Boston College Citizen Seminars: Oct 29, 2003
sponsored by the chief executives' club of boston
Visions Across the Region
Presented by Boston College and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council
Welcome address by Patrick Purcell, President of Herald Media (right), and Chairman of the Boston College Citizens Seminars.
The communities of Greater Boston are lurching blindly into the future, often sideswiping each other along the way, with no common destination for the region. That was the sense of many of the roughly 400 people from throughout the metropolitan area who crowded into the Hyatt Boston ballroom to hash out the biggest challenges confronting the region as it grows and to share their visions for its future. The list of problems was familiar enough - lack of affordable housing, sprawl, dwindling open space, traffic gridlock - but the grassroots approach to tackling them is new to the Bay State.
The event began with a welcome from Patrick Purcell, President of Herald Media, who serves as Chairman of the Boston College Citizens Seminars. Purcell outlined the day's schedule which featured lively discussions and presentations focused on the questions:
•What do you value about the Metropolitan Boston region?
•What are our challenges?
•What do you envision for our future?
With the use of wireless keypads, opinion polls could be taken, tallied and displayed frequently and easily, making the overall pulse of the room known at any moment. The responses submitted by seminar participants will be used by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) as it launches the visioning phase of its "MetroFuture" project.
The project, currently in the first phase of its three-year duration, aims to shape a comprehensive regional plan. The MAPC used the Seminar to compile a list of regional resources to tap and obstacles to overcome. Developing a widely accepted roadmap for such a large and diverse region seems a monumental task, but MAPC Executive Director Marc Draisen said he was encouraged by the big turnout. "That convinces me that people are hungry for this dialogue," he said after the session.
The attendees, a group of mostly civil servants and nonprofit employees intended to mirror the region's demographics as closely as possible, put in their two cents through group discussions at their tables and by voting with the wireless key pads. Their visions, offered up without much regard for cost or practicality, ranged from universal health coverage to intimate communities where cars aren't needed.
"It gets harder from here on in," Draisen said after the meeting. "We have to ask how much does it cost? What are the trade-offs? What do you want the most? What can you do without?" The ideas collected over the winter will be prioritized at a large public forum in the spring, he said.
For more information, please see the project website at MAPC's MetroFuture Project.
For now, the attendees expressed an overall downbeat opinion of how the region is planning for its future. A little more than half said there was room for improvement, while nearly 40 percent said the region was "barely getting by" or "falling behind." Just 6 percent said the metropolitan area was doing well.
The Seminar's keynote speaker was Angela Glover Blackwell, president and founder of PolicyLink, a national nonprofit research, communications, capacity-building, and advocacy organization. PolicyLink has partnered with a cross-section of stakeholders, including several in Metro Boston, to ensure that questions of equity receive highest priority in addressing major policy issues. Ms. Blackwell spoke on the importance of regional planning and her ideal vision for the future. For those looking for more information on Ms. Blackwell's vision, her book, Searching for Uncommon Common Ground: New Dimensions on Race America is available at Amazon.com and other fine booksellers.
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Article by Thomas Caywood, Boston Herald, October 30, 2003.