MY BACKGROUND, WHY I'M RUNNING, AND WHAT I HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH
Meet Hongbin Gu
CHAPEL HILL IS AT AN INFLECTION POINT
The past year has been devastating for all of us. Some lost loved ones. Businesses closed down. Others worried about their day-to-day safety, health, food, and housing. This summer, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its Sixth Assessment Report, declaring a climate emergency with extreme heat waves, droughts, and severe flooding. Meanwhile, our region is under intense pressure for growth. We have seen the construction of large apartment complexes throughout our town with many more to come. How should we develop our town to benefit everyone instead of only the large corporations? How do we go beyond words to actions that preserve our environment and protect vulnerable communities?
BORN IN A WORKING CLASS NEIGHBORHOOD
I grew up in an inner-city, working-class neighborhood in Shanghai. My grandma, Popo, raised my two siblings and me in a one-room apartment by cooking meals for a community kitchen. Though she stood only 4’8’’, she was a large figure in her community, always helping neighbors in need. Popo taught me my first lesson of community service - a caring individual can make a difference.
MY MOM AND DAD
I reunited with my parents at age 10 after they were released from a labor camp in a rural village. While there, my father, an engineer, took it upon himself to build a hydronic generator to bring electricity to the villagers. He showed me the courage required to face adversity and make progress in difficult circumstances.
A LOVE FOR CHAPEL HILL
My journey brought me to Chapel Hill in 1994 when I came to UNC for graduate school on a research scholarship. For the past 27 years, I have used analytic tools to study new treatments for mental illness. While raising my two daughters in our local community and public schools, I volunteered with PTAs, food banks, and local Asian American organizations. I later served on advisory boards and organized large arts and cultural events in our community. Chapel Hill embraced my family and became our beloved hometown.
THE PAST FOUR YEARS
Serving on the Town Council
THE CHALLENGES WE FACE
In 2017, I saw a need to improve diversity and policy analysis in our town’s government. I ran for and won a seat on the Chapel Hill Town Council. Serving on the Council over the last four years has been a humbling experience. I have been in awe of the strength and mutual care Chapel Hill residents have for one another but have grown increasingly concerned about the impacts of new apartment developments. The building of these large-scale luxury apartments has driven up land value and housing costs with little care for our environment, displaced communities, or locally-owned small businesses. Over time, our young families, teachers, nurses, front-line workers, and small businesses can no longer afford to live here. Our town is losing its character and vitality.
A RECORD OF ACTION
During my service on Chapel Hill Town Council, I have fought for community interests at every opportunity, demonstrated my ability to master complex policy issues, and seek out collaborative and innovative solutions.
Urged our Town and County to take early actions during the pandemic
Supported PPE and vaccination events for Hispanic and Black communities
Petitioned for housing solutions for low-income and manufactured-housing residents
Petitioned for changes to the Blue Hill form-based code to balance commercial and residential development, reduce construction of mass parking, improve tree canopy and stormwater standards, and promote middle-income housing
Worked with the Transportation and Parks and Recreation Boards to push for pedestrian safety, protected bike lanes, and connected greenways
Advocated for government transparency and meaningful public participation
Urged for mid-and long-range budget planning concerns about the backlog of the key maintenance needs in our parks, roads, and sidewalks
If we can work together to promote our common interests, we can move beyond the polarization and factionalism that has plagued our local politics and prevented us from moving forward in recent years. Environmental stewardship, tree canopy protection, and investment in bike lanes and greenways, for example, do not have to be in conflict with economic development when we realize that a sustainable, healthy community is what attracts tech workers and companies. Public spaces, affordable housing, and public transportation also work hand-in-hand to support small businesses, young families, and entrepreneurs in our region. As mayor, I will work with my Council colleagues in partnership with our community, the university, the private sector, and regional governments to achieve our shared vision.
LEADING US INTO THE FUTURE
It’s time we match our actions to the values that we claim. We need a strong leader to guide Chapel Hill confidently and responsibly into the future. Growing up in a working-class neighborhood, I experienced urban flooding and gentrification due to mismanaged development. As an immigrant, I understand the barriers marginalized people face in their struggle to be heard and included. As a long-time volunteer, I have witnessed the great needs in our community for housing, food security, and mental health. As a research scientist at UNC, I see tremendous resources and untapped opportunities for partnerships to stir economic growth. As a mom living and raising two daughters in this community for 27 years, I want to make sure the world we leave to our kids, our neighbors’ kids, and to all future generations is a world they can thrive in, enjoy, and be proud of.