Boston has more than a branding problem when it comes to diversity and cultural issues. You don’t have to spend much time going out in Boston to notice the lack of diverse cultural options in night life and weekend activities. The city’s social scene feels unwelcoming to many people of color, and seems strangely siloed to all.
Cities can play a pivotal role in encouraging their citizens to come together. Here in Boston, we are now a majority-minority city, home to hundreds of languages and immigrant groups, but it’s often hard to detect when you visit the city’s nightclubs, concerts, and street events. Boston cannot claim to be a world-class city with so many cultures completely invisible in our social scene. The new mayor has an ideal bully pulpit to help bring them together—and he can do it in part by reimagining the city’s approach to cultural life.
Three key moves he can make:
■ Work with the city council and community to push a home rule petition lifting the cap on liquor licenses. It sounds like a small thing, but licenses are prohibitively expensive with the current limits. Opening them up will allow a more diverse set of owners to successfully run restaurants and bars, and help build a nightlife culture more reflective of the city.
■ Fix the permitting process. Boston’s permitting processes are onerous and discourage people from using public parks and spaces to come together. The next mayor must reimagine the rules of permitting, removing the often arbitrary and subjective power city workers currently have over providing permits, and defining the entire process as a way to make activities happen instead of restricting them.
■ Sponsor new public events celebrating Boston’s diverse culture. Bostonians do not want to live in a segregated city. The next mayor should encourage more private-public partnerships for events that bring communities together—events as big as Outside the Box and the Together Festival, and as niche as the Red Bull Freestyle and DJ competitions.
The lack of integrated spaces and events causes friction and has a chilling effect on many aspects of our social life. It evokes a Boston that we need to consign to the past. I call on our new mayor to help us to put this friction behind us, and help Boston move into the 21st century.
Malia Lazu is founding executive director of The Future Boston Alliance and founder of MassVOTE.