Updated: Feb 9, 2022
by 4Squares Residential Group in Partnership with Judi 411
Before you decide to tune out another City Council meeting in favor of Netflix or some other more civilized entertainment, check in with Justin Tseng, one of our newest City Council members.
His youthful take on our city - and its strengths and weaknesses - is both a breath of fresh air, and an insider's look at our city's public schools, neighborhoods and economic plan. 4Squares talked to Justin about growing in Medford, and looking to the future, as a resident, a candidate and member of our City Council.
First, congratulations on your new role as a member of Medford City Council.
Thank you, and thank you for including me in this series!
While many readers know your name and face from the campaign, others may not realize you've lived in Medford since childhood. What have you enjoyed most about growing up here?
That's a tricky question because there's so much about growing up here that's great; my family moved here from Taiwan in 2002 when I was two years old. I think we're a city that welcomes new residents and immigrants - people want to help you navigate the city.
When we moved here to the Wellington neighborhood, our neighbors were super welcoming. And going through the school system here, I found that teachers, classmates, and parents all wanted to help me succeed here and help my family do well. And I think that spirit isn't found everywhere. I feel super lucky to have grown up with something like that.
There are other benefits to living here and other great parts about living in Medford. Every year, especially during the campaign, I've found these little pockets of fun places to go, or just new benefits being so close to Boston and Cambridge. But in Medford, we have our distinct character, and I'll always go back to the feeling of being welcomed growing up here, which has shaped my life.
What do you love about your Medford neighborhood?
I live on College Avenue now, near Tufts, and not far from Barry Park, in what I believe is South Medford. We're in that Medford neighborhood where it's not quite South Medford, but not Medford Square. It's close to Hillside, but you can't say you're there either.
Ah, yes, I'm also near Barry Park, but some locals have informed me that we're not South Medford, so I say I live between Barry Park and Barry Clemente, Captain of the Medford Police Department.
That's awesome. Captain Barry is a local icon. I think we might need a new name for our little pocket of Medford. [laughs]
Well, what’s important is that you've chosen to remain in Medford, where your roots are. What about living here makes you want to stay?
Yeah, I mean, it's a big question, especially since I'm so young. At the same time, my life experience extends beyond Medford. Until the pandemic, I returned to Taiwan to see family each summer, and I also spent time abroad in Europe and lived in Paris. But at the end of the day, when I think of where I want to settle down which community I want to serve, I have a solid connection to Medford.
There are kind of two ways to look at this. I want to start a family one day, and Medford is the perfect place for it. We have easy access to Boston and Cambridge, and there's also a lot to do within Medford itself. It's I don't find that too big or too small. It's kind of like, as Goldilocks says, "just right."
The other way to look at it is that I've always believed in service. I think it's important to give back. To me, it was important to give back to Medford. As the son of immigrants, it wasn't always easy for me, but there were many people here that helped me along the way. And this is the community that I want to give back to.
This leads me to my next question: What inspired you to run for the city council?
Two obvious moments made me consider running. One was looking at the problematic budget constraints that our city faced during the pandemic, particularly the budget cuts in our schools, hoping that a future stimulus would rebalance the gap. I didn't feel like this approach aligned with what people in the city truly wanted. Based on conversations with friends, parents, and the community, everyone could agree that we need to invest more in our schools. I think we're starting to have that shift in mindset. With the new city council and our relationship with the mayor, we've been clear on our priorities. I'm very hopeful that we will be investing more into education in the future.
The other moment was the Black Lives Matter movement, reckoning with racial justice across the country and within our community. Medford is a beautiful place to live. But like any other community, it has its moments, its growing pains. And what I was hearing from residents was that people thought our city could do more. I felt we needed the leadership to help us through these growing pains and to help us feel even more united in celebrating diversity. As I canvassed the city, people were aligned with celebrating diversity and inclusivity in every neighborhood we went to. And I felt that our city's leadership needed to be more reflective of the voices within our community.
We see movement in that direction. The mayor recently announced plans for a multicultural festival and similar community events in the spring and into the summer, which I think will be great for the businesses in the city. When I look at how the 2020s started, we were not the easiest, but we've already responded to it.
Photo credits: City Hall, from the City of Medford website; MacDonald Park, from the Mystic Watershed Association; and the CCSR logo, via the Medford Public Schools.
You probably discovered a lot of fun things when you're out on the campaign trail. What did you enjoy doing before the campaign, and what did you discover during the campaign.
One thing about Medford is that it's a very walkable city. I don't drive; I usually walk or take the bus to where I need to go. I enjoy taking walks and the incredible nature around us. Growing up in the Wellington area, one of my favorite walking routes is MacDonald Park. My parents and I still take walks around the river along that route down toward the McGlynn and Andrews Middle Schools. It's a gorgeous area that doesn't get as much attention as the Middlesex Fells but offers a nice view of nature while still being in the city.
Of course, there's Medford Square, home of Tenoch, where we hung out during early release days from school. You can't go wrong with a torta, burrito, or empanada from Tenoch. There's also the Japanese grocery store, Ebisuya, where many Asian-Americans go for homemade sushi and bento boxes, and the prices are very reasonable. Ebisuya's atmosphere is very relaxed and a wonderful place to stop in for a quick snack.
During the campaign, I found it cool to visit some of the smaller town squares in South Medford. Colette Bakery is a favorite of mine. Since moving from the Wellington neighborhood, I've found myself frequenting there a lot, enjoying the French pastries that remind me of living in Paris.
Then, of course, there is Oasis, the Brazilian restaurant and bakery, which I discovered during the heat of the summer while knocking on doors in the campaign. I'd stop in to take a break and enjoy a cheesy bread or cool off with one of their smoothies or acai bowls, which were so refreshing.
What I enjoy most about all of these experiences is that they show how diverse Medford is and how we have all these businesses that are so authentic and have such excellent food. Having all these local gems is a fantastic benefit to living in Medford.
So much food, so little time. As a final question, we always ask our guests the question, "What would you tell your best friend if they were considering a move to Medford?"
There seems to be a narrative that Medford is a divided city. I hear this from people within Medford and even talk to people who don't live here. But as someone who has lived here, I don't find it true at all. Medford is more than a few contentious meetings or a viral Facebook post. Medford is a city of almost 60,000 and includes people who all have their own experiences and live together in harmony. As a city, I think Medford is progressive and inclusive and strides towards a better future. Of course, there's more we can do, but I think that's the case no matter where you live. Overall I see Medford as a safe, inclusive place that's perfect if you're looking to settle somewhere either as an individual or to settle in with a family.
I think there are so many kinds of hidden benefits of living here. Our high school is one of the few with a vocational program, and we have more Advanced Placement classes than most cities in the state. We have the CCSR, the Center for Citizenship and Responsibility, which is very specific to Medford. CCSR is a student leadership organization where students develop community service while also developing leadership skills for those who may not be familiar. During my involvement, we collaborated with city councilors to learn what was needed and how we could help and even wrote some ordinances alongside our city's representatives. Having an organization within the public school system devoted to teaching the practical aspects of community building is just one thing that makes Medford unique.
So my most significant piece of advice is to come to the city and experience what life is like here. We have the Chevalier Theatre, a ton of restaurants, our own Farmers Market, outdoor concerts, and a ton of green space to walk and enjoy. Come to Medford and meet the people here because it's hard to get a sense of what is anyplace online, through a community forum or online review. Medford in real life is the best way to see what life is like here.
Now, our questions for you, dear readers: The more things change, the more they stay the same…what do you call your corner of Medford? How were you “introduced” to Medford and its neighborhoods? And how do you welcome new neighbors?
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