By Michael Sol Warren
BU News Service
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh kept the future in his sights Tuesday night as he delivered the 2016 State of the City address from Boston Symphony Hall. The mayor used the speech to praise the city’s accomplishments of the past year while focusing on education, fair housing and economic development going into the new year.
“The city of Boston is as strong as it’s ever been,” Walsh said, beginning his speech by reflecting on what had been accomplished in the city in 2015. The mayor made it clear that the citywide Boston 2030 development plan is still his priority. He said that despite $40 million in plowing costs from last winter, the city finished the year with its budget surplus intact.
“Our work isn’t done, not even close,” Walsh said as he transitioned from reflecting on 2015 to outlining his goals for 2016 and beyond. He said that all Bostonians must continue working together towards the Boston 2030 goals.
The mayor also singled out General Electric, which has recently announced that it will move its global headquarters to Boston, as a key factor in the city’s progress. Walsh said that General Electric is a “magnet for talent and investment” that will further the city’s work toward Boston 2030. Ann Klee, General Electric’s vice president of environment, health and safety, was in the audience.
Walsh then shifted his focus to education.
“We don’t need you to be perfect. We need you to keep learning and believing in your dreams. The rest is on us,” Walsh said, speaking to students in the audience.
The mayor said that 2015 was a year of improvement for Boston Public Schools, using the groundbreaking for the Dearborn STEM Academy in Roxbury and the hiring of Dr. Tommy Chang as the new superintendent of BPS as examples. Walsh said that he was committed to continuing this improvement and for the third straight year, he will send a budget to the city council that will increase funding to BPS. According to Walsh, this means that he has increased funding for BPS by nearly $90 million since he took office. This proposed increase comes as BPS faces a $50 million deficit.
Walsh also addressed the ongoing tension between district and charter schools. He said that all of Boston needs to come together in support of all schools, then called for a unified enrollment system and fair funding for both district and charter schools.
“I know that passions run deep, and they should. But our commitment to Boston’s children runs deeper,” Walsh said.
Looking beyond the city of Boston, with Governor Charlie Baker in the audience, Walsh called for the Massachusetts legislature to expand early childhood education across the commonwealth.
“Let’s give all of our kids an equal chance of success,” Walsh said.
Walsh then focused on Boston’s housing problems. The mayor said that it is not enough to compensate displaced residents, but that efforts need to be made to keep residents in their current neighborhoods. He then announced the creation of the Office of Housing Stability. The goal of this new office is to develop resources for tenants and incentives for landlords to do “the right things” while partnering with developers to keep housing costs affordable.
Tying housing into economic development, the mayor introduced Sara Myerson as the new planning director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Walsh then announced two new planning areas: Glover’s Corner in Dorchester and Dudley Square in Roxbury.
Walsh then took time to talk about his plans for the city’s parks this year. He said that six acres of land will be converted into new parks in 2016. Ramsay Park in the South End will also be renovated.
“We’re going to ensure that America’s first public parks are America’s best,” Walsh said.
Returning to economic development, Walsh announced a plan to create a task force of workers and employers in order to study a $15-an-hour minimum wage in Boston. The mayor also announced two programs, a Business Expansion Toolkit and a Small Business Center, designed to facilitate business growth in the city. Adding to these, the mayor also said that the city would be offering 40 more salary negotiation workshops for women and a new apprenticeship program for low-income workers. Walsh framed all of these new announcements as reasons that General Electric chose to relocate to Boston. General Electric also received an incentive package worth up to $145 million from the city and Massachusetts.
Turning to crime in the city, Walsh spoke highly of the Boston Police Department. He said that general crime in the city has declined, homicides are at a 16-year low and that the number of arrests is also dropping. Walsh said that the city and the police must continue working to continue these trends.
“We’re becoming a safer city not by locking people up, but by lifting people up,” Walsh said.
Walsh ended the State of the City address by focusing on homelessness in Boston. Citing the success of the city’s Homes for the Brave program, the mayor said that more than 500 homeless veterans have been placed in permanent housing.
“We have ended chronic veterans homelessness in the city of Boston,” Walsh said.
The mayor said that his new goal for the city is to end all chronic homelessness by 2018.