Civic engagement is critical for a healthy society. It is the process of promoting quality of life in our community, through both political and non-political processes. With the general election around the corner, this municipal election has highlighted for us that Boston is pregnant with change. We are finding burning questions facing those involved in Boston’s civic space, including how can we best harness this revived energy around the need for positive change? How can we help to foster the conversations around our economic future, transportation issues, innovation and cultural growth? How can we inspire new leaders from the technology, venture and innovation communities to join our efforts?
We would like to start a wider civic dialogue around these questions and we believe that now, given this mayoral election and the challenges facing our beloved city, is the right time. Through our collaborative work with artists, entrepreneurs, and community leaders, we have found that knowing how to change and how to help build new models that enhance civic engagement are not easy tasks. As the saying goes, old habits die hard. Rather than having a myopic focus on political candidates, we ask our civic and cultural leaders to join efforts to foster new models of civic engagement. Creating an inclusive tradition of civic engagement will take time and it will take more than one heated local election to reengage an electorate or segments of an electorate.
We need new leadership in this city and we are not talking about political leadership. We want to see more civic engagement from entrepreneurs and business people. Through our organization’s programs, we talk about decentralizing the centralized power structure. With leadership and power being so centralized within certain organizations and institutions, we find that the city’s community leaders do not fully reflect the new energy and diversity of Boston.
Through our collaborative work with youth, innovator, and communities of color, we seek to not only foster a civic dialogue on important community and economic issues but also to usher in and train new leaders. In our view, Boston is in the middle of a leadership vacuum and now is the time to amplify new and relevant leaders. These new leaders must be supported by the institutions currently holding civic space. As a recent CommonWealth Magazine article titled “No seat at the table” details, despite collective discussions around “valuing diversity” the region’s true power structures still largely exclude blacks and Hispanics. We ask our area leaders to keep this in mind as we call on them to help us identify new community leaders and invite them into our broader strategic discussions. Moving forward, we hope to find more civic leaders in their 20s and 30s, more technology executives and more cultural innovators joining the ranks of civic engagement.
By taking personal responsibility for our community and working collaboratively to increase civic engagement, we can approach this city election as an opportunity to invite all of Boston’s residents to participate in community building. How do we accomplish this? We believe this can be accomplished by creating a pipeline of engagement. In the coming weeks, we are focused on voter education and empowerment events, getting our networks involved at the city level to impact legislation, and educating our communities on the important work taking place at City Hall.
We view civic participation as a way to help nurture a heightened level of civic engagement across neighborhoods and demographics. We view this moment in our city’s history as the starting point of a renewed civic dialogue and an evolving civic engagement.
Greg Selkoe is founder of Future Boston and CEO of Karmaloop. Malia Lazu is executive director and co-founder of Future Boston.