There’s a great educational and civic opportunity awaiting any Cambridge resident bold enough to pursue it.
You won’t make a dime off it, but it won’t cost you a dime either. I’m talking about making yourself available to serve on one of Cambridge’s numerous boards and commissions. I can testify from personal experience that it’s a great way to get a tuition-free civic education and meet plenty of great people.
First of all, you don’t necessarily have to be an expert in anything. The only essential requirements are that you be sane, reasonable, and willing to learn. Depending on which board interests you, experience may be helpful, but don’t let that stand in the way of your applying.
I’ve served on quite a few of these committees. Here a few notes on my experiences:
In the mid-1980s I served on a water and sewer advisory board appointed by the late, great Mayor Al Vellucci. I can say without hesitation that we accomplished absolutely nothing on that committee.
However, I learned everything there is to know about Cambridge’s water and sewer systems. Since then, I’ve given tours of the watershed and have been something of a cheerleader for Cambridge water.
So, if you think about it, the committee led to a very positive outcome for me, and I’ve done what I can to be Cambridge’s water ambassador since then. Win for the city, and a win for me.
From the late-1980s until today, I’ve served on a series of recycling committees for the city.
When I started out I knew almost nothing about recycling, but today I am Compost Man and I still get referrals from Public Works. I can’t tell you how many good friends I’ve made over the years through my involvement with recycling in Cambridge. It has opened many a door for me.
During the mid-1990s, I served on the Central Square Committee which made recommendations for streetscape improvements in Central Square. When I walk through the square today and see people congregating on the sidewalks and experiencing a much-improved pedestrian experience, I feel a deep sense of accomplishment. I also feel a greater sense of loss when anything bad happens. I now serve on the Central Square Advisory Committee, a group that reviews development proposals.
Not only do I get an education in architecture and economic and community development whenever we meet, I get to witness real cooperation between businesses, property owners, and residents. When the Underground Railway Theater and Nora Theater have their first shows in their new building in another year or so, I’ll be in a first row seat.
Since 1995, I’ve served on the “Technical Working Committee for the Computerization of the Cambridge Elections”, or TWCC for short. As a result of that education, I am contacted several times per week by people around the country and the world about election-related matters.
As a math guy, I’ve had plenty of fun doing election simulations using actual Cambridge ballot data. Your ideas of fun may be different, but this works for me.
I also served in the late 1990s on the Library 21 Committee (which worked on the siting of the new main library) and on the Green Ribbon Open Space Committee. Both of these provided tremendous opportunities for me to learn new things and to contribute to the betterment of my city. What more can a citizen ask for than that?
It would be misleading to suggest that serving on a board or commission is always a pleasure. The regulatory boards, in particular, such as the Planning Board, the Board of Zoning Appeals, the Conservation Commission, and (may it rest in peace) the Rent Control Board are not all fun and games. They can also take up more time than you care to give. They are, however, all enormously rewarding.
I invite you to put your citizenship into action and give yourself the best education money can’t buy. Learn about all of Cambridge’s boards and commissions and send in your name.
Call the City Manager’s Office at (617) 349-4300 about the opportunities that await you.