Your humble blogger peddled down Beacon Street in Somerville this morning, in a solid line of cyclists under the warm spring sun. It was easy to feel optimistic about the future of our urban Hub.
I was on my way to hear a panel discussion on “Ending the Zero Sum Game: Regionalizing Economic Development.” The panel consisted of Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone, Boston Economic Development Cabinet Chief John Barros, and Harvard Economics Professor Edward Glaeser. Glaeser is also the Director, Rappaport Institute and Taubman Center for State and Local Government, cosponsors of the event along with the Collins Center for Public Management at UMass Boston.
After listening to this trio, my optimism tripled. The takeaway for me was that these leaders need more support in order to get more good things done sooner.
They spoke about how they could work as a team to gain economic growth and improve the quality of life in the Boston region. Barros and Curtatone emphasized the opportunity to work informally, situation by situation rather than create a structure that, in the wrong hands, might do more harm than good. Both also cited the need to develop grassroots neighborhood backing for a regional vision of economic development. Curtatone mentioned his ”SomerVision” effort as a model.
The chief issues they discussed were transportation, affordable housing and coordinated use of tax incentives. Curtatone lamented that only the communities directly affected had advocated extension of the Green Line. Glaeser adamantly asserted that the region must address average housing costs in the market, not simply the costs of units available through affordable housing programs. Barros hypothesized about how competing localities could still work together on the long-term shared interests of the region as a whole. One of the panelists suggested developing a code of ethics to help balance parochial and broader interests.
The biggest audience response was on the current hot issue of a casino in Everett. Curtatone vowed to fight it. The audience and other panelists applauded his stand. Glaeser facetiously suggested slot parlors should be located in high-income communities like Weston.
Clearly, new players in Boston City Hall are already changing the game. Their different beliefs and deployment of resources will shift the regional political-economic dynamic. But again, my takeaway was that they lack the means to garner necessary elite and mass support across the region. My optimism is based on my belief that the means are available.