there was a bigger picture. And working with Mitch Silver at the time, our former planning commissioner, now Commissioner of Parks in New York City, you know, he was also one of those visionary leaders who could help you get there. Also the public process in that was very extensive, and in Raleigh we have a very engaged community, so everything we do is part of that public process. And sometimes that can hold you back as well, because if you keep listening and listening and listening you’re not making decisions; at some point you have to make a decision.
Cohen: Yeah, and I think that’s actually a really interesting kind of connection point, because I think that’s definitely an area that I’ve seen that, kind of trying to determine where that right balance is between community engagement—right? You don’t want to just make decisions imperiously. Right?
Cohen: The same time as you don’t want to have community engagement for years at a time either. Right? So it’s this happy medium in trying to understand. Going back to your point about the process, I think that’s where the process comes into play. Right?
Cohen: If you can lay out your process ahead of time, say, “This is the approach we’re going to take. We want to have community engagement, but we have to make a decision, so we’ll limit our community engagement to this framework; we’ll say this is what we want to do to ensure that we’re getting all of the community’s voices in that engagement, and then once we have that we’re going to move forward.” Right? And I think just being clear on that process goes a long way.
Baldwin: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I think the City of Raleigh did an excellent job with that on Dix Park. They had the consultants come in through the whole master-planning process, and they laid it out. They said, “This is what we’re going to do over the next year, year and a half,” and everybody knew what to expect. They reached out through technology, but they also had—oh, man. They showed up at festivals, and they were everywhere. They went to schools. They engaged children, which, hey, it’s a park. You know, you want to hear from kids. You want to hear from people in all ages and all communities. They went to churches. I mean, it was a true engagement process. And then they had public meetings where people came, you know, what I would call your typical public meeting, but then they used Neighborland to solicit comments from people. Over 75,000 people participated in that process.
Cohen: I think the thing about Dix Park which I think is so interesting is that, yes, it took a year; yes, you got 75,000 perspectives, but you should do that for something as impactful as Dix Park. Right?
Cohen: So if you’re not talking about an asset that you’re going to be kind of almost creating your city around for the next 75 years—like, this is your Central Park; this is your opportunity to make this this bridge between NC State and downtown. I mean, there’s all kinds of really great—yeah, that’s exactly what you should do.
Baldwin: Right. And bring in international experts who can help you, who have done it before, and compliment that with people who know the local community. I think they did a tremendous job, but it was also one of those things that was laid out, everybody knew when the decision would be made, and it was brought before council and approved this week. Raleigh usually doesn’t do things that way. They will drag it out because they want to make sure everybody is heard, and everybody should be heard, but they should also be heard in the timeframe that you’ve allotted.
Cohen: Yeah, and I guess to maybe draw a parallel there to your earlier story about the mistake you made with the garbage disposal, I mean, it takes confidence to say you made a mistake.
Cohen: It takes confidence to say—
Cohen: Yeah, or, “I’m going to make a different call than maybe what some others might want,” right?
Cohen: And I think depending on what the goals are of the other folks on the council or the elected officials, that can get in the way there. So I think that’s part of the challenge there that I see, and I think that’s part of this larger theme of what I call change management, so I want to touch on this. And I’m a Durham guy; you’re a Raleigh gal, so I can’t speak as much to the Raleigh scene as much as you can, but certainly there’s been challenges with ADUs. You talked about them earlier, accessory dwelling units, those are the granny flats that are the garage apartments and so forth. They’re in the city, and they are very easy ways to add density and add affordable housing because they tend to be smaller. You have ADUs; you have scooters; you have sidewalk dining; you have Airbnb. There’s been a lot of changes—
Baldwin: Well, retail.
Cohen: There you go. So there’s been a lot of changes in Raleigh, and so I’m really curious how organizations deal with change. And so I guess I’m curious from your perspective on what recommendations you may have on how to help cities and municipalities and governments deal with these changes that are happening.
Baldwin: Wow, that’s a big question. First, I think people do a really poor job of anticipating change, and I’ll give you an example. As we’ve talked in Raleigh about scooters or Uber and Lyft, say, or Airbnb, this has happened in other cities. Why aren’t we taking a more proactive approach in anticipating what’s coming and then start discussing how we can develop regulations before they get here? Nobody is doing a good job of that. And that’s one of the things even from a state-government standpoint; we should have people looking at these issues proactively.
If this is happening in San Francisco or California or whatnot, it’s eventually going to come here. And I had moved forward or marshaled forward an office of innovation in the City of Raleigh. It didn’t turn out exactly how I had envisioned it because they split it up into an internal and external focus, but to me if you have an office of innovation, that’s the group that should be looking at what’s happening throughout the country, anticipating trends and looking at this, and going up the food chain and saying, “Hey, this is going to be something that we have to deal with, and right now our ordinances don’t fit; they don’t mesh. So how can we anticipate what’s coming and get a jumpstart on this before it happens?”
So we had seen that scooters were being dropped in cities throughout the country. Why weren’t we ahead of that? So I think that cities in particular and even states have been reactive instead of proactive, and I think when that happens you lose the battle before the battle even begins, because you’re not coming from a focus of strength; you’re reacting with fear.
Cohen: Do you have a guess on why that reactive versus proactive happens?
Baldwin: That’s the way we’ve always done it. I think it’s enmeshed in cultures. Government is slow to move. They’ve never put an emphasis on this and said, “You know what? We’re going to proactively look at it,” so it’s a whole new way of looking at things, and that’s not usually what government does. Government reacts versus proacts.
Cohen: But it doesn’t have to be that way, right?
Baldwin: It does not have to be that way. In fact, what I would recommend is that most large cities create an office of innovation that is a gathering point for folks to come together to discuss issues in transportation or issues in housing. It’s not just one person; it’s knocking down all the siloes, bringing people together. I think if state government did that—and I’m not just talking about the State of North Carolina, I’m talking about state governments in general, cities in general—they could jump on these things quicker, but also having some type of conduit to get that information out to others.
So there’s the National League of Cities, and the governors associations, and the mayors coalitions, whatnot; having that go through a chain where it’s like, “Oh, this is what we’re seeing, and this is how we dealt with it,” so there’s best practices out there and more sharing of information. You know, there’s Governing magazine; they could play a bigger role in sharing that information. I love CityLab, personally. That’s something I read often, and Smart Cities, because it keeps me on top of trends, and it also helps me understand what other cities are dealing with and how they’re dealing with it.
Cohen: Yeah, my hypothesis on this is more related to kind of throughput. Right? So you can never get ahead of all the other stuff on your plate in order to start thinking about the future. Right?
Cohen: Then you think about, “All right, well, are we doing too much?” And the thought there is like, “All right, well, it’d be great if we had all these other new investments in parks and all these other things.” That’s fine in theory. The question I often wonder about—and I’ll give the Raleigh city manager some credit here because I had a conversation with him about this a number of years ago—making sure we’re taking care of the current investments that we’re doing now and making sure they’re really doing well as opposed to investing in something that’s not there yet. Right? And so I think there’s a balance there because you want to do the long-term stuff; you want to do the new stuff; at the same time you also got to make sure you’re doing your existing stuff right.
Baldwin: Exactly. And here’s the other thing; you can’t chase every shiny thing either. So looking at your current investments, making sure that they are being done and done well is the top priority, but I think with change too sometimes we get too in the weeds and we’re focused on the wrong things, and that’s why we can’t be proactive. We’re focused on what’s down in the ground instead of thinking from a very visionary and big-picture perspective.
Cohen: Well, and I think the conversation going on right now with accessory dwelling units, I think, is a great example of that. I think if you start to say, “What as a community do we value? What do we want to achieve short-term, long-term, etcetera?” then you start to think about, “Okay, well, it’s more efficient to have more density closer to all of our existing infrastructure. It better serves our transit network. It better serves our waste collection.” I mean, there’s all these benefits to having more density in our downtown, urban core. And yet there’s this conflict there. And so I do think that they’re forgetting what the long-term vision is, and getting caught in those weeds, I think, is where some of this goes sideways.
Baldwin: Mm-hmm. Well, you know what’s interesting? The Raleigh chamber did an inter-city visit to Seattle, and one of the permanent developers there was on a panel talking to us. And somebody asked her, “Why is it so hard to build density in transit corridors?” I mean, duh. And she thought about it for a second. She said, “You know, people can’t love what they can’t see,” and I thought about that and went, “Oh, yes. That makes so much sense.” It’s that, being able to see it, the vision, and then being able to embrace it. When you can’t see it, you can’t embrace it, or maybe what you see is something that’s not really going to be there.
Again, I’m going to go back to the whole idea of change being scary, and, I’ll say, there are people who prey on that. They want people to be afraid because that’s how they keep power, elected officials. And so if you’re scared, then they can be your savior. Does that make sense?
Cohen: Yeah, well, then that ties back into the different goals that different folks have for being in elected-official or volunteer positions or whatever; different people have different goals.
Cohen: And some people kind of need to feed that ego, as you mentioned before, and some people are more interested in serving the community and achieving that long-term vision. And so I guess the more we, as a community, can get around those that have the right goals, I think, we’re more likely to have a better outcome. It’s not going to be perfect, but I think we’re more likely to have that outcome.
Baldwin: City council is supposed to be kind of like a board of directors, your policy makers. That’s the group that should be setting this big vision and then letting the staff who are the experts do their job and help you carry out that vision. But when you as a council start getting in the weeds and you want to do the staff’s job—guess what—nobody wins in that situation, and that’s what I see happening right now particularly in Raleigh where some members of council are not allowing the staff to do their jobs. They’re not allowing the experts to be the experts that they are. We need our elected officials to be those big thinkers, creating policy that’s good for the community. So what happens is staff is afraid to make changes when they’re always being second-guessed or criticized, so it creates this culture of internal fear as well.
Cohen: So let’s maybe pivot a little bit, which is to kind of move away from some of the challenges associated with this and think about the positive, which is, who is doing this well, kind of thinking about this in the right way, making long-term decisions that are in line with the community vision, making brave decisions that might be controversial to some but good for that long-term vision?
Baldwin: Well, we mentioned Raleigh with Dix Park. I think that was a great example of making some bold decisions and moving something forward. Wake County has done a really good job with their affordable housing effort and really bringing about change and putting their money where their mouth is by raising taxes to support affordable housing fund and also outlining all the steps that you can take and should take to create more affordability. They have really put an emphasis on not being an “either-or” but an “and.” We need to do all of the above.
I think Durham is doing an outstanding job envisioning a future and really focused on equity, and I think that that’s really important. And they’re not just talking about equity; they are building this into their future. The mayor recently came out with his state of Durham address, and talked about a $95-million bond for affordable housing, and I think that’s great, but the fact is you’re not going to do what we need to do for the future just by throwing taxpayer dollars at it. It has to be also bringing the development community along, changing zoning laws, allowing for what’s called Missing Middle Housing, you know, those accessory dwelling units, the flag lots, duplexes, triplexes, small apartments, cottage courts.
All of that stuff is the type of housing we used to have before the 1950s when—well, it’s painful to even talk about the zoning laws and why they were enacted and created the way they were, but Durham, you know, the mayor isn’t just talking about this fund; he’s also talking about how we’re going to build equity with all these other means. That is brave, and that is visionary, and that is bold. I wish we were at that same place in other communities, but I think Durham is doing an excellent job.
If you think nationally, Minneapolis obviously set—I mean, they are brining forward the largest up-zoning in the history of any city in the United States, and they’ve basically said, “We’re going to allow different types of housing in single-family districts.” And, you know, that should be the example we’re all looking at, is how Minneapolis did that and how they had the political courage to get it done.
Cohen: It’s on my list to visit and really dig into that because I think that’s a great story, I mean, to be able to do it at a citywide level.
Cohen: And, again, that goes to that vision. Right? That goes to, like, “What is our community vision? What do we value? And how do we then marshal the resources to make that happen?” And I think it’s a really compelling story along with some of the investments they’re making in transit as well, and, you know, you put those two together—again, it’s not just housing, but it’s housing and transportation, and then you can add in some of these other pieces. And what comes to mind is I think about a team. And obviously you work for the Holt Brothers who have spent a lot of years on sports teams and probably still do in various formats, but you can have the best players, but if you don’t operate as a team it’s not going to get you anywhere. So you could have great leaders, but if you’re not in the right environment to be successful, you know, there’s only so much you can do to kind of pull the community along. You kind of need both the conditions necessary to be successful and the right leadership necessary to be successful, and you need to pair those up.
Baldwin: Exactly. And I had been to Minneapolis, again, on an inter-city visit. Oh, man. It was more than 10 years ago, I think. And one of the things that really impressed me about Minneapolis–Saint Paul is they’re commitment to their parks, their commitment to recreation. They had a festival in January or December, whenever it was, but they celebrated the fact that it was cold and there was ice, and they didn’t shy away from that, so you could tell they were from tough stock.
Baldwin: You know, this isn’t people who are used to 70-degree, balmy weather, but they made the most of what they had. I remember an urban greenway that we walked down. I was like, “Why don’t we have this?” It was one of those experiences where you saw a city that was going to take that next leap, and they have, as you mentioned, with transit and housing. You know, transit and housing go hand in hand. And I think too with Wake County, the Wake County Transit Plan finally getting past, but that was done methodically. It was put on the ballot when we thought we could win it, which we did. A lot of thought went into that. And now you see with the transit forming, the affordable housing piece kind of going hand in hand with that. That’s critical to a community’s success.
And if I had to give an example of a state that I think is doing some of the right things it would be Washington State. You’ve seen over the years some of the larger cities like Seattle for instance bucking accessory dwelling units or that whole, “We have to protect single-family homes.” You know, some of our most desirable neighborhoods have duplexes in them and accessory dwelling units, some of our most desirable. Well, Seattle, when we went out there said, “Don’t do what we’ve done. Be bold. Move forward.” Now the state is saying, “You know what? You haven’t been bold enough. We’re going to move forward with some legislation,” one in particular on accessory dwelling units where this is meant to encourage the construction of ADUs. They basically looked at cutting in half the fee you would pay for your license, reduce the utility hookup so it’s proportionate to the house. So in other words if you’re building an ADU with a 2,500-square-foot house you’re not going to charge what you would charge for a utility hookup for a 2,500-square-foot house. So the state now is jumping in and saying, “We recognize there’s a crisis, and we’re going to help you solve it.”
Cohen: Yeah, that’s good. That is good leadership. All right. Well, let’s wrap up with tangible takeaways. So you’ve given a couple already, which is taking a proactive approach; you’ve talked about really knowing your lane and making sure at the board level, the council level that you’re staying at a kind of policy-and-vision framework kind of level. What are some other tangible takeaways that you might be able to give to our audience that they can apply in their communities?
Baldwin: I think, first off, learn from other communities. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single time, but also respect experts. We live in a culture now where it’s like, “Oh, they’re an expert. Oh, they’re a scientist on climate change. We don’t believe them.” Well, who are you going to believe? I mean, these are people who are trained. When I had gone to a ULI conference—
Cohen: Urban Land Institute.
Baldwin: Yes, mm-hmm, Urban Land Institute; went out there to Los Angeles to learn about TOD.
Cohen: Transit oriented development.
Baldwin: Yes, I’m really getting into the—
Cohen: The acronyms.
Baldwin: Yeah, the acronyms. But, yeah, went out there to learn about transit oriented development and what they’ve done in LA and bring back that knowledge to GoTriangle, but I also sat in on a number of sessions, one on homelessness, one on equity, two on affordable housing, and heard from everybody from the former head of HUD under the Obama administration, to officials in Seattle, Charlotte, Los Angeles, you know, all throughout the country on what they’re doing to increase their affordable housing stock and how they’re dealing with homeless issues or not.
That was an eye-opening experience for me, and it really made me more passionate because I heard from people, “The single most important thing you can do is encourage accessory dwelling units or granny flats in your community because it’s the one way people can contribute to the housing supply without it falling on taxpayers.” That made a real impression on me because it came from experts, people who do this day in and day out. So educate yourself, be open-minded, learn from experts; I think those are three really important takeaways. And that’s from an elected officials level, but that’s also from a public level.
As a resident of a city, you can do this too, and you can influence how your city grows. In Raleigh and in Durham now we’re seeing this kind of what they call the YIMBY, “Yes In My Back Yard,” which is kind of like the counter to, “Not In My Back Yard.” But there’s a lot of young people out there, and I think what’s happening is they have hit that age when they’re 28, 30, they might be buying their first house, and they’re sitting there saying, “I want my community to look different than what it is now,” and they’re getting involved. And I think the lesson there from that is get involved in local politics. Everybody talks about national politics. National politics really doesn’t have a lot to do with our lives compared to local politics, so you can really make a difference and be that influencer locally.
The other thing I would say is show up. If you’re sitting back in your house drinking a beer complaining, you know what? As far as I’m concerned, you have no right to complain. You need to show up. And show up doesn’t necessarily mean go to a meeting. It could mean getting online and participating in a city survey. It could mean emailing your friends and saying, “This is something I feel passionate about. Can you get involved?” It could mean getting involved in a nonprofit that matters to you, volunteering at your school. There’s a lot of ways to do it, but it’s the most important thing you can do to first off realize the value of community service and realize the way you can make a difference. And finally I would say the biggest thing people can do is go out and vote.
Cohen: Vote, yeah.
Baldwin: We have this gift, as my dad when I was four years old demonstrated, where we have a say, and voting is the ultimate say. And if you’re not going out to vote, then you’re not participating in your community, and, to me, if we can stir more interest in local voting, that would be a really good thing. Right now in the City of Raleigh I think the last election maybe 11% to 13% of eligible voters participated. And we have off-year elections. That’s dismal.
Baldwin: And that’s not the majority. I’ve heard people on council say, “We have a mandate.” When 10% to 13% of the people come out and vote, if you really believe you have a mandate, that’s when you could really mess up.
Cohen: I mean, even if you got that to 25% or 30%, that would just be such a huge—I mean, in a city the size of Raleigh, that really is fascinating that that few people are taking advantage of that opportunity. Wow. Well, I think you did a great job of bringing that home all the way to the beginning, which is you being four years old going to vote with your father. So thank you, Mary-Ann. This is so great to have your perspective as a citizen of Raleigh, as a person who has given generously to your community in service but also someone who has served in an elected capacity and learned a ton of lessons in that experience. So thank you so much for joining me today.
Baldwin: Well, thank you. Thanks for having me, and thanks for what you’re doing, because I think that the information that you’re brining forward can help us all learn, you know, what I just talked about on the engagement piece, so thank you.
F: Thanks for listening. If you like what you hear, head to Apple Podcasts and subscribe, rate, and review this podcast. You can find out more at TransLoc.com or follow Josh Cohen on Twitter at @CohenJP. Be sure to join us next week for another episode of The Movement.