Course 2 alum and squash coach runs for city council

Wants more housing, balanced development

Nadeem Mazen ’06 has announced his candidacy for the Cambridge City Council. If elected in November, he will be the second MIT alumnus to serve on the council after Leland Cheung MBA ’10, who is also running for reelection. Mazen’s campaign is focusing on the issues of affordable housing, zoning, term limits for city councillors, dedicated spaces for arts, and opportunities for mentorship in K-12 education.

After graduating in 2006 with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, Mazen founded two businesses in Central Square: danger!awesome, which is a laser cutting and engraving studio, and NimbleBot, which creates interactive software and digital design. He also teaches business essentials to artists at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and is the head coach of the MIT squash team. If he is one of the nine (among two dozen candidates) to win a city council seat, which is a full-time position, he plans to leave several of these projects and reduce his teaching load to one day a week.

He decided to run for city council after he attended a zoning board meeting and a city council meeting. “I was so surprised at the huge amount of information that hadn’t been well digested for public consumption,” he said. If elected, he wants to give out educational materials to people who will be affected by decisions to give them easier entry into public meetings.

Mazen explained that his MIT education has led him to take an analytical approach to city planning. A good start, he says, is the Red Ribbon Commission, which was convened by the mayor in June 2010 to write a report on Central Square.. But Mazen hopes to encourage more analytical work on these issues.

Several issues that Mazen would like to address are particularly relevant to the MIT community, such as increasing the amount of middle-income and affordable housing available in Cambridge. “It’s difficult as a world class researcher to come to MIT and stay close enough to your work and still afford an apartment,” he told The Tech. He explains that the lack of affordable graduate housing at MIT puts pressure on the number of apartments available in Cambridge, which currently has a vacancy rate of only one percent. This drives up the cost of rent for graduate students and longtime residents alike.

Mazen argues that the city council must also do its part by paying close attention to the development plans for Central and Kendall. “It looks like there is going to be little to no affordable housing in Kendall Square, and that … the bulk of the workers that come into that space … will be coming into developments in Central.” He emphasizes the need to find solutions for developers that work not only politically but also financially. Federal housing subsidies do not exist for middle-income housing developments, but Mazen says the math still shows that developers can make a profit from them.

Development must be balanced by the preservation of the character of the squares around Cambridge, according to Mazen. “There has to be a clear plan for how these parks are going to be interconnected, for how they are going to bring benefits to the community, and for how this exchange of green space for height is going to work.” He cites the Osborn Triangle in Central Square as a good start to increase the open space in the city.

Additionally, Mazen would like the city to make more spaces available for the arts and technology. He wants to create a 20-year plan to advance entrepreneurship and arts in Cambridge, and he cites Boulder, Austin, and San Francisco as a good examples for Cambridge to follow because of the large numbers of startups in those cities and their active art scenes.

Improving the free mentorship opportunities for K–12 students in Cambridge is also on Mazen’s agenda. He says the city council can work with the Cambridge Housing Authority to establish a maker space in Cambridge and provide connections for after-school or summer internships with local professionals. “Given that there are so many geniuses per student in Cambridge, we’re lucky,” he said. “And what’s more, a lot of them want to be educators or have an interest in giving back to the community and we’re just not creating that connection.”

He admires Gary Christenson, the mayor of Malden, in particular for his ability to connect with his constituents. “It’s important to take care of individual issues, and it’s kind of a lost art. “When Mazen started one of his businesses, he had to wait a month to handle signage ordinances, so he sees helping residents with individual issues, such as small business problems or local adjudication problems, as an important role for a city councillor. Leland Cheung, who is excited about the potential of having another MIT alumnus on the council, notes that, in his own experience, members of the MIT community reach out to him in particular because of the shared connection.

This past weekend, Mazen and volunteers for his campaign filmed 200 interviews with Cambridge residents about what makes them happy about Cambridge and what they want to change. The videos will be uploaded on an interactive map of the city, which will be unveiled at the official Mazen campaign kickoff on Saturday, July 13, 3–5 p.m. at Zuzu in Central Square.