City to City: Igniting Best Practices from Boston to Austin

One of the youngest populations in the country. Concerns about affordable housing pushing out the creative class and old-timers. Exciting repurposing of older industrial neighborhoods to support innovation and placemaking.

Reading those sentences, you might think I was talking about Boston. Those descriptions also fit the city of Austin, where I had the chance to join the Boston Chamber’s “City to City” trip last week. Designed as a trip to learn and share best practices between cities, this event included sixty Bostonians from government, private sector and community organizations. We explored several locations, met key city leaders and discussed a number of civic topics important to both cities. We also got a chance to eat some delicious Texas barbecue and listen to some of the best music the country has to offer!

Some takeaways I had from our delegation:

  • Now more than ever, public-private partnerships matter. You may think of this as private sector funding public projects, but it’s much more than that. It could be the ability to convene a diverse set of stakeholders, or making connections beyond the public sphere. It could be finding a way to apply a private sector approach to a community problem. It’s really about broadening the inputs into a challenge.
  • It’s important to be able to creatively look at what a space is to what it could be. The new Austin Community College campus at Highland is a fantastic example of this. Transformed from a 1970’s era retail mall, the new campus has the space to accommodate over 6,000 students and includes a state-of-the-art center for innovative learning. It took vision and collaboration to look beyond the original space and re-imagine it into today’s thriving campus.
  • Finding a way to support a thriving creative class is very hard, but necessary to keep an authentic city culture. We heard many diverse perspectives on how Austin’s musicians needed support, as well as differing opinions on how that support could be provided. The support artists need is also more than just venues and performance opportunities—issues like health insurance and affordable housing were raised. There are no easy answers but all agreed it was a challenge to address.
  • In this political climate, it will be necessary for cities to work together to thrive. Cities handle many of the same challenges that may not be addressed at the federal or state level, and frequently, there already are connections between mayors, or innovation offices, or economic development offices that permit a free flow of ideas. Now more than ever, the good ideas will need to be shared frequently and proactively.

I should also mention that it was a true honor and pleasure to spend three days with some of Boston’s most thoughtful and committed leaders to hear their perspectives what we were learning in Austin and how it might apply to our city.

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