‘A Time Like No Other’: New Boston Indicators Report released at a Boston College Citizen Seminar

June 18, 2007

Boston   –  In an audacious leap, the latest edition of the Boston Indicators Report – a signature project of the Boston Foundation – calls for nothing less than a sweeping revolution by Greater Boston’s institutions in response to global challenges that will have an ever-increasing impact on the region going forward. In so doing, the report asserts, the region will boost its own competitiveness and sustainability.

The fourth biennial Indicators’ Summary Report will be released June 19 at a Boston College Citizen Seminar, which is being cosponsored by the John LaWare Leadership Forum and BostonCollege’s Chief Executives’ Club.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino will be the keynote speaker at the event and is expected to highlight the city’s innovative Green Agenda, including the fact that Boston is the first major city with a building code that requires all development projects over 50,000 square feet to meet the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED standards.

The tone of the latest Boston Indicators Report reflects both an impending sense of global crisis and the opportunity for leadership implicit in Boston’s rich history of transformation. From its origins as the “City upon a Hill,” in the resonant words of its 17th century founding governor, Bostonhas over the centuries been the birthplace of the American Revolution, the nation’s Industrial Revolution and the development of the Information Age. Now, in this century, the report, titled A Time Like No Other: Charting the Course of the American Revolution, calls on Bostonto leverage its rich heritage and assets once again, and become even more collaborative, efficient and innovative in its approaches to these challenges. In this way, it could serve as a template for a world standing at a historic turning point, described by Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson as “a bottleneck for humanity.”

“We are at the intersection of peril and opportunity,” said Paul S. Grogan, President and CEO of the Boston Foundation, which is the home of the Boston Indicators Project. “Peril because we see trends taking shape that threaten our region. In the near term, with the loss of young people and growing competition for knowledge-economy clusters, we could face a gradual economic decline.   Opportunitybecause we see in the data brought together in this report the tools needed for genuine transformation. Greater Bostonhas revolution in its civic DNA and an extraordinary array of world-class assets that can be deployed in our time to – quite literally – change the world.”

The Boston College Citizen Seminar breakfast will feature a distinguished panel which will discuss the report’s revolutionary theme in five key areas:  MIT President Susan Hockfield on energy innovation; Joslin Diabetes Center President Ranch Kimball on the revolution in health needed to counter rising costs crowding out other priorities; former Boston School Superintendent Thomas Payzant on the needed revolution in American education; local architect and Harvard Graduate School of Design faculty member David Lee on innovation in smart growth and housing; and Mindy Lubber, former New England EPA administrator and President of the Boston-based CERES group, on the quickening revolution in global business strategies.  The panel will be moderated by Grogan.

The Boston College Citizen Seminars, which since 1954 have brought together business, government, academia, labor and nonprofits to discuss and debate the pressing issues facing the city and the region, has been the site of the release of each of the Boston Indicators Reports, since their inception in 2000. J. Donald Monan, S.J., Chancellor of Boston College, will welcome more than 300 business, civic and community leaders and public officials to the breakfast.

It is co-sponsored by Boston  College’s Chief Executives’ Club, the top-ranked forum nationally for the exchange of ideas on business and management issues; and the John LaWare Leadership Forum, a new civic mechanism designed to focus civic leadership efforts co-convened by leaders from the Boston Foundation, the Boston Federal Reserve Bank and Sovereign Bank New England.

The Boston Indicators Project is coordinated by the Boston Foundation in partnership with the City of Bostonand the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, in cooperation with many public agencies, civic and educational institutions, research institutes and community-based organizations. The result of hundreds of convenings of area stakeholders, the project taps data in 10 sectors: Civic Vitality, Cultural Life and the Arts, the Economy, Education, the Environment, Health, Housing, Public Safety, Technology and Transportation.  All Boston Indicators Project information is available on line atwww.bostonindicators.org.

The current report is dense and ambitious. It seeks to gather together recent history of the city and region – achievements, losses and signs of promise – in the context of forces that grow only more global in scope and implication, from climate change to the rise of the knowledge economy – and the new and growing competitive role played by China and India in that economy. The report tracks the impact of global forces on the region and, in turn, the possibilities for global impact by a region that has throughout its history played a role as an incubator and as an icon of transformation.

The core of the fourth Indicators Project Summary report is found in paired surveys of crisis and opportunity, in which troubling and challenging trends are offset by remarkable achievements and progress charted in the region. The intensity of the language is rooted in a statement made recently by Susan Hockfield, President of MIT. Referring to the specter of global warming, Hockfield said, in part, “We are probably only decades away, at best, from the point of no return.”

The reports finds that Boston and Massachusetts have “turned the corner” following job and population loss in the aftermath of the 2001 recession that placed the Bay State just above post-Katrina Louisiana and auto-industry bust Michigan in 2004. That year, however, job growth began to turn up, Massachusettsregained its top rank in patents per capita in 2006, and Boston’s 2006 leisure and business visitors in 2006 surpassed its 2000 highpoint.

However, long-term trends point to what the report calls “crisis/opportunity pairs,” drawing on the fact that the Chinese word for crisis shares a character with the word for opportunity. The report asserts that by addressing these crisis/opportunity pairs with the region’s unparalleled assets and potentially “revolutionary” but largely untapped capacity for collaboration, efficiency and innovation, these areas could create sustainable prosperity and solutions of import not just locally but regionally. Left untapped, however, they could cause the region to fall behind its national and international competitors.

Uneven Job Growth/Business Expansion

Massachusetts and Boston have gained jobs since 2004. Growth has been every uneven, with the greatest growth in the non-profit sectors of health and education—much of which is paid for locally – while most of the innovation economy sectors are lagging. The good news is that between 2005 and 2006, Massachusettsregained its top rank in patents per capita after falling behind California, an important marker for economic activity.

Labor Shortage/Talent and Education Imperative

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council projects growth in Greater Boston only among those over the age of 55 from 2000 through 2030, while the cohort between the ages of 19 and 54 will peak in 2010 and then decline. There will soon be a noticeable drop in older talent as Baby Boomers downshift or retire. Meanwhile, the waiting time for a seat in English Language classes in the Commonwealth stands at about two years, with 16,000 on an active waiting list; community colleges lag their counterparts in graduation rates; schools overseas are overtaking American schools in rigor; and college is increasingly out of the financial reach of working and middle class students.

Higher Costs/Smarter Growth

The region’s cost of living exceeds the nation’s by a growing percentage. Between 1998 and 2006, the number of towns in Greater Boston in which a median-income household could afford a median-priced home shrank from 148 out of 161 to just 27. This lack of affordability is driving young people out of the region and out of state, but new 40R/40S smart growth zoning has been adopted by 14 towns within just the past two years, with more than twice that number in the pipeline.

Health Care Behemoth/Cost-Effective Health

Rising health care costs are crowding out all other public investments – from public higher education to Local Aid to cities and towns, to transportation. Despite public health programs’ proven effectiveness, such as the Boston Public Health’s recent 38 percent reduction in childhood lead poisoning and a 20 percent reduction in new cases of HIV-Aids cases in just three years—the relatively small public health budget has been cut by 28 percent between fiscal years 2001 and 2006 while health care spending rose by 44 percent. At the same time, obesity, hypertension, and asthma rates have increased sharply, and the Commonwealth faces what the New England Healthcare Institute calls a “rising tide of preventable chronic disease. While Governor Deval Patrick and the Legislature increased public health spending somewhat, a radical   rebalancing of the public health/health care equation, especially as the universal health care mandate takes effect, would result in major health benefit and cost savings. All public and private spending on health care for residents of the Commonwealth exceeded $50 billion in 2006.

Racial-Ethnic Separation/Global Connectivity

Greater Bostonsuffers from a high level of racial/ethnic isolation, and people of color including many newcomer immigrants are concentrated in only a few of the region’s cities and towns. For example, in 2000, 75 percent of Boston’s children were of color. By 2020, Massachusetts’ young workforce is projected to be almost 50 percent of color, with a much higher percentage in Bostonand Greater Boston. Racial/ethnic isolation and disparities will weigh heavily in future years. It’s time to reframe the region’s growing diversity, including the more than 100 languages spoken here, an opportunity for economic dynamism and global connectivity.

Widening Inequality/Expanded Opportunity

Between 1999 and 2005, income inequality in the region widened. In Boston, according the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data, median household income in the lowest quintile, or 20 percent, of the population gained $452, from $9,332 to $9,784, with modest gains in the next two quintiles, while median household income in the 4th quintile rose from $74,963 to $98,545 – a gain of $23,582.  The top quintile’s median household income increased from $133,530 to $209,953 – a gain by $76,423. In just six years, the gap between the lowest and highest quintiles in Bostonwidened from a factor of 14 to 21.

Energy Dependence/Green Innovation

Massachusetts is one of the nation’s most energy-dependent states (along with most of New England). The Bay State depends on imported oil and natural gas for abut 84 percent of its energy and on polluting fossil fuels for more than 92 percent, including US coal. As a result, the region is highly vulnerable to breaks in supply and price spikes. Between 2003 and 2006 alone, prices for gasoline, natural gas, electricity, and heating oil rose from between 39 percent to 61 percent. Experts suggest that no region on Earth could benefit more from increased local energy generation – driven by both clean tech and green renewable innovation. It is also, as the Governor and Mayor have pointed out, an opportunity for new industry sectors and future job growth.

The report includes the current version of the Emerging Civic Agenda, the result of hundreds of convenings of leaders and stakeholders from across the region. It tracks progress made in the four key areas, including;


  • An open, dynamic civic culture
  • 21st century jobs and economic strategies 
  • World-class human resources
  • 21st century infrastructure and sustainability  

In sum, the report calls for change under the rubric of Charting the Course of the Next Revolution, identifying four critical areas for transformation, including: A revolution in education, implementing the recommendations in the new national report Tough Choices or Tough Times, which advocates the end of incremental improvement in public education and the adoption of a radical new vision.

A revolution in energy that makes Greater Boston a world-class model of green innovation and conservation by tapping world-class research resources to expand the green energy sector.

A revolution in housing that mobilizes developers, city and town planners, schools of architecture, policy-makers and other experts to create innovative and affordable transit-oriented housing throughout the region.

A revolution in health that bucks the national trend of rising healthcare costs and declining relative health status be shifting the resources of this global medical hub from intervention to prevention.


The Boston College Citizen Seminars, in association with the Boston College Carroll School of Management, were created in 1954 to bring together leaders from academia, business, government, labor and private non-profits for the purpose of discussing and debating some of the pressing issues facing the City of Bostonand the region in which it is located.  The Seminars serve the role of catalyst to bring about cooperative efforts to affect positive change and creative solutions to the many problems and opportunities facing the city and the region.


The John LaWare leadership Forum offers a flexible mechanism to inform and convent Greater Boston’s business and civic leaders in response to challenges and opportunities. Grounded in solid data and research, the Forum promotes a model of coordinated distributed leadership. It aims to select a short roster of immediate challenges, highlight initiatives underway, identify and fill gaps in current efforts, clear roadblocks and celebrate progress and achievements. The Forum is cosponsored by a growing list of business and civic groups: The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, New England Council; National Association of Industrial and Office Properties; Associated Industries of Massachusetts; Mass Insight; New England Healthcare Institute; Mass Technology Council; Initiative for a New Economy; Massachusetts Biotechnology Council; Initiative for a Competitive Inner City; Massachusetts Technology Collaborative; and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.


The Boston Foundation, Greater Boston’s community foundation, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the nation, with assets of over $830 million.   In 2006, the Foundation and its donors made more than $70 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and received gifts of $71 million.   The Foundation is made up of some 850 separate charitable funds established by donors either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes.  The Boston Foundationalso serves as a major civic leader, provider of information, convener, and sponsor of special initiatives designed to address the community’s and region’s most pressing challenges.  For more information about the Boston Foundation, visit www.tbf.org or call 617-338-1700.