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Boston to review Main Streets programs with an eye on equity

Mayor Martin J. Walsh is scheduled to kick off the new initiative, Reimagine Boston Main Streets, in a virtual community meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh is scheduled to kick off the new initiative, Reimagine Boston Main Streets, in a virtual community meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

The City of Boston will listen to community residents and try to address disparities among the city’s neighborhoods as officials reimagine Main Streets programs supporting neighborhood small businesses, officials said Saturday.

Officials began discussing ways to bring greater equity to Main Streets programs, which operate as independent nonprofits but are overseen by the city and receive city money, before the coronavirus pandemic began, said Natalia Urtubey, the city’s director of small business.

“When we as a city fund these organizations each year, we’re trying to fund them equally and want to make sure that we’re giving resources all the way around,” Urtubey said in a phone interview Saturday. “At the same time, when we look at the quote-unquote ‘success’ of our different neighborhood districts, we see inequities all around.”

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Through the new initiative, Reimagine Boston Main Streets, the city wants to “really think about how we can better allocate our resources to give more equity,” she said, while bringing more neighborhood residents, community organizations, and business owners into discussions about what their commercial districts need.

She pointed to the lack of sit-down restaurants in some sections of the city, such as Mattapan, saying economic growth needs to be spread around, not concentrated in a few wealthier neighborhoods.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh is scheduled to kick off the new initiative in a virtual community meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, according to a statement from the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

“We are facing a pivotal moment in the history of Boston — a moment of opportunity to reshape our urban neighborhoods and their businesses,” Walsh said in the statement. “Our small businesses add to the vibrancy and character of each of our neighborhood commercial districts, and I look forward to working alongside our communities to reimagine their future.”

Urtubey acknowledged that the city was “not super focused on engagement in the past,” and said Walsh’s kickoff event will be a chance for the community to talk and city officials to listen.

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“The entire event is really going to be focused on hearing people out,” she said. “What’s working? What’s not working? What do you want to see more of? What do you want to see less of? And really trying to think about how people are engaging right now with our districts.”

Boston established its Main Streets program in Roslindale in 1983, becoming the first city in the country to launch such an initiative, though the idea soon went national.

There are now Main Streets organizations in 20 Boston neighborhoods, but the new program will look at other areas of the city with an eye to potentially adding Main Streets districts, Urtubey said.

The city has chosen two Boston-based consultants, Strategy Matters and CJ Strategies, to lead the project, with support from Archipelago Strategy Group, officials said. The city will work with the consultants to develop an implementation plan to ensure that the project’s findings lead to action, Urtubey said.

“For us, this process is really about learning and being able to develop goals and metrics that allow us to measure success in a really tangible way and bring that back to the community,” Urtubey said.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.