As the Chatham Forum continued, the second panel of the day (See last week's intro post) – Greg Selkoe, Vicky Wu Davis, Travis McCready, Helena Fruscio and Frederick Kramer – convened later that morning to discuss strengthening Greater Boston’s global presence. A key theme the panel kept coming back to was changing the way we think about barriers geographically. One dysfunctional example that gained many nodding heads of support was discussion of taxi pickup regulations that prevent Boston cabs from picking up in Cambridge and vice versa. Not only is it frustrating to people who live in the Boston area, but it is frustrating and bewildering to out-of–towners who will remember such anecdotal encounters.
The taxi example seemed to represent the desire of the panel to see more cooperation between the region’s cities, minimizing regulation and bureaucracy that stifles business and detracts from a positive experience in Greater Boston. Heather Fruscio neatly summarized the problem by noting that “A brand is only as good as it functions” – harkening back to the earlier panel’s praise of Barcelonactiva for integrating processes that help business permitting go smoothly. Healthy competition between cities, emphasizing real differences, is okay; unhealthy competition with a winner take all mentality will not help Greater Boston as a whole. One panelist even noted that districts within a city, sometimes blocks apart, can get into unhealthy competition that loses sight of the bigger benefit.
An additional problem the panel noted was addressing the “fun factor” for young professionals. A common and ongoing criticism was a lack of late night public transit that could make nightlife more vibrant and attract young professionals. Still another problem is the notion of Greater Boston as a “college town” – falsely and unintentionally suggesting to young professionals that after college there won’t be much here to keep them around.
The afternoon session was devoted to an Urban Excellent unConference, an opportunity for participants to self-aggregate around topics of interest proposed by other participants. Each group that formed discussed problems the area is facing or inspiring ideas that needed traction, then gave feedback and pledges to help with next steps beyond the conference. Topics that came up included: better skills preparation and earlier intervention with potentially remedial college students; a large college freshman focused event that will help them make early ties to the Greater Boston community; an innovation exposition to showcase new business ideas from the region, and a more coordinated effort at showcasing Boston success stories from individuals who have flourished here. With such a dedicated group of forward thinking attendees, it will only be a matter of time before plans discussed at the Chatham Forum and Urban Excellence unConference begin to pay dividends for Greater Boston!
[In addition to posting your comments here, 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.
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