At least its residents know that Greater Boston has always been a hotbed of ideas, one founded and sustained by risk-takers, builders, and dreamers alike. Today, world-class universities, hospitals, and biotech startups drive the regional economy. Cranes rise in Kendall Square in Cambridge and Boston’s rebranded Innovation District, as biotechs, pharmaceutical companies, restaurants, and luxury apartments move in.
Yet the region’s economic and cultural vibrancy aren’t evident enough from a distance. Boston suffers from its location on the upper right-hand corner of the national map, from the “quiet” in its long history of quiet excellence, and from its proximity to bigger cities with a louder, brasher vibe. Though the future is being invented here, it’s as if Greater Boston is too proud, too convinced that quality inevitably shines through, to recognize the benefits of showcasing itself.
As a result, anecdotes abound in the tech world about scientists, entrepreneurs, and inventors who study and train here but move to Silicon Valley or Austin or North Carolina, lured by climate and lifestyle and a more freewheeling atmosphere. Technology companies like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon have branch offices in Cambridge, but are headquartered on the West Coast. To compete on a global scale, Bostonians need to claim their place in the global conversation.
Friday marks a step in that direction. At a press conference at the Ragon Institute, The Boston Globe will join Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and MGH in announcing HUBweek, a week-long festival of discussions and creative problem-solving scheduled for Oct. 3 to 10 of next year. It’s a collaborative effort to bring big ideas out from behind institutional walls.
To draw participants from all over the nation, and the world, all four co-hosts are creating programming that will focus on game-changing science, technology, engineering, and art. The week will feature some central events, kicking off with a master class at Fenway Park.
Each host institution will also organize and coordinate a variety of specialized sessions. The Globe will host a documentary film festival. Harvard will stage conversations on topics ranging from the future of cities to the ingredients of successful entrepreneurship to Internet policy. MIT is planning an invitation-only event called “Solve,” focused on identifying solutions to pressing, complex problems. MGH will organize discussions about new models of health care delivery and examine promising discoveries in life sciences. If the festival helps experts in Greater Boston make new connections across disciplines and across institutions — and find common interests and opportunities for collaboration with people around the world — the region as a whole can only benefit.
In a race for talent to fuel the region’s life sciences companies and startup ecosystem, Boston has many advantages: universities, access to venture capital, and renowned nonprofit laboratories and teaching hospitals. Broadly defined, clusters of companies in technology, biopharma, and clean energy — and the suppliers and service industries that sprout up around them — employ close to 20 percent of the workforce in the Commonwealth. The region has some notable disadvantages as well: It has a creaky subway system and a decades-old reputation for rolling up the sidewalks early. Its business leadership is dominated by executives from more established sectors. It hasn’t yet discovered the formula for fostering an equitable new economy even in the close-in neighborhoods of Boston and Cambridge — much less in nearby gateway cities like Springfield and Lawrence.
Yet all of these factors make Greater Boston all the more intriguing as a laboratory for innovation. When a 384-year-old city reimagines itself as an ongoing project, and consciously retrofits itself for the future, it can draw a global audience.
Boston needs a showcase for the big ideas and bold solutions that originate here — ideas that are shared worldwide. HUBweek offers a much-needed opportunity to spread the word.