Raj Shukla, candidate for
Madison mayor:
Future Urban Spaces
As he was often the only person of color in classes within a conservative community, Shukla learned how to create his own
community.

“I grew up in Waukesha County,.” Shukla emphasized. “I think I was the person of color in Waukesha County when I was
growing up there. It was a long time ago. I was the Indian kid, the Chinese kid or Mexican kid, all of the everything. I do
believe in always embracing everyone despite differences not just because it feels right, but because it is a matter of
survival growing up in Waukesha County. You better make friends fast with lots of people who are very different than you.”

Shukla first came to Madison when his older sister enrolled at UW-Madison. He and his siblings fell in love with Madison
and all attended the UW.

“I majored in political science at UW-Madison,” Shukla said. “My sisters had done that and I just kind of fell into it. I think it’s
a large degree at the university. But I don’t think I thought at the time, ‘Oh, I want to go into policy-related stuff.’ I just wanted
to get through school.”

Upon graduation, Shukla signed up for AmeriCorps and headed to Milwaukee to work at Public Allies.

“This program had you working four days per week with an area non-profit in Milwaukee,” Shukla said. “I was working in a
foundation trying to drive businesses to the poorest census tracks in Milwaukee. We helped them employ people and sell
products as well. The main thing was for them to employ people. I did that for a few years and then worked for something
that was like a chamber of commerce. It was a civic organization called the Greater Milwaukee Committee where that
project kind of got housed.”

While Shukla started out working on urban economic development issues, he changed direction to focus on the
environment, climate change and how it impacted urban areas. It was the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina that drove him
in a new direction.

“I felt compelled to go and do something, watching what was happening there, watching the impact that the storm had
devastating the city,” Shukla recalled. “I’m a music fan. There was so much great music that came out of that place. It has
special meaning for me personally. And then I saw people suffering and the government ignoring it. I hadn’t really thought
about climate change much until then. I kept hearing that these storms are getting stronger and this isn’t going to end any
time soon, at least not in my lifetime, so we will have to learn how to manage it. I went down to New Orleans and delivered
meals and water to people. I went a few weeks after the storm. I was there during the second wave of volunteers who were
going down to help. It wasn’t immediately afterwards. I came back on a change and feeling that I needed to devote my life to
this issue and issues surrounding climate change.  It was less about the environment for me. It was about people and how
we were going to manage together. You have this example of New Orleans where it was felt that we could just ignore some
people and others we will make room for and others we’ll take care of. We’ll just ignore some people. And we can’t live like
that. I personally don’t believe in living like that.”

Back in Wisconsin, Shukla and his wife decided to live in Madison because it was between Spring Green where her family
lived and New Berlin where his was from. And they had both graduated from UW-Madison, so they made Madison home.

Shukla had gotten a job with Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project where he worked with high school students teaching them
about climate change. It was a challenge to teach the students without their eyes glazing over. They started incorporating
video games and Shukla took that concept over to Cool Choices, which had originally been called Wisconsin Climate
Change Action Initiative. The decided to enlist people to take steps to prevent climate change through video games.

“We developed a piece of software,” Shukla said. “I designed it. And I started implementing it in companies across the
state and country. The way it worked — we did this companies all over the city of Madison too — is we went into a company
and got employees to join teams and then you get them to play this very simple game that gave you points for turning off
lights when you left a room or adjusting your thermostat or changing your driving habits. You had to submit pictures and
proof of doing it. It was a fun little exercise and people built a community around sustainability. People started talking about
it. People started sharing gardening tips. There were all sorts of stuff going on. ‘Oh, this is the insulation that I put in my
house.’ They did it as a part of the game and as a part of the community that grew up around it. We would ask people to do
that. And then they started doing it organically. The trick is like, ‘Okay we wanted to know though was it actually getting
people to change their behavior on climate issues.’ That is what we really cared about. We looked at energy bills and how
much energy they were using before they played, while they played and after they played. For two years afterwards — that is
how much data we had — people were saving energy. They were changing the way that they behaved. And that had an
impact on climate change. And when you do that in aggregate across a whole company, that’s a big impact.”

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.

“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 of it.”

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.”

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.
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.

“I’m the son of immigrants,” Shukla said. “They came
here in the 1960s from India. I was born in Kansas
and grew up in New Berlin, Wisconsin in Waukesha
County. My parents showed me throughout my life,
just growing up — they grew up in poverty in rural
India — that through determination and hard work and
building a community around themselves, that you
can accomplish anything with those ingredients.”
Rah Shukla graduated from UW-Madison with a political science
major.