With a vibrant (and abundant) population of young people, Boston is immediately associated with student culture. These days, thriving start-up and tech cultures are likewise attracting young professionals and entrepreneurs from around the world. So why has Boston had such difficulty making the area appealing to young people -- and what changes could be made right now? We posed that question to 10 thinkers who know quite a bit about nightlife and civic engagement.
Executive director of the Future Boston Alliance
If the city hopes to retain young people it first must continue and expand the late-night train service (a step toward comprehensive public transportation), ensure the 75 new liquor licenses go to diverse, independent restaurant/lounge owners who will create an authentic reflective Boston culture, and finally the city must begin to actively break down the continued feeling of segregation. There is no one thing Boston can do; the city must take a holistic approach . . . and must accept its puritan culture no longer serves the city and begin to define a more open, fun, and integrated city.
Owner of STAGE American Vaudeville Nightclub and The Brahmin American Cuisine & Cocktails
As a bar owner, I feel the reins need to be loosened a little with the happy-hour laws to give us more flexibility in offering things that appeal to a younger, more budget-conscious demographic. . . . In other major cities, there are many more outdoor social events that allow bars and restaurants to move their operation outside and permit alcohol. This is very appealing to a younger crowd. . . . As it stands in Boston right now, it is extremely difficult to make these events happen due to all the red tape that is involved.
PR and marketing professional
The late-night T service is great but the commuter rail needs to follow suit. I’m meeting more people traveling into Boston from the suburbs who are forced to drive in because the last train usually leaves around midnight depending on the line/day of the week. Also, affordable housing for 20-somethings is nonexistent in Boston. Even neighborhoods that were once considered affordable are not, and that directly impacts a person’s ability to spend money at local shows, restaurants, lounges, bars, and clubs.
Executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority
Young professionals are increasingly attracted to places that are enhancing their “coolness factor,” cities like Austin, Texas, and Berlin, Germany. Boston does need to figure out how to be a more “24/7” city for residents, workers, and visitors, and later transit service and later bar hours, perhaps in selected districts, needs to be part of that. Place-making elements and “need to be there” events that allow for unique socialization opportunities, like the Lawn on D, also need to be a part of the strategy.
Owner of Big Night Entertainment Group
The obvious answers would be to set later closing hours and make transportation improvements, but in my opinion these are only small steps toward creating a better nightlife experience as a city. More importantly, nightlife operators need to step up to the plate and really embrace today’s younger client — well-traveled, better-educated, more experienced and a lot more discerning. Providing safe, interesting, well-designed, hospitality-driven, and internationally appealing places should be on the agenda for anyone in the nightlife industry. It certainly is on ours.
Cofounder-head of Marketing at BarUp
Two words — happy hour. Boston as a city is very expensive, especially for college students and young adults who spend an enormous amount of money toward overpriced rent. It is hard for young people in the city to continuously go out, when going out means spending $50 at the bar. Our users are constantly asking us “Where should we go that’s going to be fun and also not break the bank?,” which is why we show specials/events each bar has on each particular weeknight within our app.
Artist and faculty member at Boston Arts Academy
I think there needs to be more dialogue between generations. Multiple ages need to be at the table in order to establish a common ground and build an understanding around where people’s needs overlap. I personally would like to see more youth lead action. As an educator, I am always excited to see our youth empower themselves, gather, and advocate. We need to trust and have faith in how capable they are and support their efforts. When I think about the next generation and generations to come, those are the minds that I would like to continue paving the way.
Owner-chef of Tavern Road
Late-night food trucks would give that industry a way to generate revenue beyond breakfast and lunch. And who wouldn’t want a Roxy’s Grilled Cheese at midnight when they’re leaving a show or moving from one venue to the next?
Founder at Kotseas Personal Assistance & Concierge
So many people talk about “Wouldn’t it be cool, if . . .” and then sit down with their immediate social circle of five people at the same bar, drinking the same drink, eating the same food. We need more movers and shakers to infiltrate our tight Boston cliques and the resources to keep them here. People to motivate college students to stay in Boston beyond their Ivy League education. Cities like San Francisco and New York are desirable to live in because of their “up for anything” and “go get ’em” attitudes. Boston could use more of a push; more group and outdoor activities, more young businesses, more exercising, more affordable work space.
Executive director of Discover Roxbury
Boston could become a more appealing city to young people by encouraging them to play greater roles in the civic life of its neighborhoods. Young residents and students rarely seem informed about how they can participate in supporting and improving the city beyond their coursework or crisis situations. This is a loss for both sides as older residents miss the opportunity to mentor future neighbors who will bring energy and enthusiasm; the young, in turn, lack the opportunity to float new ideas and have their voices heard in authentic situations. A “civic engagement pipeline” that guides the young, draws upon the experiences of older generations, and learns from both would be a draw for young people and position Boston as a city where they can grow roots.
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Megan Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.