Wanted: Young Urbanites

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he hopes to attract a growing and diverse middle class so that all city residents can prosper
Mayor Marty Walsh at Tufts
“We are in a very good position for the future if we can create an environment that encourages [young people] to stay and live and invest in the city,” said Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Photo: Kelvin Ma
December 2, 2014

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Economic disparity and poor educational systems can limit a city’s potential, but with its growing population of young people and improving educational system, Boston is poised to prosper, Mayor Martin J. Walsh told a Tufts audience on Dec. 2.

“Per capita, Boston is the youngest city in America, and our population of 18-to 30-year-olds is our fastest-growing demographic,” said Walsh, who was sworn in as the city’s 54th mayor in January. “So we are in a very good position for the future if we can create an environment that encourages them to stay and live and invest in the city.”

That means including young people in a strong urban middle class by creating more affordable housing, improving schools and expanding job opportunities, Walsh told Tufts students, faculty and staff and community members from Medford, Somerville and Boston who attended the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service’s Distinguished Speakers series.

Like past speakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and political journalist Matt Bai, A90, Walsh encouraged young people to get more involved in politics—and not just in presidential elections, but at the local level.

“Young people can set the tone and affect policies, and that’s how I’d like to see them involved in the city of Boston as it looks toward its future,” Walsh said.

Young people are key to growing the city’s population, from its current 640,000 residents to 700,000 by 2030, he said. To do that, some 53,000 units of new housing—much of it geared to the middle class—would need to be built to avoid the city becoming home to only the very rich and the very poor.

“The theory behind this plan is to get workforce housing, middle-class housing. People earning between $50,000 and $120,000 are being pushed out of our city,” the mayor said. “They can’t afford to buy a house; they can’t afford to rent units or condominiums that are going up downtown, so we need housing for them.”

Among other strategies, Walsh said he will ask colleges and universities in Boston to build more dormitories to free up housing for incoming residents.

He also has started planning for more low-income housing, with or without federal funding. “If the federal dollars come, we will use them. But if not, we will work with developers to get them in the mindset of building low-income units so Boston is a city for everyone—not just the rich—and with a strong middle class.”

Walsh’s comments came in the form of a conversation with Alan D. Solomont, A70, A08P, the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Dean of Tisch College, as well as in response to questions from the audience.

Solomont asked Walsh for his views on how authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, planned for the response to the grand jury decision on Nov. 24 not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting black teen Michael Brown.

“I would have had conversations months before the jury’s decision came down,” the mayor said, adding that despite Boston’s dedication to community policing and a police command staff that is 50 percent persons of color, Boston still needs to do more to work with its minority communities.

“Boston needs to have a conversation about race . . . that can unite our city, [and] this should happen all around the country,” Walsh said. To launch that conversation, Walsh said he would be announcing later that morning the appointment of Boston’s first chief diversity officer.

“One man can start a conversation, but it takes the whole community to continue it,” Walsh said.

Gail Bambrick can be reached at gail.bambrick@tufts.edu.