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The Podium

Looking to the region

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh enters office with the good will and encouragement of mayors and municipal managers throughout Metro Boston. We are eager to work with him to improve the quality of life for the people we all serve and bring people together from throughout Greater Boston for a truly regional approach to problem solving.

Bostonians work, play and study in communities across the region, and many non-Bostonians work, play and study in the city. Boston is the anchor and hub of the region, but its boundaries are porous. Most people cross municipal boundaries without giving it a thought. They live their lives in many different places, rarely thinking about which city or town they’re in. Metro Boston is more than just the city of Boston — 3.2 million people call it home and it has the 9th largest economy in the United States.

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Many of the challenges and opportunities that face Boston today are regional in nature, and not unique to any one community. Historically, the city and its neighbors have tended to “go it alone.” This strategy is outmoded, as Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley note in their recent book, The Metropolitan Revolution, which praises “networks of pragmatic leaders” for “taking on the big issues that Washington won’t, or can’t, solve.”

In this region, the Metro Mayors Coalition brings together mayors and managers throughout the urban core to exchange information and create solutions to common problems. Mayor Menino helped to found Metro Mayors, and he was always an active participant, representing the city personally in Coalition meetings and events.

Metro Mayors, which is staffed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, is not just a forum. We get things done. The Coalition designed the Charles Shannon Community Safety Initiative, which brings together enforcement and prevention partners to fight youth and gang violence across municipal boundaries. We’ve learned in more than a decade of working together that crime knows no boundaries. Representative Walsh was a big supporter of the Shannon program in the House, and we look forward to working closely with Mayor Walsh to advocate for and implement this initiative and other anti-violence strategies. We know that crime is a top priority for him as it is for us.

The Coalition also worked with Governor Patrick and the Legislature to reform municipal employee health insurance. Already these reforms have saved cities and towns over $200 million in the first year alone, while ensuring that all municipal employees have top-notch and affordable health plans.

Still, we could do more, and we urge the new mayor to help lead us in that direction.

First, we should convene a regional summit on how our communities can adapt to climate change. Coastal flooding and “heat islands” will affect every city in the region, and neither the Atlantic Ocean nor the weather will respect municipal boundaries. We need to make our land and buildings more resilient, and we need to improve our response to major storms and heat waves. Why not do these things together?

Second, it’s imprudent for neighboring cities to fight over economic development. We should work together to brand Metro Boston as a great place to locate or expand a company. We should market the region, rather than individual cities and towns. And we should share online information that helps companies to find available commercial real estate throughout the urban core.

Third, we must work together to increase funding to the MBTA, which is the backbone of our region’s economy, serving 1.4 million passengers each day. The first priority is bringing the existing system into a “state of good repair,” but judicious expansions are essential if we are to maintain our competitive edge against other regions in the country and the world. Extending the Green Line, linking the two “arms” of the Silver Line, and creating an “urban transit ring” (like Atlanta is doing) will link people from throughout our region with jobs, schools, and cultural institutions. Moving more people from cars to transit will also improve public health and cut greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a “win-win-win,” but it will only happen if we all work together.

Metro Boston can create a bright future based on innovative companies and public agencies, a growing supply of housing, and a vibrant transportation system—and that builds on our existing strengths. It is clear that as a region, we are stronger when we stand together, and we look forward to working alongside Mayor Walsh to make that happen.

Joseph A. Curtatone is mayor of Somerville and chairman of the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition; Jay Ash is city manager of Chelsea and vice chairman of the Coalition.
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