Madison Mayoral Candidate Raj Shukla
Future Urban Spaces
Raj Shukla is a first-generation Indian American whose
parents moved to the United States from the subcontinent
of India in the 1960s.
“We decided we wanted to revise our standards for this community,” Shukla said. “We wanted to set the bar higher for us and we wanted to be a leader on climate
issues. So we started having discussions with the community. What we started seeing was a whole bunch of new people coming to these meetings. It wasn’t just
the same old, same old folks. It was young people and seniors and students and Brown people and White people and a very different crowd that was coming to these
meetings. What they wanted was us to reach higher. So we set a goal of 100 percent renewable energy. It would be city government first and then the community. We
wanted city government to do it within the next 10 years. We want to do it faster. We wanted to set the bar higher and they wanted to find ways to bring more people
into the process and make sure that this was something that wasn’t just an intellectual exercise happening in city hall, but that the entire community could be a part
Shukla is now the executive director of River Alliance of Wisconsin, a sustainable living and environmentalist group.
Shukla brings a “can do” attitude to his run for mayor of Madison. Due to the many environmental — in the broadest meaning of the word — issues and forces
impacting Madison, Shukla believes Madison needs to be proactive in dealing with those issues before they negatively impact Madison. He holds out the flooding
from last summer as an example.
“We’ve known that this was a possibility for a long time,” Shukla emphasized. “Science has been telling us this for a long time. Scientists, in fact, told the common
council in their chambers in 2015 — I was there — while they talked about here are the threats to Madison. Catastrophic flooding was one of them. We should do
something about it. One of the things that I would like to do as mayor is transform the culture a little bit on some important issues, to be a lot more proactive and a lot
less reactive on issues that we know are coming, that we know are here. Housing affordability is here and we know that it is only going to get more difficult. Transit
issues are here now. They are only going to get more difficult. So we need to be thinking and acting in a way that is going to prepare us for what we know is already
coming and not shy away from some of the difficult discussions that are going to have to happen and not shy away from the politically risky decisions that anyone is
going to have to make.”
In Shukla’s view, the city’s concept of transportation should be one where all modes of transportation are viewed equally and that transportation directly impacts —
and is impacted by — urban development.
“I think that ultimately, we need to stop viewing buses as an alternative to driving and start viewing transit as an extension of our roads,” Shukla said. “Sidewalks
aren’t an alternative to some other thing. They are a necessary way for someone to get from point A to point B. Well a bus isn’t always an alternative to someone. It’s
a necessary way for someone to get from their home to their job. It is way that commerce can progress most efficiently. Our city can grow and we can generate tax
revenues. For us to be in the situation now where some people who live right on the Isthmus have nice services. There is a bus every 10 minutes. That’s wonderful.
And then there is a huge chunk of people who don’t have that convenience and are isolated. It’s unacceptable. And not only that, it’s just untenable for our economy.
We have to figure it out. Bus rapid transit is one way of getting there. And that’s a far off way. There are financing issues there, but there are possibilities. But it’s also
tied to land use issues and how do we make communities that are walkable, that are bikeable, where amenities are nearby and you don’t need transit in the same
way. Amenities and employment opportunities are nearby. Those are decisions that aren’t directly related to transit, but absolutely impact transit in whether or not we
can do it well.”
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Raj Shukla, candidate for Madison mayor, is a first generation Indian American — his parents are from
the subcontinent of India — who learned early in life that he would have to work hard and actively
influence the environment around him to create a space where he could grow and prosper.
While Shukla began his career in community economic development, his focus evolved into one of
sustainable communities after he witnessed the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After he
moved to Madison, Shukla got involved on the city’s Sustainable Madison Committee around the time
that MG&E was proposing a rate restructuring that invoked a lot of criticism by sustainable committee
and others. Partially in response, MG&E began a community strategic planning process that ultimately led
to MG&E’s Energy 2030 initiative.
Shukla wanted to push the city of Madison further.
In order to reduce disparities and violence, Shukla feels that all sectors of the
community are going to need to focus on eliminating their root causes.
“[We need to] stop criminal acts before they are even imagined by a person by
addressing some of the root causes that drive violence, be it poverty, be it trauma, be it
a whole range of different issues that aren’t necessarily cops- and robbers-based,”
Shukla emphasized. “Do people have housing when they are young? Are they being read
to as children? Are they prepared to get to school and succeed? All of those different
components lie outside the criminal justice system in and of itself. So there is clearly a
need for much more collaboration between various units of government, between
various agencies within government, between the non-profit community and city
government. The problems are too big. They are too urgent for too many people to be
sidetracked by politics.”
Shukla sees how Madison is changing and believes that Madison has to be able to meet
the needs of all sectors of its society if it is to continue to be a great city.
“We know that Madison will simultaneously be an older city and a younger city at the
same time,” Shukla said. “We know that there will be more people. We know that there
will be people who speak different languages and look different than the people who live
here. I can say this. What I want to see is a Madison that is equitable as a matter of
moral duty and economic necessity, that is sustainable as a matter of survival and
economic necessity. I believe that is our path to a strong economy and one that is
vibrant and safe for everyone. Vibrant and safe means communities that are bikeable
and walkable, communities where people feel that they can be outdoors and meet their
neighbors and actually have a human conversation instead of just drive by or tweet at
them or whatever it is that folks are doing 20 years from now. Those three principles —
equity, sustainability and a safe and vibrant community — underpin everything I think
about this community and underpin everything that I want to do for this community. I
think all of us understand what the big issues are and what the big issues are that the
city has responsibility for like police and fire service, transportation, transit, housing and
land use. And then there is the bully pulpit and having a leader who will with moral
clarity articulate where this community needs to go to stay true to itself.”
Raj Shukla envisions a Madison for everyone.