There’s a large group of underrepresented people with a lot at stake in Boston’s mayoral election — those who live just outside the city.
It may be sacrilegious to say as a Cambridge city councilor, but when I was on a fellowship in Europe last summer and told people I was from Cambridge, they assumed it was the one in the United Kingdom. It wasn’t until I mentioned Boston that people understood where I lived. Of course, the distinctiveness and hyperlocal nature of New England’s cities and towns make this region a unique place to live. But to the rest of the world, we are all Bostonians.
Though the mayoral candidates are vying only for the votes of Bostonians, their actions will impact citizens far beyond the bounds of Beantown. While more than 4½ million live within Boston’s metro area, only 700,000 live within the city proper. If you laid New York City on top of Boston, it would stretch well out past Interstate 95.
From our economy to our culture, the futures of Boston, Cambridge, and other cities and towns in the area are intertwined. The next mayor needs to prioritize regional collaboration. We can’t afford a mayor who doesn’t see Boston in a regional, national, and global context. We’re competing as a region with cities around the globe, some much larger in terms of population, resources, and economy.
We also need to harness our collective resources so that we can better compete on the world stage. According to the World Class Cities Partnership at Northeastern University, Boston loses more college students to New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and other cities than it retains. If we compete against each other in the innovation sector, we risk getting stuck in a race to the bottom instead of retaining the talent that we have developed.
We also need a Boston mayor who will oversee a collaborative vision for housing and transportation. Many people in surrounding cities commute to work in Boston each day, and vice versa. We are connected by trains, buses, and bridges but have chronically underinvested in the infrastructure that knits us together. Barry Bluestone of Northeastern University predicted that Greater Boston may need to double or triple its housing production to meet demand through 2020; without regional collaboration, it will be difficult to meet the challenge in a coordinated, thoughtful, and equitable way.
We also need to preserve our most precious shared resource, the Charles River, where public swims were held this summer for the first time in generations. Though our cities have borders, pollution and climate change do not. Our elected officials need to transcend boundaries to preserve the region’s natural resources. That means working to reduce our carbon footprint, expanding recycling and composting, and ensuring consistent energy standards for businesses.
Much has been made recently about the financial involvement of groups who don’t live in Boston in the mayoral race. Numerous candidates have said that the race should only involve Bostonians. That sentiment risks missing the bigger picture.
Boston isn’t defined by its boundaries, it’s defined by our shared values. We are all tied together by a sense of the importance of community, a fiercely independent and innovative spirit, and an unequaled passion for freedom and democracy that stretches back to the founding of our nation. We need to ask the mayoral candidates how they’ll lead for not only Boston, but for the region. And for those of us who live outside the city, we need to be involved in this race because we too have a stake in the future of Boston.
Leland Cheung is a Cambridge city councilor.