By Mike Lake & Dan Spiess | Boston.com | January 29, 2013
While New England froze over the weekend in some of the coldest temperatures of the year, a group of Massachusetts leaders were fired up with ideas for making the local economy stronger, more innovative, and inclusive.
The World Class Cities Partnership (WCCP) hosted its annual Chatham Forum to make some big announcements and to highlight lessons learned from the group’s October Policy Exchange Mission to Lisbon and the Azores, Portugal: a Mission so successful and bonding that the Vice Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Lisbon joined the Chatham group for the weekend, following their time in Boston and Cambridge as the first participants in the WCCP’s Municipal Leadership Exchange Program.
The Chatham Forum began with an overview of the key takeaways from the October Mission to Portugal, including solutions to such urban challenges as eliminating high school dropout rates, promoting the innovative city, incentivizing the private sector to achieve public sector priorities and increasing citizen engagement.
The first exciting announcement of the weekend occurred when Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson and Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung, in partnership with WCCP announced that they will be hosting an historic joint council hearing (the first held two years ago with Councilor Mike Ross of Boston) around the issue of talent attraction and retention covered in the upcoming release of WCCP’s “Talent Magnets” report.
A highlight of the weekend occurred when it was revealed that just hours earlier WCCP began facilitating trade talks between Ireland and Massachusetts and that confirmation had been received that delegates on the fall 2013 Policy Exchange Mission to Ireland will be having a special opportunity to meet with Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny. Finally, on the one-year anniversary of its inception at the 2012 Chatham Forum, AwesomeBoston.org launched to broadcast Greater Boston’s innovation economy success stories and to serve as a bridge connecting successful Massachusetts-based entrepreneurs and CEO’s with college campuses to share their stories and promote the benefits of doing business in our Commonwealth.
With photos of clean geothermal plants, historic architecture, and tech-oriented 20-somethings on the big screen, Portugal Mission delegates shared lessons learned from a country with many cultural and economic ties to Massachusetts: from Startup Lisboa, the tech incubator created by popular vote in the participatory budgeting process, to the incredible waterfront transformation, to the cooperation agreement signed between Massport and the Port of Lisbon, delegates surprised the audience with the buzz of civic and business innovation happening in a city that is poised to be a gateway to Europe rather than the dreary portrayal often captured in the media.
Photo courtesy of WCCP | 2013 Chatham Forum panelists Bob Buckley, Manuel Salgado and Greg Bialecki
Massachusetts leaders paired up with their Lisbon counterparts in a fireside-style chat on stage to tease out the details of the participatory budgeting process and transferable development rights program in Lisbon. Tony Parham, the Commonwealth’s newGovernment Innovation Officer, offered his “10 A’s” that governments can implement to meet the needs of constituents, including Audience Engaged, Accessible & Open, and Any Device. Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Greg Bialecki reflected on the “carrot” that Lisbon offers developers through Transferable Development Rights and compared it to the “stick” of Massachusetts’ current zoning and development rules which make it difficult to redevelop and grow our Commonwealth.
As ideas swirled the task turned from talk to action with the second annual Urban Excellence unConference. Kicking it off was a recap of achievements initiated at last year’s Chatham Forum– the launch of AwesomeBoston.org as well as Governor Patrick’s proclamation of the week of October 22nd as Innovation Week in Massachusetts. With no shortage of new ideas, participants organized themselves into self-selected sessions and were instructed to “vote with their feet” and attend several of the concurrent brainstorming sessions to generate action items for each of the 12 topics offered by attendees.
Participants explored creating innovation spaces for areas of the city that need it most, connecting small and medium-sized enterprises with global partners, encouraging recent immigrants to be more entrepreneurial, recycling existing and abandoned buildings for new uses, and housing solutions for workers in the innovation economy. Startup Lisboa is now being considered as a model for a potential Startup Roxbury. Old buildings in Charlestown may now “Recycle History” and housing the innovation economy is now more expansive and inclusive than simply providing micro-units for 20-somethings. Plans are already in the works for a day-long gathering of SMEs and a spectrum of Boston’s international consulates to discuss incentives and opportunities to take local businesses into the global marketplace.
Though it has come to be expected that the Chatham Forum will engage civically minded leaders and produce tangible results, this year’s Forum went well beyond expectations. With exciting announcements, collaborations, and a wellspring of new ideas for Greater Boston, WCCP’s local partners are poised to produce significant benefits for the community in 2013.