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Building a Better Boston: WCCP 2012 Chatham Forum [part 1]

Posted by Chad O'Connor  February 10, 2012 11:45 AM

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Chatham-Group-Photo3.jpgSuper Bowl weekend kicked off with a star-studded retreat focusing on Boston’s future. World Class Cities Partnership (WCCP), in collaboration with City to City Boston and Boston World Partnerships, planned the 2012 Chatham Forum for engaged Greater Boston citizens to learn, discuss, renew friendships and expand networks. To quote from WCCP Executive Director Mike Lake’s invitation, the Forum sought to update everyone about “opportunities for the Boston region in relation to innovation, entrepreneurship and adapting best practices from around the world to strengthen economic development in our region.” In addition, attendees participated in Massachusetts’ first Urban Excellence unConference with “Solution Sessions” to share ideas and projects on economic development, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Insightful content and action opportunities were in abundance. A Friday night cocktail reception and dinner with opening keynote from Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson set the tone for an ambitious agenda. Jackson stressed the importance of getting the youth of Greater Boston civically engaged, something that starts with a strong public education system.

On Saturday morning everyone reconvened with a heart-felt montage tribute to the recently deceased former Boston Mayor Kevin White. [As a sad epilogue, Lowell Richards of Massport, a former deputy mayor to White, who was at the Chatham Forum unexpectedly died on Sunday. Condolences go out to his family and friends. He spent the better portion of his last weekend with us doing what he did best: working behind the scenes on making Greater Boston better.]

The first panel of the day – Mike Lake, Yoon Lee, Joe Albanese, Robert Buckley, Tom Palmer and Lowell Richards - spoke on insights and lessons from the WCCP Policy Exchange Mission to Barcelona and Madrid in November 2011. Panelists noted that Boston can use much of Barcelona’s example when it comes place-making, noting that Barcelona is increasingly emphasizing its waterfront, its combination of reclaimed old buildings and striking new architecture, and its interweaving of public spaces. As the South Boston waterfront Innovation District continues its revitalization, there will need to be a similar mix of work/live/play as is found in Barcelona, with a significant focus on keeping new affordable housing affordable as the area becomes increasingly attractive.

The panel noted that Barcelona has made coordinated efforts at attracting businesses a priority as well, with an established innovation district (22@ Barcelona), a one-stop centralization of business related government functions (Barcelonactiva) and a marketing program called “Do It in Barcelona.” Many regional, state and city boards of various organizations have overlapping members that help to better coordinate joint efforts toward common objectives for fostering regional economic development. Businesses in Barcelona are greeted with welcome sessions and welcome packages that help to orient them to the various public, private and nonprofit organizations that are available to assist them as they take root and grow. Panelists noted that similar coordinated efforts in Greater Boston could go a long way with attracting and growing businesses here.

Moreover, while Greater Boston can pride itself on its higher education prominence, Barcelona has begun stressing entrepreneurial and innovative culture at a young age, ensuring there will be a steady stream of homegrown startups to keep the economy going in years to come. School children are taught about entrepreneurship and innovation as a process that celebrates achievements while stressing the importance of failure, learning from it, and overcoming it as a natural part of the process. In separate pieces appearing in this blog (1, 2) Mike Lake and I have offered that Greater Boston can do much more to retain young talent. In closing out this first panel discussion of the day, Mike Lake noted that Barcelona has several programs under the 22@ brand that are designed to get young talent into the workforce with easier internship access and in some cases vocational training…

[Part 2 of this blog post will cover other parts of the 2012 Chatham Forum. You can also see and join the Chatham Forum conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #WorldClassCities]

Chad O’Connor is a communication consultant, Adjunct Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern University, and Boston World Partnerships Connector. He serves as a contributing co-editor of this blog.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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