In front of a packed Robsham Theater, lawmakers, businessmen, and academics discussed the first Boston city-wide planning initiative in 50 years on Tuesday evening at the Imagine Boston 2030 Forum: “Making Choices for a Growing City.” The event, sponsored by Boston College’s Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy and the Joseph E. Corcoran Center for Real Estate and Urban Action, along with the City of Boston, was streamed online. It involved introductory remarks by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, WCAS ’09, an overview of the Imagine Boston 2030 plan, a panel discussion, and a question-and-answer session with a panel of various policy experts.
“This is a visionary initiative to ensure that in the years ahead Boston becomes an equitable, sustainable, welcoming city,” Vincent Rougeau, Dean of BC Law School, said in his introductory remarks.
Rougeau proceeded to introduce Walsh, who, before discussing his vision and the process behind the new initiative, raised a cheer from the crowd by wishing BC men’s hockey luck in the Frozen Four this weekend. While he also discussed the financial and population growth of the city, Walsh focused his remarks on the civic engagement aspect of the initiative since it began in the fall of 2015. The city has used eight community workshops, social media surveys, and interviewed 6,000 residents through street teams to find out what Boston residents want for their city.
“It’s not just about imagining our city in the future,” Walsh said. “It’s also engaging the people of our city to help plan the city.”
After his remarks, Walsh introduced Sara Myerson, the Director of Planning for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, to present an overview of the Imagine Boston plan. Echoing Walsh, Myerson stressed the goals of civic engagement in the process to ensure the “preservation, enhancement and growth of our city.” Before discussing the goals of the initiative, Myerson discussed the past and present socioeconomic profiles of the city. While there has been a three-decade trend of growth in Boston, with a 6 percent population growth between 2010 and 2014 and profitable and growing medical and education industries, many of the same economic and racial inequalities still exist or have even been exacerbated by these trends. Forty-six percent of Bostonians are housing burdened due to increased real-estate prices.
“Victory is a city where a Roxbury resident worries about what is happening at the waterfront.”
-John Barros, Chief of Economic Development for the City of Boston
After painting this picture of Boston, Myerson laid out the goals and strategies of the Imagine Boston 2030 initiative to harness the exceptional growth of Boston to better the city. The four goals, shaped by months of civic engagement, surveys, and research, are to benefit the quality of life in accessible neighborhoods, inclusive economic growth, investments in open space and infrastructure, and the promotion of a healthy environment and adapting to climate change.
“These goals will set the direction for the plan that we will look to have completed by spring 2017,” Myerson said. “The work we have done this fall and spring is just the beginning of the conversation, and we will be working over the next year to engage Bostonians in the further shaping of the city.”
Following her presentation, Myerson introduced Meghna Chakrabarti to moderate the panel and Q&A portion of the forum. Chakrabarti, the host of WBUR’s acclaimed show Radio Boston, encouraged the audience to submit questions either via question cards or through the Twitter hashtag #ImagineBoston.
“I couldn’t think of a more important set of ideas or issues to grapple with when it comes to moving forward together regarding the kind of city we want to see for the next generation,” Chakrabarti said before introducing the panelists.
The panel, which featured an economist, an urban planner, a businessman, a journalist, and a landscape architect, spent an hour discussing the problems and questions arising from the plan and its potential implementation. Many of the questions revolved around the role of business in the initiative, education reform, and environmental and transportation problems and solutions. Once again, the theme of connectivity and engagement of citizens showed up in the panelists answers.
“Victory is a city where a Roxbury resident worries about what is happening at the waterfront,” panelist John Barros, Chief of Economic Development for the City of Boston, said when asked what success for the initiative would look like.
After the panel, Neil McCullagh, the Director of the Corcoran Center, wrapped up the formal part of the forum and invited the audience to an interactive reception outside Robsham.
“Today we considered some of the most pressing issues of our day, and we did it with respect and openness,” McCullagh said. “Today demonstrates what makes our society great. This afternoon we all made a small contribution to a public process for this city and a contribution that will serve well into the future.”
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor