NO, BOSTONIANS shouldn’t expect much deference from Medford native Michael Bloomberg. Long before he was mayor of NewYork, Bloomberg had made his name and fortune in the nation’s largest city. Some biographical accounts indicate that he found his hometown — and maybe Greater Boston more generally — too constricting for his considerable ambitions. Yet the glee with which he greeted a recent Boston Globe Magazine story about New York’s efforts to elbow into Boston’s lead in science and technology was still a little surprising. Somewhat overstating the point of the story, his Twitter account declared, “The @BostonGlobeMag has it right: #NYC is beating #Boston in more than just sports.”
Of far greater concern than any social-media post are the steps New York is taking to establish itself as a technology center — most notably the establishment of a media lab like the famous one at MIT and of a Cornell outpost that over time might compete with MIT. It’s as though Bloomberg has seen the Boston area’s competitive advantages up close and committed himself to outdoing them. This approach invites a certain amount of pop psychology: Was Bloomberg’s childhood in the Boston area so unsatisfying and oppressive that he’s determined to strike back? But Bloomberg’s aggressive steps to duplicate the pillars of Boston’s economic success invite the more important question of how this area should respond.
Defensiveness or denial might be the natural reaction. But there are more productive questions to ask: How can this region compete for talented workers who might be drawn to a burgeoning tech sector in New York? And how can Boston capitalize on its proximity to New York and its vast pool of investors, while still being true to itself? New York won’t always have a disaffected Medford native as mayor, but Boston will always have to work around a much larger neighbor not far to the southwest.