The Shape of the City:  A Boston Foundation Centennial Event

Inaugural Centennial Event Focuses on Income Inequality, Climate Change and Infrastructure

Some 350 people attended the first major Boston Foundation Centennial event, The Shape of the City, held at the Westin Waterfront Hotel on Wednesday, February 4.  “The Boston Foundation was launched in 1915 and has always been bound up in the shape of this city, this fascinating place that has experienced such swings in fortune over the last century,” said Foundation President and CEO Paul S. Grogan, welcoming those gathered.  He emphasized that during its Centennial year, the Foundation will explore the impact the Foundation has had on Boston in the past while also placing a major focus on the city’s future. 

Grogan read a message from Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who said: "Since becoming Mayor and travelling throughout the city, I’ve noticed that very often when great things are happening, the Boston Foundation is there. On this occasion of their Centennial, it’s amazing to think of all that they have done for the city. I look forward to partnering with the Foundation as they embark upon their next 100 years.”

Jessica Martin, Director of the Boston Indicators Project, presented a summary of a new Indicators report that looks back at the ways the physical and social structure of the city was built, while pivoting forward to look at Boston’s future.  “The Foundation’s Centennial also marks the halfway point of the Boston Indicators Project,” she explained, “which has released biennial reports over the last 15 years, and will continue to track major indicators of civic health through 2030, Boston’s 400th Anniversary.”  Anise Vance, the Project’s Digital Research and Communications Associate, unveiled a new Opportunity Index, an online dashboard that will track six key indicators central to the healthy development of Boston’s children.  (Use Firefox or Chrome browsers to view dashboard.)

The event’s keynote address was delivered by Raj Chetty, Bloomberg Professor of Economics at Harvard and one of the top economists in the world, who spoke about ways to improve the equality of opportunity. One measure he focused on was the “geography of upward mobility,” which reveals that economic mobility varies enormously in different American cities.  “When compared with other cities, as a whole, Boston does quite well,” he explained, “but if you look at Suffolk County, which includes inner-city Boston, you find much lower rates of upward mobility than Middlesex and Norfolk counties.”  Chetty said that two major factors, which have been shown to give children greater opportunity, are excellence in teaching and living in neighborhoods that are home to mixed income families.  View Dr. Chetty's slide presentation.

Two panel discussions followed Chetty’s speech, including one on “The Challenge of a Changing Climate,” which focused on the particular challenges faced by our coastal city, and “Shaping a Changing City,” which explored approaches to Boston’s infrastructure challenges in a world where more and more people are living in urban settings.

Click here to request a copy of the 2015 Boston Indicators Report.