State of the City: Solid start for Walsh

“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished; but I’m far from satisfied.”
Mayor Walsh’s inaugural State of the City address last week was – like all speeches of its kind – a chance to tick off the achievements of the administration’s first year. And there was plenty to highlight. From taking a record number of guns off the street (1,061, by the BPD’s count) to chalking up the highest rate of job growth since 2007, Walsh can rightfully point to a flurry of first-year victories for his team.

But this State of the City speech also served as Walsh’s chance to set a course for the city’s future and he seized that opportunity, rolling out a robust package of policy initiatives that, if executed in earnest, could have a significant impact on our neighborhoods and the city as a whole.

“Our policy goals are aimed at the year 2030 –Boston’s 400th birthday,” Walsh explained. “It’s a year when we’ll take pride in Boston’s revolutionary history. But to match that pride with an even greater hope for our future, we must make serious progress now.”

Improving public education rose to the top of the policy pile in Walsh’s remarks. He tempered his praise for recent progress – most notably an agreement with the Boston Teachers Union to add 40 minutes of instruction time per day – with a nod to the reality of the still-inadequate choices facing parents and students.

“Families with school-age kids aren’t celebrating,” Walsh said. “A lot of the time they see a great school – quite literally –as a prize in a lottery. Think about that. In the city that established public education, a city with the greatest universities in the world, access to an excellent public school is seen as a lucky break.”

Notably, the mayor announced the formation of a new School Building Authority that he says will “tap the funding sources our city has failed to secure in the past” with the aim of establishing the “first school building program in many decades.” That is welcome news, especially in Mattapan, where residents, led by Dorchester-based City Councillor Charles Yancey, have long made the case for a new high school to serve that part of the city.

Walsh also pledged to give one of Tom Menino’s marquee programs – Main Streets – a much-needed “makeover,” starting in Bowdoin-Geneva and Grove Hall. The Main Streets model, city officials admit, has not had the same impact in every district. In some cases, as in Codman Square, it did not work at all and was abandoned. A fresh approach and new funding sources are badly needed to jump-start the kind of business development and storefront improvements that can make Main Streets viable. The mayor also announced his intention to put 250 city-owned parcels – most owned by the Department of Neighborhood Development – on the market for new homes for “low and middle-income families.”

The vision articulated by the mayor – upbeat, bullish and brimming with optimism about our city’s capacity to advance on multiple fronts at once – administered a welcome shot of enthusiasm to city workers, activists, and business leaders. It was a strong outing for a mayor who seems to have a firm grasp on the job and a sense of what he wants to do with it.