Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh called the community to come and share ideas on education and economic development, and come they did.
Over two nights this week, more than 400 advocates and parents, business owners and investors, students and teachers, community organizers and union leaders filled seats at English High School’s auditorium.
These were the first in what will be a series of public hearings on everything from public health to transportation, including Saturday’s daylong town hall-style meeting in Roxbury.
One by one, people filed to a single microphone. Some came with complaints about a system they see as broken. But most came with concrete ideas to help the city realize the much bandied-about “New Boston.”
“Here are five no-brainer ideas to fuel Boston’s green economy,” said Lor Holmes, a worker/owner with CERO, a cooperative recycling, reduction, and composting business, in Roxbury, at Monday’s economic development forum. “Let’s zoom Boston’s economy forward with a green jobs engine and fuel it with local talent.”
‘People are excited about having a voice; it’s their City Hall.’Martin J. Walsh, Boston’s mayor-elect
Holmes’s ideas included:
■ Thinking beyond paper-plastic recycling plants to include the recovery and reuse of building and manufacturing materials.
■ Contracting, hiring, and investing locally.
■ Establishing accessible lending pools for the startups “that banks won’t take a chance on.”
■ Mandating commercial recycling.
■ Supporting urban food, composting, and energy production.
Walsh’s transition team is broken into several committees focusing on key areas affecting city life. Each group will create a short report, including input from the community, to be shared with the mayor-elect at the end of January.
Two rules governed both meetings: keep comments to two minutes, and fit ideas into one of three buckets of thought (keep, implement, or dream).
The first bucket represents the programs and policies residents want Walsh to keep. The second is those things people want Walsh to implement. And the last includes game-changing ideas that would require extraordinary resources or legislative changes.
Walsh, who did not attend Monday or Tuesday’s forums, said in an interview that the transition team has briefed him about both meetings, highlighting the ideas people have brought forward to be prioritized and included in a final report.
“People are excited about having a voice; it’s their City Hall,” said Walsh, who plans to attend much of Saturday’s town hall session.
This is the first time in a generation the city has a new mayor, which Walsh speculates has sparked enthusiasm for sharing ideas, be it in a formal setting like these forums or during random encounters in public.
“I’m trying to figure out how do we stay engaged, and continue having these dialogues,” Walsh said. “Having people engaged is really important. The first one, we had 220 people at it.”
And more than 50 people spoke Monday night, touching on everything from erecting statues of neighborhood leaders, to improving contracting with women- and minority-owned businesses at the School Department, to having a tourism liaison dedicated to increasing international travel.
Development was a recurrent topic Monday, with several people speaking about the need to streamline and simplify the process for getting permits. Others talked about the need to improve neighborhood planning, as well as updating the Boston Residents Jobs Policy to better reflect the city’s current diversity.
That policy was established in 1985, long before Boston became a majority-minority city. The policy is designed to increase employment opportunities for residents, workers of color, and women on city-funded construction projects.
Currently, at least 50 percent of workers must live in Boston, 25 percent must be minorities, and 10 percent must be women.
“Systemic change must be a top priority of the new administration,” said Janet Jones of the Dorchester-Roxbury Labor Committee.
But one person on Monday cautioned against making radical changes, particularly when it comes to development and how the city should proceed — Sam Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau and one of Walsh’s transition team cochairs.
“Be careful in terms of changes and don’t make dramatic changes quickly,” he said into the microphone on the floor.
Tyler was also present during Tuesday’s education forum, though he did not address the crowd of about 250 people.
Many of Tuesday night’s speakers discussed charter schools, and whether there should be more or fewer charter school classrooms in Boston.
Some advocated lifting the cap on how many of the publicly funded but privately run campuses can exist in a district. Others advocated for ending what Megan Wolf, a parent with two children in Boston public schools, called the city’s “divestment in our own schools.”
Then there were those like Sunny Pai, who runs an alternative education program at Charlestown High School.
He took a more moderate approach to the issue of charter schools, saying they work well for some students, but not for others.
Pai said his program holds about 75 students who have struggled in school, and about 20 percent of them come from the same charter school.
“Boston is a stratified city,” he said. “Our school system is similar. The demographics of these schools by race, class, demonstrated academic skill level, and readiness to engage in daily academic activity vary widely. My hope is that our next superintendent understands this complexity and seeks to create a system that capitalizes on this diversity.”
Tuesday’s session was extended 30 minutes to ensure that all 63 speakers had a chance to express their opinions on improving teacher diversity; hiring full-time and credentialed arts and music teachers; creating a comprehensive, long-term facilities plan; and adopting a health and wellness plan.
More than a dozen young people with Sociedad Latina, a Roxbury organization aimed at cultivating Latino youth, lined up to speak. Four got a chance.
“I ask you to include cultural proficiency trainings for all teachers of BPS, so they can be sufficiently prepared to teach students with different cultural backgrounds,” Laura Toledano, a 16-year-old junior at Brighton High School, said in Spanish. “Not every student has teachers that are trained well enough to teach them and support as they need, especially students coming from different cultures.”
Akilah Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.