When Mayor Michelle Wu of Boston gave her first State of the City address Jan. 25 to a packed house at MGM Music Hall, her remarks were greatly anticipated as a scorecard of her legislative successes and a strategy plan for continuing to move this city forward.
Mayor Wu, who won overwhelmingly, has been making significant changes in the city, from leadership to policy. The State of the City delivered on her commitment to continue evolving Boston toward a vision of becoming a leading city in this country, where all residents can live, work and thrive.
In the development community and for readers of this column, Mayor Wu’s take on housing, planning and transportation were of particular interest. The mayor spoke plainly about the problem, anchored into the antiquated structure of the Boston Planning & Development Agency: “The focus on building buildings rather than community has held back the talent of its staff and deepened disparities in our city.”
No doubt, this statement resonated deeply with the many Boston voters who have felt left behind by the continual growth in the city. The mayor’s insightful comment echoed what The Lazu Group continues to hear in our work across the Boston development and community-building worlds, including having the privilege of conducting listening groups for the BPDA, bringing together stakeholders from across our city – from artists to activists, developers to builders – to envision the future of Boston.
The mayor’s State of the City laid out a strong path forward for Boston development: re-envisioning the BPDA.
“Over this next year, weʼll shift planning efforts from the BPDA to a new City Planning and Design Department – to expand planning and urban design as a coordinated effort that guides our growth,” she said.
The immediate steps to be taken include filing a home rule petition to rededicate resources to address the needs of Boston today, guided by the principles of resiliency, affordability and equity.
Wu’s Goals, Business’ Goals Aligned
As I have written in the past, the mayor’s priorities are largely aligned with those of the business community: transportation infrastructure that brings people to job centers, stronger schools that create pathways to jobs, climate resiliency that keeps city infrastructure stable in the future, affordable housing and a diverse workforce, among others. Delivering on those priorities requires significant change.
Since Mayor Wu’s election, different people have come to power who are accountable to a broader group of people. As Mayor Wu described them: “People unafraid to do things differently – willing to meet crises with creativity, and reach deep in the dirt to pull up the roots of the challenges that block our view of the sky.”
If this momentum continues (and, clearly, that is the hope), the result would be Boston becoming the standard-bearer in building models to fix the most prevalent problems faced by cities in this nation: inequity, lack of affordability, inaccessibility and more.
Importantly, the mayor also displayed empathy in recognizing the feelings of exhaustion among so many people. That fatigue runs deep due to exclusion and the status quo that favors the interests of the few over the many. The picture she painted became an honest backdrop for her plans for 2023: “When resilience goes from a strength that we call on, to a constant state of being, itʼs time to stop hardening ourselves against the world, and start changing the world we live in.”
Our mayor understands who the city is, who elected her and how to lead a 21st-century city. From what we have seen, it appears she is working to make good on her campaign promises and maintain momentum towards the future. In particular, as the city’s new Planning and Design Department is unveiled, all of Boston will be watching for proof positive of the mayor delivering not just a vision, but specific actions to make change happen. There is excitement in the air for that reality.
Malia Lazu is a lecturer in the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Strategic Management Group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, CEO of The Lazu Group and former Eastern Massachusetts regional president and chief experience and culture officer at Berkshire Bank.