Boston’s success is increasingly tied to innovation—the ideas that come out of its universities, labs, and start-ups. The Innovation District has been hugely successful, creating white-collar jobs and transforming the waterfront.
But look past a few marquee neighborhoods, and those benefits come to an end. The Boston Foundation’s 2011 report “The Measure of Poverty” notes that Boston still has intractable poverty highly concentrated in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan. These communities have not benefited from Boston’s innovation renaissance.
Such neighborhoods are, nevertheless, crucial to Boston’s future. They are where generations have called home, even as newcomers arrive and settle; they are where Boston’s children grow up and go to school. Transforming the city will require the innovation economy making it out to Boston’s black, Hispanic, and Asian communities.
How? Identify and build innovation clusters right where people live. Call them “New Economy Neighborhoods,” turning Boston’s disenfranchised neighborhoods into successful, small-scale engines of tomorrow.
What could a New Economy Neighborhood look like? A small group of people in a public housing development could use 3-D printing to produce component parts for manufacturing elsewhere. A neighborhood could develop a partnership with the MIT Media Lab to do mass production of an innovation like sewable computer parts. An association of single mothers could use apartment gardening equipment to form an urban growers association, supplying local food to restaurants and markets.
A new mayor would find the pump already primed: Leaders in neighborhoods like Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan have long thought about innovation and micro-economic development. They pioneer all the time. People just don’t recognize it. City Hall’s role would be to listen to those voices, identify opportunities, and then coordinate the human and geographical potential of these areas with the companies and research efforts that could use them.
Cities help smooth these connections for big industry all the time. Why not for neighborhoods of color? That’s a change that will enhance Boston’s prosperity, reputation, and civic health for generations to come.Tiziana Dearing is a professor at Boston College Graduate School of Social Work and former nonprofit CEO.