This week, I attended City Awake’s 4th Annual Our Convention: Boston Forward, a half-day conference for next-generation leaders and the largest gathering of young professionals in Greater Boston. It was an empowering and exciting afternoon, and definitely beat my typical Monday!
Boston is home to the largest proportion of young adults of any other U.S. city (!!!) and City Awake empowers the next generation of local leaders through programming that focuses on community, professionalism, and opening a dialogue about key issues in our region. This year’s conference focused on making Boston more inclusive, affordable, and fun.
Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley gave an incredible opening address, balancing humility with power, and dropping some great one-liners that I couldn’t jot down fast enough. While Ayanna is known for being the first woman of color to represent Massachusetts at the congressional level, she wants to follow her mentor-by-example Shirley Chisholm, and be someone whose success comes from “just being herself” – and having the freedom to do so. Ayanna also shared (I’m mostly paraphrasing):
- “Stay awake, stay uncomfortable… so you’re never complacent.”
- “It’s not about equity as in a piece of the pie, but in baking it.”
- “Be intentional about creating soul in your city… creating change… and creating pathways to power.”
- “Those in pain should be closest to the power, so policymakers can understand the nuances of the issues.”
- “This is a time to go after what you’re for, not just what you’re against.” (Go vote!)
After, attendees chose which breakout session they wanted to join, all of which laddered back to the main themes (inclusion, affordability, and fun). There were so many great options! I chose “The Cost of the Commute: The Link Between Housing and Transportation in Greater Boston” presented by the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Mass Housing Partnership, and Boston Planning and Development Agency. Housing and transportation are two of the most complex issues in any major city, and Boston is no different. Over the course of the hour, the panelists described the evolution of the Boston housing market as it’s tied to the Commuter Rail and the T lines and how home prices in Boston have outpaced New York (the only time Bostonians don’t want to beat New York…).
Due to changing demographics (“millennials aren’t young anymore”), retiring (but not flocking to Florida) Baby Boomers will open up jobs, but not necessarily housing. As a result, Boston will have open jobs, but no housing to offer incoming talent needed to fill them. With only 5 communities adding 60 percent of housing over the past decade, this is a problem “not-so-future you” is going to have to deal with. FUN. While part of the outlook seemed grim (and expensive), there is some really impressive work going on that deserves recognition and support! It’s an insanely difficult puzzle to solve, but one that’s being tackled by dedicated and creative minds collaborating across federal, state, regional, and local levels. They welcome ideas from people of all ages and backgrounds, so visit your neighborhood association and attend open planning meetings around the city.
My key takeaway from this session was the importance of “place-making.” Instead of competing for Porter Square and Davis Square (not my personal examples but OK), why not build up new places and neighborhoods that people will want to live in or travel to? Make the bus system a way to connect areas that aren’t typically linked and – yes, he said it – make the T a preferred way to travel around Boston. Maybe that means expanding bike share programs or finally letting scooters come to Boston… we shall see!
In Part II, I’ll describe my last two sessions (“Is Boston a Foodie City?” and “What Makes Boston a Unique, Exciting, and At Times Challenging Cultural Hub“) and what I felt was the overarching theme of the 2018 #OurConvention.
Thank you to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and FleishmanHillard Boston for supporting my attendance.